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Some Blog I Wrote

stuff i think about and then type on a keyboard

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

America Loves Quantity

Steve Johnson, who is adding content to Eric Zorn's blog for a while, found the Everybody Loves Raymond finale to be "almost a cop-out".

It certainly did nothing to combat the idea that this series, while remaining funny and well-crafted, could just as easily have departed three years ago, that it had pretty much said all it had to say by then.

I disagree with this, but not on principle. Some great episodes were produced in the final three seasons, including the unforgettable "Baggage" I mentioned previously. With this comment, Mr. Johnson is continuing a thread he started in a previous post on the blog about American television viewers' collective obsession with quantity over quality.

The disappointing "Raymond" denouement makes me again think about the charm of the British model of TV, where, instead of dragging a show out for a decade to feed the syndication beast, they let it end with viewers wanting more.

The best recent example of this is the original version of The Office, which spanned only two seasons (or "series" as the Brits call them) of six episodes each followed by an extended Christmas Special that put the series dangerously close to giving the series (or "programme" as the Brits call them) too quaint of an ending. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant could have dragged out every possible office scenario, as the American version will undoubtedly do, but the series was more of a character study and as such said all that needed to be said about those characters.

Jerry Seinfeld believed strongly in the axiom "Leave the audience wanting more," which he put into practice by turning down obscene sums of money to give NBC a tenth season. Many have argued his series who have benefited from being cut one or two seasons short, and even this Seinfeld fan would be forced to agree.

I ask each reader to think of his or her most favorite series -- comedy or drama -- and list his or her favorite episodes and then list his or her acceptable episodes. After this, find a website containing a complete list of all episodes of that series. (I'd recommend tvtome if their site were more reliable.) Any reader would be shocked to learn how many episodes might actually be forgettable -- or worse, complete filler. This favorites-to-filler ratio varies from series to series, and I find Arrested Development and the new Battlestar Galactica thus far has the highest ratio. (If one could calculate a Jump The Shark index and pair it with this ratio, we may have something far better than lifetime Nielsen numbers.)

Unfortunately, the network television model in America doesn't allow for seasons to be shorter, for writers to have time to cultivate a series rather than "make it up as they go" as so often happens in even the seemingly structured series. Cable series such as Deadwood, Sex in the City and The Sopranos are closer to the British model, offering new seasons when possible and not sticking to the 20-plus-episode model of network series. I worry about the second season of Battlestar Galactica as the shortened first season "forced" each episode to boldly stand out, but I think this show's writers have more freedom and control than those on network series. I also worry about Lost as the standard set by this first season is uncharacteristically high, but such happened with Alias, and we all know the rest of that story.

Does this discussion not go back to the writers and what is asked of them each season by the networks and the audience? Is the audience becoming too fickle given the broadening variety of programming available? Is the "demand for quantity" in American television the ultimate problem? Such demand ultimately hurt breakthrough series such as Twin Peaks, Alias, and E.R. while causing a proliferation of repetitive procedural spinoffs, e.g., the CSI and Law & Order franchises.

Perhaps series DVDs are the answer, giving short, unsyndicatible series continued life and at times new audiences. Perhaps some day, short series will debut on DVD rather than on television. If four Law & Order or CSI series can coexist for one season, and if Joey and Yes, Dear can continue to be renewed in spite of themselves, anything is possible.

Posted by GiromiDe @ 1:00 PM
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At Wed May 18, 07:51:00 PM CDT, Blogger DrHeimlich wrote...

So much in this post, I'm not sure what to latch onto. I pick this:

I can't think of any TV show, off the top of my head, where the best season was the last season. They either overstayed their welcome before voluntarily ending, or had a sharp drop in quality that led to cancellation, or what have you.

I can think of shows that were still quite good during their last seasons -- Angel and Deep Space Nine are perhaps the two best examples -- but even in those cases, the final season was not the BEST.

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