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'Hatfields & McCoys' Success Proves TV Audiences Haven't Lost Their Attention Spans

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May 30, 2012 | 11:08am EDT

29168773.jpg"What's all this fuss about some History Channel mini-series about the Hatfields and the McCoys?" you might ask. "How engrossing can a three-night Civil War era mini-series starring Bill Paxton and Kevin Costner be?" you might also ask. Well, there are about 17 million TV viewers who can't answer you right now because they're hurriedly finishing up their work so they can be home in time to see Part 3 of History's Hatfields & McCoys (which airs tonight at 9 PM ET on the History Channel) but if they could muster up a few words, you can bet they'd say that the show's got them hooked. 

But the big mystery isn't whether or not audiences are watching each installment in impossibly large groups — 13 million viewers came back for May 29's Part 2 and numbers don't lie, my friends — it's why so many folks are tuning in. The series, which premiered on Memorial Day evening (a period I often refer to as post-day-drinking nap time) seemed like something your dad might insist on watching after eating a T-bone and reading President Lincoln's biography. It did not appear to be a series that had the capacity to draw Two and a Half Men-sized crowds. 

And even after watching the series, this phenomenon is a bit of a mystery. Hatfields & McCoys certainly doesn't lack story lines, but the pacing is disjointed and lagging, making it difficult to ever truly become engrossed in the tale of the feuding families. To make matters worse, the vintage, sepia tone treatment throughout the series lends a subdued, monochrome layer to an already dry piece. Even the constant violent outbursts between the infamous American families is handled in such an understated manner that the four-and-a-half-plus-hour three night epic seems to coast along sleepily like an old horse plodding along a dirt road. The only easy-to-digest storyline is the forbidden love between the prettiest, blondest offspring of each family and even that is given a banal dressing, yet this three-night, historically based saga has captured the nation's attention. So what gives?

While dry, Hatfields & McCoys does weave a rich history that dares to go beyond the simplistic representation of America's answer to the Montagues and Capulets. Still, it's certainly not as easy to digest as other programs in the same ratings bracket (think Dancing With the Stars and American Idol.) Perhaps this surge of interest in an almost academic series suggests that TV audiences aren't as prone to television A.D.D. as we thought. It seems that when you strike the right patriotic, historical chord, American TV viewers are still willing to stick around for a story that requires our full attention to understand it. Either that, or every dad in America wielded his influence to keep the television tuned into the tale of the notorious battling broods. 

Did you watch Hatfields & McCoys? If so why? What is your favorite part so far? Let us know in the comments!

[Image: History]

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