What would Dexter do?

Staff Writer

The television series ‘Dexter’ is compelling.

The concept is unique: in broad terms, 'Dexter' is a serial killer who kills other serial killers. The production is first-class. The location shots spectacular. The special effects often gruesome. The acting always brilliant.

Furthermore, it is a compelling programme, in part, due to the questions and scenarios it consistently threads across multiple episodes, engaging and bonding the viewer emotionally to the show.

Due to the 'story arcs'.

Where Dexter has suceeded brilliantly is that it not only offers up story arc content, but resolves them within a time period that the viewer can accept and commit to.

Every story arc is generally resolved in episodes throughout that years series, or in the final episode; with the exception of the one cliffhanger designed to set the tone for the following season's first episode. 

And speaking as a fan of the show, I was genuinely angry after the final episode of series 4 when Dexter's wife Rita (left) was murdered. Yes I know it's only a television show, but as a viewer who was 'emotionally' drawn into the show, it shows how much it had connected. 

Television programmes are often brilliant at creating and developing story arcs: content pieces that develop and evolve across multiple episodes. They have to be, viewers aren’t loyal to a television station, they are loyal to individual shows or personalities.

Their development of story arcs creates the desire for the viewer to have to watch next weeks episode, so they don’t miss a evolutionary point or a resolution. 

When done well, the end result is a television show that you plan your night around in order not to miss: it becomes ‘must-watch TV’, rather than a show that you watch (and enjoy) if you happen to remember it’s on.

Radio is the same.

Great, compelling, relatable story arcs elevate a breakfast (or any personality-driven) show from being a good show to listen to, into one that you must listen to.

They create a powerful emotional need to hear how the content (story arc) develops or resolves.

Too many shows exist in isolation. When you listen to them as a standalone show, they tick all the boxes: they have strong role definition, the content is well balanced, they are well executed, the show has a sense of fun, strong topicality, they use callers well. And that's all hugely important.

But often they lack one important ingredient. 

They do not ‘emotionally’ compell the listener to have to listen tomorrow. Certainly they all hook subsequent shows:

  “tomorrow we’re back with your chance to win our trip to xyz”
  “don’t forget that monday after 7, we'll have xyz guest in the studio playing live”

But the hooking is often completely rational.

The great shows understand that a compelling, evolving story arc that emotionally involves the listener is the most powerful kind of hook.

It is the most effective way to compell the listener to return tomorrow.

It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because it is hard work.

It takes focus, it takes creativity, it takes preparation, it takes a product team who is prepared to think beyond preparing content for 'todays show’, and as part of their weaponry build content that can have a life across multiple shows.

There is no doubt that you can have a very good breakfast show without story arcs. There are many.

But by providing listeners with compelling, emotional reasons to come back to your show, in combination with delivery of a compelling show concept executed consistently well, you’ll have an even better one.



Dan Bradley is a director of Kaizen Media, a boutique radio consulting company working on brand strategy, tactical implementation and talent development. You can contact him here.

Dan is also a director of Radio Today.



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