Televisions shows are designed to run in perpetuity, at least that’s the hopes of many networks and television executives. They want a viable concept that can be run until it’s no longer popular at which point they can easily cut the strings without any sort of closure, because none is needed. Many shows do this. They create a status quo that never really changes, allowing drop in drop out viewing. CSI, Law and Order, House and many others follow this model. Think about it, the premise is described in the opening credits after the cold open. If you can watch any episode of a show in any order and the only change is the age of the actors, then you’re watching a procedural. Nothing wrong with this, just not my type of show.
On the other hand, we have serialized shows (something I’ve discussed in previous posts). These are very linear in nature, where each episode (in theory) matters. Watching them out of order isn’t recommended. The problem with serialized shows is they have a beginning, middle, and end. This goes against the established desire for networks to run shows into the ground. As a by product many shows are unnaturally expanded or drug out prolonging it’s life span to an unsustainable length causing lost viewership.
This notoriously happened on Lost with the episode about Jack’s tattoo. The writers/producers of the show created that episode to prove a point. Unless they had a concrete end date that they could work towards, we were going to get episodes like this. The network agreed on 3 more seasons, finalizing an end point.
Completely counter to this, we have shows produced by the British Broadcasting Channel (BBC). Their model would never work here. Their shows length and episode count vary as needed. Sherlock (a fantastic show), has 2 seasons, with six total episodes each running 1.5 hours. Unlike American shows where they have stumbling time to find their footing, or their audience, saving their big guns for later, BBC shows can’t afford they. They bring their A game immediately, and the quality shines through. All 6 episodes of Sherlock are on Netflix. I dare you to watch just one.
An easy example is The Office. The American version of the show is currently in it’s 9th and final season, with the finale numbering as episode 200. The concept is a documentary crew (who we never see or meet) following a group of people working at a paper company. This already breaks certain concepts of reality. The entire cast plus a few additions (minus one) are all still present. The idea of people meandering through their lives and career just so they can still work at Dunder Mifflin, thus remaining on the show, and watching them make the same mistakes making them ultimately never grow as people. The first three seasons were fantastic while quality waned for the last 5 years only now coming back strong but with story lines the break the show, characters growing and leaving.
The original BBC version was only 14 episodes across 2 seasons and 2 specials. Even in that short time we saw the dynamic change as characters left and moved on with their lives. It’s a great concept but a limited one. American television follows whatever model allows them to get the most out of a franchise, in many cases ruining what made it special in the first place while BBC serves the story first. Except Dr. Who, that will never die.
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