On April 21, Netflix announced in South Korea and Iceland, countries with aggressive coronavirus testing, that they were actually going to be in production on new programming. While Netflix hasn’t revealed what programming is shooting and admitted that it’s very much a fluid situation, this was the first glimpse of an attempt at taping scripted since the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down.
While that news hints at a light at the end of the tunnel, the reality is that, in the present, the new programming faucet has been turned off. All sporting events have been canceled, Empire was forced to air what was intended to be their third-to-last episode as a series finale, while B Positive the multi-camera comedy from Chuck Lorre was the only broadcast pilot actually completed this year.
As we’re waiting for the new content pipeline to be turned on again, more and more TV shows and networks are turning to nostalgia to keep their social media audience engaged. There may not be as much new television content as we’re used to, but the first television drama aired in September 1928, meaning there’s over 90 years of library TV content around for the audience to either revisit or discover for the first time. Based on our findings from the ListenFirst social media analytics tool, here are the top ways TV shows and networks have been using nostalgia to engage the social media audience.
Contests And Games CTAs
The in-person reunion of the Friends cast which was going to be the centerpiece programming for the launch of HBO Max has been postponed by quarantine. Nevertheless, on social media the show advertised a chance to win the opportunity to watch the special in the studio audience, for people who donate to food banks once the event is rescheduled. The announcement generated 400K responses on Instagram alone.
However, you don’t need to give something away to create a successful call-to-action around classic TV shows on social media. For instance, Sesame Street asked its Instagram audience to choose what muppet house they’re in, generating 17,232 responses across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Meanwhile, Nickelodeon received 41,577 responses around the question: which classic Nick show would you watch every episode of? Audiences are looking for ways to participate or talk about their favorite old TV shows and, especially given the extra free time many people have right now, the audience is more receptive than ever to contests and games.
Retro Table Reads
While reuniting favorite cast ensembles in the same room may not be logistically feasible, all that classic shows need to leverage the feels is a Zoom account and the ability to print out an old script. For instance, Entertainment Weekly staged a virtual table read of a third season episode of the show Chuck, which last aired a new episode in 2012, as a way to raise money for Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund. An Entertainment Weekly Instagram post announcing they were staging a Chuck table read of a classic episode generated 14,729 responses while the actual table read has received over 130K video views on YouTube.
Meanwhile Sony Pictures Entertainment reunited the cast of The Nanny for a table read of its pilot episode, which first aired in November 1993. The YouTube video of the table read generated 67,726 responses for Sony Pictures, and generated 1,449,252 YouTube video views which was more video views that any piece of content earned Sony Pictures in April 2020. Staging a table read is an effective way to re-engage a fan base by showcasing a cast’s familiar chemistry and rhythms without having to task writers with finding new things for them to say.
Actual New Episodes
The most effective way to leverage nostalgia of old TV shows on social media is to create actual new episodes featuring the original actors performing in character. While there are clearly limitations on producing new episodes when actors can’t leave their homes, creative teams are starting to find ways to work around that limitation.
The most successful example so far is the 30 minute long Parks and Recreation Special which aired on NBC about how all the characters from the classic show that stopped airing new episodes in February 2015 were dealing with the isolation. The special which raised $3.5 million for the food bank charity Feeding America, also had a huge impact on social media. Since Amy Poehler first announced on April 23 that the reunion special would be happening, Parks and Recreation added 80,930 new fans or followers to their social media accounts, while there were 1,607,728 content responses to Parks and Recreation’s official social media posts during April 23 – May 1, 2020. The special was also uploaded to YouTube and as of May 2 has generated 1.2 million additional views on YouTube.
Meanwhile, it’s been confirmed that the cast of the sitcom Happy Endings, which signed off in 2013, is reuniting for a charity reading that will feature new material written by the show’s writing team.
Unfortunately not every cast member is available for reunion content, and Will Smith used his WFH: Will From Home Snapchat show to bring together the surviving cast of the Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air to remember the life of James Avery, who died in 2013. The audience response to the tribute was huge, with a clip from the two part episode reunion that focused most directly on Avery, generating over 9.5 million views on Will Smith’s Instagram page. Nostalgia can also be about celebrating the lives and achievements of people who have passed on.
During quarantine, there are a lot of good reasons for bringing old castmates together just to talk with each other. For instance, during the first episode of Some Good News with John Krasinski, he brought on The Office castmate Steve Carell on and it generated over 17.3 million views on YouTube, around the 15th anniversary of the show. There were also reunion interviews of the casts of Melrose Place, Desperate Housewives, and Frasier that occured on YouTube for the expressed purpose of raising money for The Actors Fund.
While it’s unlikely that these reunions were organized by the studios and channels associated with these classic shows, these are big moments, and especially because so many of them are happening in support of charitable causes, TV networks should be promoting these interviews on their own social media channels.
Something that often triggers nostalgia is musical cues and during the stay at home period, old TV shows have been using songs to stay top of mind. For instance, High School Musical participated in The Disney Family Singalong which aired on ABC and was already a giant nostalgia delivery system, by getting the cast to reprise ‘We’re All In This Together’ from their own homes. The YouTube video of that performance generated 162,788 responses and was the second top performing post on social media for ABC in the month of April 2020. Meanwhile the cast of Full House reunited on the Instagram feed of Candace Cameron Bure for the fake musical opening credits to Full Quarantine, showing how the cast is fairing in social isolation which generated 909,708 views on Instagram.
Additionally, the cast of Glee frequently performed musical numbers as part of a larger reunion interview which generated 413,896 YouTube video views while the original theme song to the Ducktales cartoon generated 61,423 Responses for Disney+ on Facebook, presented with no additional content. The social media audience loves revisiting songs that are associated with old TV shows.
Another way that old TV shows are using nostalgia during quarantine is by staging rewatch parties on social media. For instance, Global Citizen and Adrianne Palicki hosted a Friday Night Lights rewatch of the pilot episode where all the kids from the show rewatched the episode at once and talked about it which generated 1,710 responses on Facebook and 394 responses on YouTube. Meanwhile ComicBook.com hosted a #QuarantineWatchParty for an episode of the retired Netflix Daredevil with the cast sharing pictures and memories on Twitter as it went along, including actor Charlie Cox putting on his Daredevil cowl to watch. The #QuarantineWatchParty generated 3,406 Tweets on April 30 Apt, 2020 around the Daredevil event.
To say it’s a challenging time right now would be an understatement but during the coronavirus pandemic it’s exactly those types of circumstances where the audience is looking for comfort food, which is what classic TV shows represent. By finding creative ways to showcase these library titles on social media, especially around charitable angles, TV brands can shift the focus away from the limited amount of new content to feature, and bring a smile to people’s faces by reminding them what they love about favorite old TV shows.