Tuesday, July 25, 2006

TV Serials: Killer or Filler?

At the American TV Critics' Association press junket, Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Liguori has been fretting over the number of serials coming to US TV this autumn, according to trade paper Variety. Shows like Lost and 24 make for compelling viewing, but happens if similar shows flop?
'I think all of us have to ask the question, 'What do we do if these shows don't work?' Liguori said. 'If, in fact, some of these serialized shows are canceled and there's no explanation, there's no satisfaction, I'd have fear for next year (if) a bunch of serialized shows comes out. Will audiences now be really gun-shy about committing to these shows? This is going to be a really telling television season.'

The 22-episodes per season structure of US network TV drama only makes this problem worse. With the exception of soaps, few UK television shows are launched with a 22-episode order. The likes of Casualty and Holby have grown to the point where they are on virtually all year round, but they are series with ongoing soap elements, rather than serials in the Lost mode. Even 24 can have its plug pulled at the end of each season, if needs be, as it begins a new serial each year - Lost doen't have that luxury.

The simple fact is that Lost clones will wither and die - witness the profusion of shows like Threshold, Invasion and Surface last season on US TV. Viewers are smart enough to grasp the fragility of their favourite show's existence. If there's enough support, a show will survive - be it a drama series or serial. Even if it doesn't, DVD [and, increasingly, legal downloading] means there is a second life for shows that don't fulfil the 100-episode requirement that used to be a minimum for TV programme to get lucrative syndication deals.

Witness the revivals of Family Guy and Futurama, both brought back from cancellation after success on DVD. Even the prematurely cancelled Firefly made a comeback, albeit as a film that failed to find a wider audience beyong the show's hardcore enthusiasts, the Browncoats. Besides, it's kind of ironic to have a Fox exec waggling the finger of warning at other networks, since it's Fox who pulled the plug on shows like Futurama and Firefly.

No comments: