Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The End...Please?

...I like the take of this Variety article that the category of maxi-series should be created for serialized mystery programs like 'Lost', 'The Nine', 'Prison Break', and 'Jericho' and I'm going to include 'Day Break'.

It's basically defining them as a long limited series where a 'date certain' is set when the mystery will be answered and the story will come to a resolution. And this date may well be deemed as five years/100 episodes...but let's face it, if the story works best to tell in 2 or 3 years/seasons, why stretch it out? Oh right...no one wants to kill a cash cow if its still drawing viewers and good ad revenue.
The maxi-series concept reflects a push away from the traditional "Run five years and cash in on syndication" model, but so what? The old road to riches is increasingly irrelevant for the aforementioned series, which cash in on DVD and ancillary sales at their peak but whose shelf life is far more limited than repeatable franchises such as "Law & Order" or "CSI."
That's a nice counterpoint. And I agree with the article that setting a date certain will 'build' viewers to a big finale as opposed to watching them slowly drift away as they get bored or frustrated.

UK series like 'The Office' or 'Life On Mars' seemed to execute this to some success. Canada also seems to be trying the model out (Across The River In Motor City?). But are these UK and Canadian examples a product of steadfast storytellers? Or producers trying to make the most of small budgets?

8 comments:

Caroline said...

Well, the cynic in me says budget. But the rest of me says maybe not.

Think about the things in life you really love but can't get all time ... the Cadbury easter creme egg, the Shamrock shake (in Toronto, Old Dutch chips). You get the drill. Things that are available only sometimes are special, you look forward to them, anticipate them, and when they finally arrive, you savour them all the more.

Can't my rather sad junk food analogy also apply to tv? I think that's why I love Dancing With The Stars so much. I know it will only be for 10 weeks and I know it's only a couple of times a year.

I'll play devil's advocate to DMc's argument about Corner Gas and the fact that they produce a dirth of episodes. Sometimes I think good shows burn themselves out by being on too long and asking too much of viewers.

wcdixon said...

you make a lot of good points, ms. smartypants...but I think even DMc would disagree about including Corner Gas in with serialized mystery programs like Lost, Day Break, etc.. Those shows are built around some eventual big revelation and explanation of the mystery. Corner Gas can and should go on as long as creatives want to make it and people want to watch it.

That said, you're right 'Dancing' and 'Idol' benefit from not being on all the time and being event programming....

Good Dog said...

I like what Lowry has to say in the article.

A while back I wrote a piece for a website saying that it would be a good idea if ongoing US series were given a ceiling of 100 episodes/five years from the get go - even if they were ongoing series or story per episode shows like the Law & Order/CSI franchise, or even character-based drama like ER.

For an ongoing, more complex story -- say Lost, amongst the current bunch -- it meant that the writers and producers could work out a beginning, middle and end. Come the end of year three/beginning of year four, if the programme makers can produce a valid reason for altering the original story and contining the drama (either by one or two years) they should be allowed to petition the network for an extension.

Obviously that's a very simplistic way of putting it, but it’s evident that carrying a show past its sell by date without a set plan isn’t healthy for anyone’s appetite.

With Buffy it was evident that Joss Whedon and his writers had a game-plan, going forward one season at a time and building on what went before. 24 is a perfect current example. On the other end of the scale: The X-Files, which pitched and rolled all over the shop with nobody at the wheel knowing where they were heading.

I mean, if The X-Files had been fixed to five years from the start I'm sure we would remember it as something other than a show that worked for the first couple of years and then turned into an unholy mess.

Obviously there are other variables. You can understand the network wanting to keep a show going for example. Producers/writers and even actors and the like, who are getting a steady payday after years of scratching around, probably want to keep it that way.

But sometimes you have to take it on the chin and tell yourself another show will come along. There are other ideas out there. And actually, if the really long-running current shows had signed off, there would have been room in the schedules for something else.

wcdixon said...

Well said Good Dog...and 'X Files' is the perfect example of a series that bobbed and weaved and then puttered out.

TV Minion said...

In Japan, series only run for short, self-contained arcs and will -sometimes- be brought back for more 'seasons'. Anime is the most common genre where a series will be re-imagined or continued - but even then, it's difficult. The stories are mostly designed to end, therefore only super-popular series tend to continue - thus, Sailor Moon R, S, SuperS, Live-Action, etc.

I've been of the opinion for some time that most dramatic series, at least, should have a five-year cap. Babylon 5 is a decent example of this working successfully where the time limit was the creator's self-imposed one.

With Lost, specifically, I read an interview with Lindelof (sp?) where he said that the creators and writers certainly wanted to end it, but they weren't sure if the network would let them. It's terribly disappointing that riding an old series into the ground is supposedly 'easier' than getting a few good series going every three to five years. I guess the risk is/seems too great.

Not that there can't be long-running series. Law and Order can still be fun, so can CSI. I'd just like people to see the value of a good ending. I mean, we keep re-watching favourite movies and re-reading favourite books. An ending is immensely satisfying if done right; 'Alias' if done quickly and to beat cancellation. :P

Bill Cunningham said...

I'm a big advocate of the maxi-series or serial for television. I don't think it hurts to at least have an idea of the beginning, middle and end of your show - and have the flexibility to play around with it as necessary - and then wrap it up when the story is told.

If movies are short stories then television series are novels. With that analogy there is no problem in doing "a series of novels" is there?

I'm working on several serials right now as I think the format is due for a big resurgence - if only for nostalgia's sake. They also fit into the whole "event-programming" cluture we are dealing with right now.

Piers said...

Let's not forget that the telenovela does exactly that: One story, told over a fixed amount of time.

Of course it's stripped daily rather than shown weekly, but the underlying concept is identical.

Perhaps we should just appropriate telenovela rather than trying for a new coinage?

wcdixon said...

Having watched 4 episodes now of Day Break, I can't think of a more appropriate series to 'set an end date'. It's very good and clever...but it can't keep it up.