Workplace dramas are no newcomers to our television screens. From medical series like Grey’s Anatomy, to police comedies like Brooklyn 99, it would seem that general audiences like to spend their time after a 9–to–5 watching other people in their own 9–to–5s. It’s no real surprise that a legal drama like Suits, starring Gabriel Macht and Patrick J. Adams, would rack up numbers—but if the show premiered in 2011, why is it suddenly blowing up in 2023?
In July alone, Suits reportedly hit 18 billion viewing minutes across Peacock and Netflix. According to Nielsen TV rankings, Suits beat out Wednesday and later Stranger Things to become the first show surpassing 3 billion minutes streamed for seven consecutive weeks this August. Suits became the most–watched acquired title in the Nielsen history, and the only viewership records it broke after that were its own as the show continued to rise in popularity.
Other shows this summer paled in comparison to Suits viewership—the only other show to even approach its July numbers was the Australian children’s cartoon, Bluey, which reached about 5 billion viewing minutes. In August, Suits remained in the #1 spot across all streaming programs and brought in 153% more streams than the #2 show of the week, Painkiller. Suits practically made itself right at home in that #1 spot of Nielsen’s weekly TV rankings this summer, despite its last season airing almost 5 years ago.
Is this a silly offshoot of the Meghan Markle effect? Could the consistent rise of streaming platforms (and subsequent decline of live television and cable) be the cause? Or is it maybe all a side effect of the ongoing Hollywood strikes that are halting productions across the board?
I myself only started watching Suits after watching about half of the show split up into one–minute segments spliced with Subway Surfers videos on TikTok. Older shows, movies, and even songs are suddenly rising back in popularity, all thanks to the unpredictable ebb–and–flow of social media trends. According to Billboard, TikTok’s algorithm can be credited with causing older music to double in sales in 2022, from 35% to 70%. Social media might not be entirely to blame here, but it surely has helped fuel the Suits–fever so far. On the other hand, social media hype can get make viewers interested in a show, but a mega–hit needs to be easy for the average viewer to find.
Enter the gargantuan streaming catalog. The average audience member is leaning more and more in favor of streaming as opposed to traditional broadcasts and satellites—or at least that’s what NPR TV critic Eric Deggans believes. It’s simply easier, more accessible, and allows for optimal binging—I personally will admit to spending an embarrassing amount of my free–time this summer watching Suits for hours on end. The accessibility and instant gratification of being able to watch episode after episode in one sitting, rather than having to wait for a new episode weekly, seems to be swaying audiences to favor streaming platforms.
However, the streaming system itself is not perfect. Deggans suggests that, in a world where streaming platforms and production companies are canceling shows left and right (even those that gain substantial followings and accumulate considerable streaming numbers), library content is gaining the perfect conditions to thrive. When starting a brand new show that might suddenly get canceled and leave you at a cliffhanger (looking at you, The Society) is no longer appealing, most audiences would rather watch a show that they know has concrete episodes lined up in a perfect streaming library.
Reliable availbility in an easily accessible streaming library became more important than ever to viewers this summer, as strikes in Hollywood continued. The production of new TV content has slowed to a halt over the summer. July 13th marked the beginning of the SAG–AFTRA strike, which is still blocking actors from taking part in new projects. While the writers and actors of America continue to fight for fair treatment and compensation from production companies, audiences were left with a gap in their day–to–day entertainment habits, a gap that Suits seemed to fill perfectly.
Could Suits’ successful streak continue even after the strikes? Will this kind of television phenomenon be possible after the strike? To answer that question, we’d first have to address ending the strikes themselves, something that does not seem to be in the immediate future. That aside, it’s hard to tell whether the burst of summer viewership will continue into the fall. Take into account, for example, the amount of free time that audiences will have later into the year. Teenagers and many young adults—of which an average 65% engage in binge–watching—will be returning to school this fall and not have nearly as much time to spend on their favorite streaming services. This could largely impact viewership on shows like Suits, whose success is partly dependent on its binge–ability.
The summer of Suits is over, but the circumstances that created it are beginning to seem like essential parts of the media landscape, and they might not be going anywhere. Like a cactus in the desert, or a Penn student with no 8:30 a.m. classes, these conditions allowed Suits to thrive this summer—even 10 years after its premiere.