3 Things To Learn From The Squid Game.

In case you’ve been too busy playing “Red Light Green Light”, The Squid Game recently became the most-watched show on Netflix. It took over the top spot from Bridgerton and has now amassed over 140mm (!) views.

(Hmmm, Bridgerton inspired a TikTok musical – anyone working on a Squid Game tuner out there? Cuz that’d be creepy if you were.)

What made The Squid Game so popular? Why did I stay up until 3 AM binge-watching the last five episodes so I could see how it ends?  

It’s a killer show (pun intended) with a whole lot that we can learn from as we create our own shows . . . even if ours are on a stage instead of a screen.  

But there were three big takeaways for me that I’m going to keep in the front of my mind from now on, and you should too:

1. You don’t get stakes bigger than The Squid Game’s.

Life or Death.  

That’s what is at stake in the show. In every episode. Many, many, many times.

Your show may not have a character facing a game of marbles to the death. But whatever they are facing has to FEEL like life or death.  

After I finish a first draft of a script I’m working on, I always re-read it with one intention. Raising the stakes. Do the same with your script and say to yourself, “What can I add to the hero to make their situation feel MORE dire?”  

Or just add that game of marbles to the death.

2. The Squid Game has TWO Ticking Clocks.

Having your hero face a “dead”-line (pun intended again) always amps up the excitement of the ride for the audience.  When you know they have to solve their problem before a day or time or they “lose”, the pressure heats up big time.  

Right at the top of The Squid Game’s series, you know how many games there are going to be.  Six. And the countdown begins.

And on top of that countdown, each game in each episode . . . has a countdown clock in it.

Tick, tick, tick.  

And no, that’s not the sound of the timer.  That’s the sound of your audience’s heart beating faster and faster as they watch your hero try to achieve their objective before the time runs out!  Ahhhh!!!!

3. The Hero’s want can’t be more clear. Even though it changes.

Your hero has to want something. Period. If they don’t, your audience will want their money back.

In The Squid Game, the Hero (and ALL the contestants) want one thing . . . that big ball of money.  

And then, very quickly, that want changes. They want to survive (see #1 on this list), which GETS them that money.

As an audience member, you know right away the journey they are on. And when you know where the hero’s finish line is, it’s much easier to follow them on their race. And root for them.

Those are just three of the brilliant elements of TSG that got so much of the world watching.

And I could go on.  

It features a band of misfits, a game arc, a major twist you don’t see coming, and more that make it stand out from all those other Netflix shows that you’re not watching.

Oh, and you know my other favorite tidbit about The Squid Game? The multi-hyphenate Writer/Director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, wrote it way back in 2008. 13 years ago. And when he showed it to people? No one bought it. They didn’t get it.  

It took him TEN years to sell it, and another two for it to become a sensation and change his life forever.

So if your show is taking a bit to get off the ground, don’t fret. It could still turn into the hottest show on the planet someday . . . if you keep at it. 

Now, no one wants to wait that long. Do you?

So ask yourself, what can you do today to speed that up?

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.