Monday, July 31, 2006

Will viewers gobble up these serials?

I feel like TV shows traditionally can be lumped into one of two categories: shows with stand-alone episodes that you can view in almost any order you like (procedurals, some sitcoms), and shows with ongoing storylines that you have to watch sequentially (24, anyone?).

I've always been a fan of the latter, though I understand that there is quite a strong following for the former--people who like Law & Order or CSI. Personally, I prefer shows with continuing plot threads because they don't seem to exist in one moment in time. They allow for character development and the feeling that you are really a part of the lives you're witnessing onscreen.

Not everyone prefers that, certainly. That's fine--to each his own, and all that. I can see the value in being able to dip into a show whenever you feel like it and not feel completely lost. To be so familiar with characters and enjoy that familiarity, knowing that they won't have changed the next time you happen to check in with them. There's something comforting and relaxing about that, I'm sure. And it definitely requires less ongoing attention and mental energy than a serial.

However, I enjoy expending my mental energy on TV. I like to become involved in the lives of the characters and to feel the weight of time pass in their lives. I've liked hybrid shows, like The X-Files, that had some stand-alone episodes and some mythology episodes. In fact, I think many of my favorite shows, have been shows that blend one-shot episodes with larger plot lines--BtVS and VM, for example. I just need something to propel me forward from one episode to the next.

While I could go on and on about why serialized shows appeal to me, Matt Roush at TV Guide does an interesting overview of how the upcoming TV season is heavily weighted in favor of the serialized drama. So what's behind it? Perhaps the success of shows like Lost and Prison Break, which require sequential, multi-episode viewing in order to fully understand, has influenced network executives.

However, for many of these serialized shows to succeed, it may be integral that the networks give them time to grow. So often shows get cancelled if they don't perform as expected right from the start. But if a show is allowed to keep improving and building an audience, there's little more satisfying than watching plots run their natural course and play out as they should.

Reading Matt's post, it occurs to me the serializing a show isn't enough to make it interesting to me. I don't just need something, I need compelling characters that I care about in order for it to be worthwhile viewing, in my opinion.

So what type of shows do you prefer? Do you think that the influx of serial shows in the schedule spells disaster, or that some have a chance for survival?


At 10:05 AM, Blogger jonas said...

The episodic type shows will always have a place for the casual tv viewer. But the tv market is going to keep changing. You can no longer lump everyone into the all powerful 18-45 or whatever age it is now because the baby boomers are outside of that range. Ten years ago, it worked okay. The new tv model will have to incorporate the internet as a medium and will have to allow for niche (aka cult faves)programming.

my business geek talk aside, it all goes back to good characters with good stories to tell. which is why movies are having problems. And why reality tv has done so well. the characters are riveting, even if it's all in good editing.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger Abbey said...

I am actually a watcher of both.

I can get into either type of show. I watch can FRIENDS and Will and Grace out of sequence on an almost daily basis. But I also LOVE shows like 24 and VM where I cannot wait till the next seven days pass so I can see what's going on with the storyline.

Honestly, I just like a good show. Witty, intelligent, well thought out.

This has no bearing on my love for trashy teeny bopper / reality shows. I like the "point and laugh" factor on those...


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