Will Netflix-Style Online Release Work for NBC’s ‘Aquarius’?

NBC is taking a page out of Netflix’s playbook for the release of its upcoming crime drama, Aquarius. The network has announced that it will release all 13 episodes of the David Duchovny-starring series on NBC.com and the NBC app to allow viewers to binge-watch the show, following its two-hour network premiere in May.

Set in the late 1960s, Aquarius stars Duchovny as Sam Hodiak, a Los Angeles police sergeant who teams with young partner Brian Shafe (played by Friday Night Lights‘ Gray Damon) to track a small-time criminal and budding cult leader seeking out vulnerable women to join his “cause.” Little did they know, the man, Charles Manson, would go on to become one of the most infamous killers of all time. Their complicated undercover operation will eventually lead them to the real-life, highly publicized Tate-LaBianca murders, which the gritty drama will cover in subsequent seasons. Gethin Anthony, Grey, Emma Dumont, Claire Holt, and Chance Kelly also co-star.

Part true crime, part historical fiction and part horror series, Aquarius is arriving at an apt time. The show comes just as series inspired by real-life crimes are experiencing a resurgence of sorts in the entertainment industry. Last year’s Serial, chronicling a 1999 murder in Baltimore, became the most downloaded podcast of the year and also the fastest podcast ever to reach 5 million downloads. Meanwhile, HBO’s six-part documentary series The Jinx, focusing on Robert Durst and his connection to three different murders, also drew a huge audience throughout its run. Other notable projects within the true crime genre are also currently in the works, including an In Cold Blood television show.

With all that interest surrounding real crime-related stories, it’s not hard to see why NBC is choosing to try out the binge-watch model on Aquarius, even if the series is only partially based on true events. Releasing the episodes all at once, like Netflix does with the most of its original shows, will allow viewers to consume the high-stakes drama with limited interruptions.

“With Aquarius we have the opportunity to push some new boundaries to give our audience something no broadcast network has done before,” NBC Chairman Bob Greenblatt said of the release method, per Deadline. “We are fully aware how audiences want to consume multiple episodes of new television series faster and at their own discretion, and we’re excited to offer our viewers this same experience since all 13 episodes of this unique show have been produced and are ready to be seen.”

Per the network’s official announcement, the Manson drama is being made available only to a handful of advertising partners so that when the premiere airs on traditional television, it will feature fewer commercials. After the premiere, the entire season will be made available on NBC’s digital platforms, as well as all other VOD channels. The one-hour episodes will remain up on the various online outlets for a four-week period. Each episode will also continue to air, as usual, each week in its Thursday night time slot on NBC.

It’s an interesting move for NBC, one that fits in with the ongoing effort from many television channels to tap into online audiences and keep up with services like Hulu and Netflix. NBC is far from the first to try to incorporate digital platform into its series premieres. USA is also testing a new premiere model with its second season of the comedy Playing House, releasing the episodes on VOD platforms before they debut on the channel itself.

Other networks are taking it a step further, offering online subscription services to allow cable-free customers access their shows. CBS debuted one such service in October with All Access, while HBO unveiled HBO Now in March.

While NBC is clearly hoping this Netflix-style release will work out in its favor, viewers will have to stay tuned to see if the move ends up helping or hurting Aquarius. The show is set to premiere on May 28 at 9 p.m.

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