News Column

Minneapolis-based Hodder binge-watches TV so that you don't have to

October 3, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 03--On the third floor of the downtown Minneapolis offices of Hodder, there are remnants of a recent binge. A dimly lit room referred to as "Edit 2" has white sheets of paper blanketing part of a wall with phrases written on them, including: "Olivia Pope is a fixer," "Meet the Gladiators," "Cyrus is in charge, really" and "The First Lady is an Animal."

Fans of the ABC-TV political thriller "Scandal" will recognize the names as main characters. But for those who don't, Hodder is behind an hourlong recap special titled "Scandal: The Secret Is Out." It airs at 7 p.m. Thursday on KSTP-TV before the Season 3 premiere of "Scandal" at 9 p.m.

"The Secret Is Out" breaks down the past two seasons -- nearly 30 episodes -- of the show. Not only is it intended to help new and occasional viewers jump into the popular series known for its plot twists, it also serves as a refresher for the show's devoted fan base.

"The strength of serialized television is it's building an arc over the course of the season or the entire life of the show," said Kent Hodder, the CEO and creative director of the namesake firm. "By the time the buzz gets out there, many episodes have come and gone."

And while binge-watching an entire TV series can be great fun, it's also time consuming. Hodder's work lets viewers looking for a shortcut partake in the buzz.

For example, the company made recap specials in 2005 for "Lost," a show about a group of people stranded on a mysterious island. The series was notorious for its confusing story lines, and Hodder produced 13 prime-time recap specials, including a two-hour show that aired before the series' finale.

Since then Hodder, which employs about 25 people and also has an office in Burbank, Calif., has created recaps and end-of-series tributes for several shows, including "Nashville," "Pretty Little Liars," "90210," "Gossip Girl," "One Tree Hill," "Grey's Anatomy," "Battlestar Galactica," "Revenge" and "Twisted."

For the current fall TV season, Hodder has released three specials -- referred to in the TV industry as "clip shows" -- for "Scandal," ABC's "Once Upon a Time" and the CW's "Arrow."

While many members of Hodder's creative team were fans of "Lost" and familiar with the show when they created those recaps, that isn't always the case.

"Lately, we've been introduced to shows who want to work with us and we haven't seen them yet," said Steve Mulholland, executive producer and creative director. "We're getting much better at binge-watching. You have to discard a lot of stuff and home in on what to say in this hour that you have. ... When we did our first clip show, that background really helped this process. We're given all of this footage, combing through it,

taking notes trying to figure out what is the story here. There are a lot of stories, but you can only tell so many."

Added Hodder: "We need it to be a satisfying hour of television; otherwise, it's just a big ad. We don't consider them ads. They get ratings, have titles and are sold as specials."

Hodder's comp, which was founded in 1987, not only does recaps and digital content for TV shows, it also does public service advertising campaigns and branded entertainment series for on-air and digital use. The "Project Not Me" video-on-demand television series about Type 2 diabetes recently won a regional Emmy award.

There's a formula to creating a clip show: The creative team watches all the episodes of the TV show, then they hunker down and pick it apart. Characters, story arcs and pivotal moments are all broken down. Nonessential story elements are weeded out.

Key characters are highlighted; minor ones discarded. Big series moments are emphasized.

A majority of the work happens in "Edit 2," which is equipped with viewing screens, a mixing board, computer, sofa and hundreds of those colorful Post-it Notes.

"We've adopted Post-it Notes as a method to structuring our stories -- it's a way to get everything up on a wall," Mulholland said. "There are so many things you're trying to pack into the series, that it's just a stream of consciousness sort of thing -- you're writing ideas on Post-its and throwing them up on the wall."

Mulholland said he loves working in that particular room.

"Your focus gets really sharp," he said. "We spend a lot of time here, but we have a lot of fun, too. We become like 'Mystery Science Theater 3000.' We are like audience members. We watch these shows over and over and over again. You have to have fun doing it."

Assembling the "Scandal" recap was difficult, Mulholland said, because it's such a complex show. It took his team about six weeks to put together the special, including adding graphics, mixing audio and dealing with licensing issues.

Hodder said a lot of discussion went on between the team and ABC about how to handle a show that's so popular right now.

"You don't want to blunt that excitement by slowing down and just recapping things," Hodder said. "It's really important the way this special went together that it have the kind of the passion and success of where the show is today even though we're giving you some history and background. It feels like an episode of 'Scandal.' "

While they've seen excitement on Twitter during the airing of their specials, especially for "Pretty Little Liars: A Liars Guide to Rosewood" and "One Tree Hill: Always & Forever," Mulholland will be anxiously monitoring the social media site Thursday evening to see what kind of buzz "Scandal: The Secret Is Out" receives from the show's fans.

"That's become very entertaining," he said about watching Twitter. "And a lot of fun."

Amy Carlson Gustafson can be reached at 651-228-5561. Follow her at twitter.com/amygustafson.

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(c)2013 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

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