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The resurgence of 'Suits' shows how the strikes are driving viewers to stream

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK. We're used to hearing about a song of the summer, but viewership data shows there also may be a TV show of the summer this year. Remember, "Suits" - that's right - that legal drama that aired nine seasons on USA Network, like, years ago? Well, it has become a breakout hit in July on Netflix. One possible reason might be one of its co-stars, of course. Meghan Markle played a paralegal on the show before her marriage to Prince Harry. Here she is greeting a new hire at the law firm where she works, played by Patrick J. Adams.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUITS")

MEGHAN MARKLE: (As Rachel Zane) I'm Rachel Zane. I'll be giving you your orientation.

PATRICK J ADAMS: (Mike Ross) Wow. You're pretty.

MARKLE: (As Rachel Zane) Good. You've hit on me. We can get it out of the way that I am not interested.

ADAMS: (As Mike Ross) No. I'm sorry.

CHANG: The ratings company Nielsen says "Suits" drew 18 billion minutes of viewing in July, which helped set a new record for the overall share of TV viewing taken up by streaming video. Here to talk about all of that is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Hey, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So what do you think it says about the TV industry that "Suits" is suddenly a hit on this platform?

DEGGANS: Well, I mean, I think it shows that people are starting to turn to streaming, and I'll talk about that in a second. Nielsen says the popularity of "Suits" and the kids show "Bluey" on Disney+ helped boost viewers' time watching streaming. And at the same time, the viewing of what we call linear TV - these programs on traditional broadcast cable and satellite channels - dipped below 50% of all TV viewing for the first time. Now, Nielsen says this hike in streaming comes from library content. People are watching shows like "Suits" that aired somewhere else, but they're now on a streaming service's stored library. And some TV executives have always said that streaming was going to be the future of TV. Figures like this show they just might be right.

CHANG: Interesting. Well, I am still curious about the timing of all this. I mean, even if this is about some Meghan Markle effect, why is a show that debuted on cable 12 years ago becoming popular again now?

DEGGANS: Well, the strikes by writers and performers in Hollywood over this summer have halted production, and that's left some people looking over to streaming for fresh material. Now, I also think at a time when TV platforms are canceling shows quicker than ever, there's some comfort in starting a series knowing that there's nine seasons to enjoy if you like it. Now, Netflix featured "Suits" inside its app, which guaranteed that subscribers would be encouraged to view it, and that always helps with views. And it's a great series.

It's about this talented but self-centered lawyer named Harvey Specter, played by Gabriel Macht, who hires a smart young guy to be his associate even though he doesn't have a law degree. It's part "Cinderella" story. It's part legal procedural. It's part workplace drama. It's got a killer cast. We've got a clip of Patrick Adams as Mike Ross trying to talk Specter into hiring him. But Specter is a little hesitant.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUITS")

GABRIEL MACHT: (As Harvey Specter) I'm inclined to give you a shot. But what if I decided to go another way?

ADAMS: (As Mike Ross) I'd say that's fair. And sometimes I like to hang out with people who aren't that bright, you know, just to see how the other half lives.

CHANG: Touche. I mean, I don't want you, Eric, to make me want to watch "Suits," OK? But I do think it is interesting to see the share of streaming viewing go up even as services like Disney+ or Netflix raise their prices. Do you think what those companies are doing could slow down the popularity of streaming?

DEGGANS: Well, it's definitely possible. I mean, the question is whether subscribers actually perceive that prices are being hiked. For example, Netflix eliminated a mid-price subscription fee, and they're tamping down on password sharing. So that increases their revenue, but they're not explicitly hiking their fees. I really think these concerns are always going to be outweighed. If the streaming services can come up with multiple seasons of a high-quality show like "Suits," that's just TV comfort food at a time when the industry is about as turbulent as it's ever been.

CHANG: And who doesn't like comfort food? That is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Thank you so much, Eric.

DEGGANS: Always a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTOPHER TYNG'S "SUITS END CREDITS THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.