Hooked on Serials
Serials were low budget, short subject films usually broken up into fifteen chapters or episodes, each lasting about twenty minutes. They were notorious for their use of cliffhangers and unresolved plots. This device helped to create a loyal following, specifically among children. Serials were often melodramas and were presented in installments. Under the contract system, actors were obligated to perform solely for the studios to which they were contracted. In addition, studio employees, from the actors down to writers, were paid whether or not they worked. As such, it behooved studios to churn out as many serials as they could produce, since their staff was paid a flat rate. Serials were also cheap to produce as studios used stock footage and existing sets from other films.
The popularity of movie serials declined in the 1950s as labor unions gained leverage and demanded higher salaries for work performed. The final nail in the coffin for the serial came in the 1950s when television viewers could see their favorite serials for free.