Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Means To An End

Perhaps the best news to come out of the bi-annual TCA jamboree in Pasedena this month is that Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, the executive producers of Lost, are already planning the show’s exit strategy. It’s a shame that not everyone in the US is that forward thinking but I guess we just have to take what we can get.

The move toward continuing, serial drama is certainly a more enriching experience than shows with pretty much self-contained episodes because it allows more time and space for the stories and characters to develop, but there is always the worry of how and when it will end. Dickens had his novels first published in instalments in journals such as Household Words and Master Humphrey's Clock, much like the serial dramas, but each book reached a natural conclusion and he moved on to the next. Television producers and showrunners are perhaps not that lucky.

What every plot-centric serialised drama needs is a satisfying resolution. Which means it needs producers with the courage to work toward the day when their regular pay cheque stops. If they find themselves overseeing a hit show the obvious temptation is to hang on in there as long as possible, rather than wring the neck of their golden goose, because there’s no guarantee they’ll be lucky again. As part of a panel during the television critics press tour, Marc Cherry, the creator of Desperate Housewives, doubted that he could catch that elusive lightning in a bottle a second time.

Whether it happens or not, they need the courage to believe another hit will come along and work toward a conclusion. Joe Straczynski’s space opera Babylon 5 was designed to run five years with a beginning, middle and definite end. Amazingly, with all the variables involved in television production, it actually made it, which was something of an achievement. Of course it was then sullied by a rubbish, swiftly cancelled sequel and some doofus TV movies, but that’s by the bye.

Hanging on too long lines the pockets but leans towards alienating a weary audience who feel they’re being jerked around. Which of course brings us to The X-Files. Some folk thought it went on a couple of years longer than it should have. But that’s being kind. It went on far longer than it should have. The problem with The X-Files was that it had not just one good idea but lots of ideas, which went about bashing each other senseless, leaving the story to drunkenly stumble around in all directions. Cuse and Lindelof obviously don’t want to be tarred with the same brush, which is a very good thing.

“I have been consistent in terms of saying, it’s always felt to me like the story is going to last about 100 episodes,” Lindelof told reporters. Which means that the fifth season of Lost looks like it will be the last. With that goal in sight, Cuse and Lindelof can start to set up how and when to reveal the overall mysteries and mythology and decide on where each character’s journey ultimately takes them. Unless of course ABC tries to keep the show going without them. I guess in the next couple of years we’ll get to see.

The best ever decision for knocking a show on the head is held by Tom Fontana. He realised it was time to finish his HBO prison drama Oz when he ran out of ways to kill off characters, declaring on the website he would, “rather walk away feeling strong, rather than be chased out of town.”


At 5:29 pm, Blogger Robin Kelly said...

Co-incidentally reaching 100 episodes is every show's target because it makes it viable for syndication and will make them many millions of dollars.

At 7:22 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

That was always the assumption, or at least the number to work towards.

But Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz decided after four years and 85 episodes they had told all the thirtysomething stories they had to tell. Their next show, My So Called Life, only lasted one season and both series went on to have a healthy afterlife in syndication.

Of course now there are also DVD sales companies can take into account for additional revenue. Especially since high-priced HBO dramas like The Sopranos, Deadwood, Rome and, obviously, Band of Brothers, or any other cable channel dramas with a low per-season episode run, are never going to reach that episode number target.

At 4:04 pm, Blogger Robin Kelly said...

That's true but I did get the impression that the Lost producers felt they were being forced to go to five seasons by the network when they would have liked the chance to finish on 4 like thirtysomething. But maybe I was reading between the lines of what they said too much.

At 5:19 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Lindelof mentions 100 episodes in an article in EW from early December - where he, Cuse and JJ Abrams have a conversation with Stephen King.

Actually, Lindelof says: "When we pitched Lost, part of it was convincing ABC we could keep it on the air for as long as they wanted. If we told them we could only do the show if we ended it after 100 episodes, they never would've agreed to it."

The problem, which I forgot to mention in the post, is that Lost is owned by ABC rather than an outside production company. If it's going to keep bringing an audience to the network, they're going to want to keep it on air for as long as they can.


Post a Comment

<< Home