Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #506: Sometimes A Series Shouldn't Be A Series

Welcome to the show folks...

In TV, history has a habit of repeating itself. ABC's
Happy Town, a murder mystery has been yanked from the schedule, and may return as summer filler material. Meanwhile the sci-fi shows FlashForward is probably going to be flash erased and is going through show-runners like Kevin Smith goes through toilets, and I'm not holding much hope for V getting a victory.

Now the main problem shared by these shows, and others before them, (remember The Sarah Conner Chronicles) are attempts by networks to create long form storytelling that goes beyond the "plot of the week" format found on most network dramas. They're basically trying to do what has been so critically, and even commercially successful on cable.

Unless you're a soap opera that is founded on a formula of constant sex, sin, and scandal the odds of making it as what I call a long form television series are pretty damn slim. The main reason for the odds being against these shows can be found in the fundamental model of being a network TV show.

When you're a network TV show the model of success is pumping out 22-25+ episodes a season, and doing that for as many seasons as possible. Nothing is allowed to end, no loose ends wrapped up, and no popular characters allowed to exit unless the show is canceled with some warning, or the actor asks for too much money.

This means that the audience is wary of committing themselves to such dramas, because they don't want to end up left not knowing who shot Lord Autumnbottom, because the network dropped the show before Inspector Stenchwad unmasks the killer, or wait all summer for the conclusion of the plot if the show does get renewed.

Now 24 beat this trap, because it promised 1 story over 24 episodes, then that crisis would be done and dusted. You got an intense beginning, a slightly saggy middle, and a whopper ending, and that's what sold the show. Even the title told you that it had a locked in ending.

Cable channels do a continuing drama they only order 10-13 episodes, and usually ask that those behind the show do something that might be construed as an ending, because they might not renew the show and let those 10-13 episodes stand alone.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

If the networks want these kinds of shows to succeed, they should declare that a show of this kind will not be a typical series, but instead a limited series, or a TV Novel. (Try to separate it from the soapy image of the "telenovellas" popular in Latin America) Promise viewers that there will be some sort of closure, and that closure will be a whopper, and if it's popular, sell it in a DVD box set, and start working on a sequel. But only work if the stories meet a proper level of quality that will make viewers trust the people that make them, and the networks that air them.

It's so stupidly simple an idea, it just might work.


  1. Furious D , I am going off topic here. You have been good about answering my questions and so I have another one for you,this time the topic is film critics on the internet. Re: Rotten Tomatoes and posted film ratings and who does the posting. What sort of credentials does a film critic have to have? These poster critics seem to vary from film to film, you know a different crowd each time.So what about the quality of criticism?I am not impressed with their analysis overall.

  2. GamerFromJump23/5/10 9:44 pm

    That's sort of what Japan does with animated series (except for shounen series like Bleach or Naruto). For the most part, it works.

    Personally, I'd like to see the networks use the model of each season being a stand-alone "book", that can end there if need be.

    Further, arc series should be purchased 1 "book" at a time, so that you're safe taking up a show. Use summer as a testbed for new shows. Show the prelude, gauge reactions, then choose to pick-up or not, but once you have, you show the whole thing.