Friday, November 10, 2006

As I continue to think about the challenges of a show like Lost (see my comments below), which used to be cutting-edge TV, it's made me consider the challenges of serialized dramas (ongoing mystery as opposed to self-contained episodes). Yeah, I've read the same stuff you probably have, about how unattractive serialized dramas are to TV networks because they don't do as well in syndication (you have to run them in order and people already know what happened), viewers may miss an episode and then become confused, blah blah blah.

More than that, there's a fundamental story challenge which is related to syndication: the desire to run for five years. For a serialized drama, that means writers have to find a way to keep the story interesting for five years. Keep the question, the reason we watch, going- for five years.

Who wants to wait for anything for five years?

Took me five years to get my PhD. Some of the most miserable years of my life.

People don't pursue potential romantic interests for five years.

Many couples get divorced within the first five years.

Pregnancy is only 40 weeks- and most people are impatient for that to be over, especially after week 32 or so.

I learned this lesson with another great TV show, the X-Files. I loved that show- even delayed going out on Friday nights to watch it. I followed it to Sundays and then delayed watching what would become another favorite show of mine (Alias) to continue watching the X-Files.

Towards the end of the final season, as I braced myself for the end of the X-Files, I came to a realization: the series finale was going to be a disappointment. There was no way the show would be able to provide a good enough answer to the over-arching question of the show: What was the truth that was out there? Not after all those years.

Yet I did watch, and sure enough, the big answer (there would be an alien invasion in 10 years) didn't do a whole lot for me. Luckily I could console myself with Alias' amazing season one cliffhanger of her mother walking into the room.

Honestly, I didn't blame the X-Files' writers. I realized that there was no way to fulfill the suspense that had built up over so many years (I don't even remember just how long the show ran).

Writers on current serialized dramas, like Lost, are facing the same dilemma. I don't envy them.

Comments:
I agree. The X-files were huge disappointments in the final seasons. It would be ideal for the writers to wrap things up at season 7. But then nobody is perfect. They have produced some great TV moments (like the episode about the old man who sees how people die), and that is probably enough.

I guess it is impossible for people like us super-human sci-fi suckers not to like Heroes. Every show that has super-natural elements (especially time travelling) can count me as a fan.

I didn’t watch Lost when it came out. Just starting to watch from season one. It grabbed me in the pilots, but then I started to lose interests. The flashbacks are mostly boring stuff (especially Charlie).
 
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