Over the past two weeks I’ve been sucked into the world of LOST. I never watched the show when it was on television, and avoided pretty much all of the spoilers for the show while it aired and in the years following the series finale.
Ali and I have done this numerous times, watching shows on Netflix, DVD, and iTunes that we never watched for whatever reason. We’ve done this for Battlestar Galactica, Mad Men, Doctor Who, Sons of Anarchy, Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, Arrested Development, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and the list goes on. Way on.
Because we have the benefit of history, most of the shows we watch are great, and very few are duds. Some shows are amazing and are on levels all to themselves.
LOST and Battlestar Galactica definitely fit into the amazing category. All shows should strive to be like them.
After finishing LOST I have very few gripes about the show. There were a few loose ends that weren’t tied up which kind of annoys me, but otherwise I loved the series.
Battlestar Galactica was amazing as well. Both shows had a clear path that they were on, and the writers played out each season beautifully.
However, I feel like LOST did it better. BSG was great, but there were a LOT of “filler” episodes. What I mean by filler episodes are episodes that didn’t advance the story at all. The filler episodes were still great, but they are frustrating when you are on a journey like that show.
When you’re watching a series for the first time you may not notice it as much, but when you are re-watching or marathoning a series it’s like slamming on the brakes. In BSG there was an entire episode centered around two characters trapped in an air lock. That’s 44 minutes of not a lot of action or story. It was great for character development and diving deeper into who these characters were, but at the end of the day nothing was accomplished with regards to the main arc of the season or series.
What is the need for filler episodes? A big part of that is that most seasons are about 22 episodes long. That’s a tremendous amount of television to create.
I think that a lot of shows can really be improved by cutting that number in half. This gives the writers a more condensed timeline and allows them to concentrate on creating really epic story lines without panicking and trying to fill up 24 episodes.
One of my favorite shows which recently ended, Fringe (another J.J. Abrams creation) really suffered from seasons that were too long, I feel. A lot of the first few seasons dealt with “freaks of the week”, monsters and supernatural occurrences, and not a lot of story advancement. In season 3 and beyond the show really found its legs. There were fewer filler episodes, and even then the filler episodes paid off further down the road.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the last season of Fringe while it was airing, but since it was my favorite show on the air at that point I was giving them the benefit of the doubt. The final season was only 13 episodes, but they could have honestly done it in half that. The story was so dragged out that it really made me dislike the season (that said, I was very happy with the way the series ended).
Take a look at the current hot shows on cable. Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men, Walking Dead. Most of these shows have 13 episodes a season (Walking Dead has about 16).
Some shows may only need 12 or 13 episodes to tell a really amazing story. In the UK, seasons (or series as they call them) that air on BBC vary in length. Doctor Who, a favorite show of mine, has 13 episodes with a few specials through out the year (usually a Christmas special). Sherlock, another amazing BBC show has three episodes a season. Three! Granted, those episodes are about 80 to 90 minutes long, so you’re getting a little more bang for the buck.
Fewer episodes means the quality of each episode is higher (hopefully) and the overall budget for each show should be lower. The second is really beneficial to the studios producing the shows and the networks that air them. Taking on new shows is less risky, and (hopefully) studios would stick their neck out and try a show that they normally wouldn’t. The same could possibly go for viewers as well.
Cutting the episode length of shows in half also gives the networks an opportunity to create more shows (and additional revenue!). The year could be split between Fall and Spring seasons with fresh shows. They could even create enough shows to fill a third season of episodes in the Summer.
The horizon of entertainment is changing, and will look very different in ten years. This isn’t news to anyone who is paying attention to the trends of today because it’s already changing. Remember when HBO and Showtime started creating original programming? Netflix has now gotten into the original programming game with shows such as Lilyhammer, House of Cards, and, of course, they resurrected Arrested Development for a much awaited fourth season. Hulu recently announced that they too will be creating new shows to stream on their website and through their apps.
Just today the creator and stars of the cult hit show Veronica Mars got together to announce a Kickstarter to raise funds for a Veronica Mars movie that the fans have been begging for since the show went off the air. In less than 10 hours they hit their target budget of $2,000,000. Welcome to the future of film and television production. This gives the fans an amazing new power. The only real question is why hasn’t this been tried before? And how long until Firefly does this?
The four networks need to take a look at what cable is doing, because they are kicking their asses when it comes to critically acclaimed content. Networks with ratings that are down in the shitter (hey NBC!) have nothing to lose and everything to gain with trying something new.