by Mike Shea on 12 November 2006
From Never-Ending Stories: How to fix shows like 'Lost.':
"There is, however, a simple solution: Change the format, or at least reimagine it. When it so-called arc shows, we need something between a mini-series and an open-ended run. We need the TV equivalent of a novella: the limited-run show. Series driven by a central mystery (Twin Peaks, The X-Files) peter out precisely because they have indefinite life spans. The writers are forced to serve up red herrings until the shows choke on their own plot twists. (Whereas 24 works because it's more cliff-hanger than puzzle'othough Jack Bauer is surely the unluckiest man alive.)"
"Now let's imagine an alternate reality in which, say, Lost was designed to run for only two seasons. Rather than getting an increasingly tedious shaggy-dog story, we'd get 48 episodes of tightly plotted, expertly interwoven suspense. Viewers would be both more willing to sign on at the beginning (knowing their investment will pay off) and more inclined to buy DVDs later (either as catch-up for newbies or as a satisfying boxed set). Sure, the show won't syndicate well, but shows like Lost don't syndicate well anyway. And the series finale would be huge, the kind of event TV network executives drool over. Obviously, this approach isn't right for every show. Stand-alone dramas (CSI) and cyclical sitcoms (Two and a Half Men) can still run open-ended. And, granted, no network will be eager to pull a massive hit after its allotted two-year run. But which would you rather tune in to next fall: a brand-new mystery from the creators of Lost, that entirely satisfying and thrilling limited-run series you loved? Or yet another season of Lost, that show that started out so well but is now meandering all over the damn place? Puzzles are meant to be solved, not prolonged. You can only tease viewers so long before they feel like they're being mocked."
This is a good argument for the idea that Battlestar Galactica, my current favorite TV show, should only have a limited run. I'm convinced that, any day now, the show's going to start sucking. Either it will fall into to the Matrix pit wherein the writers take their own work too seriously and think they can turn a one-hit wonder into a three-part drama that ends up turning excellent SF into technophilosophical bullshit, or it will start caving to market demand - the same demand that gave us Legolas surfing down stairs and Gimly making jokes about dwarf tossing.
Even my second-favorite SF show, Babylon 5, didn't know when to quit. They did a whole extra season that soured the show so badly that most people who remember the show at all remember it for its catastrophically overwritten final season.
It can start sucking any day now, but right now it doesn't suck at all. The best thing the writers and producers of Battlestar Galactica could do is map out two more seasons and call it quits, for good, and then start working on a hard core remake of Night Rider or something.
Maybe it was good that Firely only got out one season and one movie. Maybe that's all that that ever should have been.
In the mean time, enjoy Battlestar Galactica Season 1, Season 2.0 and Season 2.5 on DVD, Season 3 on iTunes, the excellent Season 1 and Season 2 soundtracks, and the podcasts.
Send comments to email@example.com or follow @mshea on Twitter. If you enjoyed this article, please use this link to Amazon.com for your next online purchase.