New York Magazine’s Dead On Advice on “How to Fix Lost”

November 14, 2006

Adam Sternbergh wrote a great article in New York Magazine highlighting how innovative shows that succeed with audiences like Lost are doomed by TV’s business model which forces these shows to stretch their premises out way too long.  He writes:

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.

He’s right.  Rather than use Lost as an example, I want to use Prison Break which I’m watching as I write this.  Talk about a show with a limited life span, the title alone defines the limitation of the show’s central premise.  I’m still watching and generally enjoying the way the story unfolds but I would be much more satisfied if the creators would actually stand up and say it’s a finite show (say 3 years).  The fact that the show could potentially go on forever does affect my interest in sticking around to see the show “choke on its plot twist”.

Here’s a couple of examples of shows that did it right.  Babylon 5 was always intended to be a 5 year story and that’s how long it lasted.  It changed direction as circumstances dictated but it stuck to the basic 5 year plan that its creator had for it.  Sleeper Cell and Wiseguy built their shows around multi-episode arcs which gave the viewers closure if they wanted to stop at any point but definitely didn’t play it safe with their storylines.  I’m sure there are others but I’m stuck on the numerous shows that have done it wrong and disappointed us.  I’m not holding out hope that a chance is imminent but I like Mr. Sternbergh’s thinking.

Disappointed in Reruns of Wiseguy

October 10, 2006

I got very excited in early September when TV Land here in Canada started showing reruns of the classic Stephen Cannell show Wiseguy.  If you never saw Wiseguy it had a simple premise, an undercover FBI agent (Ken Wahl) struggles to retain his morals and his soul as he infiltrates the mob, white supremacists, the rag trade, etc.  This was one of the first shows to use episode arcs (between 1 and 3 per season) and included memorable guest appearances from Ray Sharkey, Annette Benning, William Russ, Kevin Spacey, Ron Silver, Michael Chiklis, Jerry Lewis, Stanley Tucci and Mick Fleetwood.  I could go on and on about this show but it’s easier for me to tell you to go rent the DVDs.

This isn’t really the point of my article.  When the DVDs got released, they had to replace some of the music most notably Moody Blues’ classic Knights in White Satin which played over the finale of the Sonny Steelgrave arc.  Further, they haven’t released an entire arc which took place in the music industry and featured songs by Deborah Harry and many others because of the cost of music rights.  So, I figured that if they were going to show them on TV as reruns (i.e. the same medium that the show originally was released in) I should finally be able to record and save for posterity the shows in their original form.  Nope.  I guess TV Land didn’t get the rights.  Very disappointing.