Often, the hardest thing about retaining fans is preventing them from forgetting about a TV show when it’s off the air. One way to combat that problem? Don’t give up your weekly appointment with viewers between seasons.
That’s the plan with ABC Family’s hit Pretty Little Liars, which wrapped its third season on Tuesday night with (spoiler alert!) love triangles, kisses, dead bodies and other cliffhanger-worthy intrigue. As soon as the episode was over, fans were directed to check out Pretty Dirty Secrets, an eight-part Web series which will debut new episodes at 8 p.m. EST Tuesdays on ABCFamily.com and Hulu.
According to Beth Johnson, vp of digital media for ABC Family, Pretty Dirty Secrets will feature secondary characters from Liars, and an original plot designed to lead viewers to a special Halloween-themed episode of the show this October. In addition, Pretty Dirty Secrets will introduce a new character who will play a pivotal role when Pretty Little Liars returns for Season 4 in 2013.
Several major broadcast and cable networks have tried the between-season webisode treatment before—most notably NBC with The Office and SyFy for Battlestar Gallactica. But in the case of those shows, the prevailing sense was that fans didn’t need to watch the Web video content to keep up with their favorites. Plus, the average American TV viewer hadn’t made watching Web originals a habit just yet.
That’s not an issue for Liars, argues Johnson, who emphasized that the show’s creative team was heavily involved in the Pretty Dirty Secrets Web run. “This is not the work of the marketing department,” said Johnson. “The creators are fully behind this. We’re making this so you don’t want to miss these episodes if you follow the show. We don’t think this will be a major hurdle for our audience. If you’re used to seeing Liars every Tuesday, you’ll keep finding it.”
Another reason that consistency is important? Outside of American Idol, Liars generates the most social chatter of any show on TV (despite not delivering anywhere near the ratings of Idol). Once shows like Liars hit their hiatus periods, their presence on social media typically falls off a cliff.
“This keeps us in the conversation,” said Johnson.
ABC Family is looking at the Pretty Dirty Secrets as a test, and Johnson said it’s possible that other network shows could follow Liars' lead by creating original Web content designed to bridge the TV season. Right now, the new Web content is about testing and learning. "Every network is wrestling with these sorts of questions,” said Johnson.