Given its short-form nature, the 10-episode relationship series posed a unique scheduling challenge for the channel. But here’s how the show will unroll: Starting Monday, May 6, and running through Friday, May 17, SundanceTV will air one 10-minute episode at 10 p.m. each weeknight.
Because of symmetry of running a 10-minute show at 10 p.m. for 10 days, SundanceTV is dubbing the showcase “10@10.”
Meanwhile, for viewers who would prefer to binge the show faster, Sundance Now, SundanceTV.com and the SundanceTV app will upload two 10-minute episodes each day at 5 p.m. between May 6 and May 10. The network is dubbing it a “Digital Happy Hour,” and is aiming at a commuter audience.
“If you are on the train or a carpool, standing on the bus, having a quick 10-minute episode for your ride home feels like such a terrific, convenient way to consume a show,” said Jan Diedrichsen, SundanceTV and Sundance Now executive director. “That’s how we came upon this idea of a 5 p.m. Eastern digital rollout. We really wanted the digital piece to be something that people associated with a point in time where they had this little 10-minute window to watch an episode, or even two episodes if possible.”
Written by Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”) and directed by Stephen Frears (“A Very English Scandal”), “State of the Union” stars Pike and O’Dowd as Louise and Tom, a couple who are struggling to keep their marriage together. Each installment centers on the two as they meet in a pub before their weekly marital therapy session. As the dialogue-heavy episodes advance, viewers learn more about their marriage and what led to its crumbling.
“Their chemistry on the show is unbelievable,” Diedrichsen said. “They’re funny, they’re smart, it’s an incredibly satisfying 10-episode arc… Think about a show that’s in one location, it would be very easy for that to quickly feel stale or be stagnant. [Frears and Hornby do] an amazing job of making each episode feel fresh and vibrant and different. It’s really a master class in direction to see how [Frears] takes a challenge like this and makes it pop.”
“State of the Union” comes from See-Saw Films, which previously produced “Top of the Lake” and sequel “Top of the Lake: China Girl” for SundanceTV. Kristin Jones, executive vice president of international programming for AMC and SundanceTV, identified the project and brought it to SundanceTV, where Diedrichsen said he was intrigued by its short-form nature.
“We’re always looking for new ways to break the boundary of what television does,” he said, noting SundanceTV’s early embrace of foreign language fare like “The Returned” and “Deutschland 83.” “This felt like to us an exciting way to try something new in terms of form, content, platform, and really try to do something different, which we think is the promise of our brand.”
“State of the Union” also debuts just as the short-form format gains more attention. The show will compete for Emmys this year in the short form categories, which have been expanded in recent years.
Diedrichsen said he’s curious to see how audiences watch “State of the Union” once it’s all up: As individual episodes, or one long 100-minute binge. “State of the Union” premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival with all 10 episodes screened back-to-back.
“It played beautifully, like a feature film,” he said. “But I’ve seen it several different ways now. One of the strengths of the show is it really is modular. It’s a show you could watch one a day, two a day, three a day or all at once. The experience is still satisfying whichever way you do it.”
SundanceTV’s embrace of a premium short-form project like “State of the Union” also comes long before the 2020 launch of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s short-form content incubator Quibi. As the volume of content and platforms continues to expand, short-form content is being touted as one way to attract audiences overwhelmed by choice but limited in the amount of time they have to consume programming.
“From here, first things first, we learn how the audience consumes the show, reacts and responds to the show,” Diedrichsen said. “This is an experiment, and we’re looking to be responsive to our audience and see the appetite for it. We have very high hopes for the show. But we want to learn and see as we try new things like this.”
It’s actually not the first short-form project for the programmer, which picked up the six-episode series “The Adulterers” out of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. “The Adulterers” recently premiered on the Sundance Now digital service. “It’s a little more low-fi in terms of budget and star power,” he said. “But still very entertaining. We’ve had terrific engagement and feedback from our subscribers. It’s definitely early days with this, but we’re excited about it.”
As for what’s next with “State of the Union,” Hornby has said that he would like to continue the show, but with different couples each season. “We have nothing to announce yet, but certainly we are interested in continuing our relationship with Nick and See-Saw,” Diedrichsen said. “We’ll see where it goes after Season 1.”