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The Rise of the TV Serial

By MotorMachineMercenary in Culture
Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 12:00:00 PM EST
Tags: TV, screenwriting (all tags)

I stopped watching TV in the late 90s. Unlike most things in my life I didn't do it (just) to advertise my excellence or to distance myself from the plebes. The driving reason was that my access to TV at the time was extremely limited. But I also felt that TV writing wasn't up to par with my intellectual pursuits.

I only got back to watching TV two or so years ago. And I was flabbergasted - yes, flabbergasted - at the apparent increased quality of TV writing. The main reason for this is the rise of the TV serial.


I grew up with the original Battlestar Galactica, Miami Vice, Knight Rider, Robin Hood (a UKian series) and McGyver. As I'm sure even the younger k5ers know all of those series are pure bubblegum for the brain. Every episode was a story in itself. The protagonist did his thing keeping his hairdo intact, the antagonist was one-dimensional and bad. Repeat ad nauseam. The biggest changes from season to season were the occasional cast change, which was always driven by executive or casting decision, never by story requirements. These series are called "episodic" due to their episodic nature.

The dull firmament of episodic TV series was lit up by the bright star of Twin Peaks. It was one of the first serials, ie. a TV series where significant changes occurred during its running time to characters, their relationships or surroundings. Some serials have a pre-set running time á la Babylon 5 but many don't, like The Sopranos. This is not to say there weren't serials before this - early example is Prisoner from down under or the hundreds of soap operas - but Twin Peaks was the first one which gained mainstream acceptance. But time wasn't ripe for the golden age of serials, yet.

The serial is weighted by the requirement to follow it every week, otherwise you will miss important plot points or find yourself looking for your favorite cleavage only to find out she got devoured by a slimy mold last week. Episodic series are easy on the viewer as you can miss an entire season and pick it up like riding a bicycle after years of neglect. DVDs and reruns have alleviated this serial problem greatly, though.

Another reason for the ongoing popularity of episodic series is that serials can change. A lot. Take Prison Break for example [SPOILER ALERT for those who haven't watched second season]. Prison Break's first season was an enthralling mix of episodic material within an overarching serial framework. The first season ended with a massive cliffhanger. While it was quite inconcievable that they would be thrown back in prison, it was almost equally inconcievable that the entire series would move from the premise similar to Escape from Alcatraz to The Fugitive. I wonder how scared the executives were to give the green light to practically start a whole new series with the second season.

What is most amazing is that the writers have managed to keep the best characteristics of the series intact even with this change. The literally claustrophobic constrains of prison have transformed into the metaphorical claustrophobia of men on the run. The fragmentation of men who really can't trust each other but still have to work together is still there even with the physical separation. And thus far none of it feels convoluted within the premise of the series. [SPOILERS END]

But the strength of the serial over the episodic series are as varied as its shortcomings. Episodic series don't offer the same room for the producers, writers and actors to grow the story, to explore the arching plot and to portray the growth - or shrinkage - of characters. With a serial you can spend an entire season - or series! - exploring a facet of humanity without resorting to tautology of the episodic series. Therefore the "weakness" of an ongoing story of a serial becomes a strength, one a crafty writer can exploit to its fullest. That is one reason why I compared Prison Break above to two movies, not two series: the serial has a more feature movie -like approach to the story.

The reasons behind the recent surge of serials is tough to pinpoint. I like to think it's partly a backlash from writers to show that reality TV is shit, and that quite a few viewers agree with them. It could be that some viewers like me require more stimulation than just the same old shit every week. It could be that series on DVD has enabled people to pick up good serials even if they miss the first - or second - season.

Whatever the reasons are, we, the viewers, are better off. Just ten years ago we didn't have several serials to pick from like we do today - and no, X-Files was more episodic than serial. Today one can still watch the bubblegummy Desperate Housewives or rot our brains with the latest America's Next Top Model. But those of us who want real character development can watch The Shield, those who want a challenge to their world-views can pick up Battlestar Galactica and those who want to really get lost in a series... well, watch Lost.

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Poll
Best current serial
o Lost 15%
o Prison Break 3%
o The Shield 9%
o Battlestar Galactica 46%
o 24 4%
o The Sopranos 15%
o Dr. Hannibal Lecter 6%

Votes: 66
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Twin Peaks
o Prisoner
o Escape from Alcatraz
o The Fugitive
o Also by MotorMachineMercenary


Display: Sort:
The Rise of the TV Serial | 101 comments (89 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
Deleted scenes from this story, a K5 first (none / 0) (#1)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 09:18:27 PM EST

here!

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
-

We are in the renaissance of television. (3.00 / 1) (#2)
by Psycho Dave on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 09:38:29 PM EST

In a few cases, I'd say that television is beginning to rival cinema in the high art category. Even a movie as well made as The Departed seems like bubblegum in comparison to a series like The Wire.

In a purely literary analogy, cinema is the equivalent of a short story where a serial television show is like a novel. The characters in TV shows can evolve over the course of a run in ways that a movie character cannot over the course of two hours.

That said, I still think that TV is hampered by too many artistic limitations due to the FCC and arbitrary market considerations. Given some room to develop, I think something like Firefly would have evolved into a huge hit (just look at the cult following it has gained from a mere 13 episodes and one movie.) Of course, I didn't watch it when it first aired, but DVD is lowering the barrier for entry considerably.

HBO churns out some challenging series, but there could be so much more. Networks could take off in producing adult (by which I don't mean pornographic) programming, but we would have to muzzle the vocal minority of groups who shit their pants at a flash of Janet Jackson's titty.

This is indeed a huge problem (none / 0) (#6)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 10:03:27 PM EST

And I was planning to touch more on this but decided to put it in deleted scenes as it started to veer off course.

Syndication is the main culprit here. As you said, HBO produces excellent stuff which is unsuited for syndication. Same with my favorite, The Shield on FX Networks, another cable channel. There's no way such a racially sensitive, abhorrently real and ugly series would survive the Bible Belt boycotts.

But as most things these days, niche-ism is becoming more and more attainable. Lower cost of producing a series results in lower threshold to greenlight one. And the fragmented consumer groups mean there's a niche for the trekkies, the cop-fans and many others.

I think the widescale internet distribution of "TV" series will result in an influx of niche series (and serials) which won't be as slick as 24 but more appealing to the varied and jaded tastes of the modern TV-watcher.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

The acme of TV writing (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by rpresser on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 12:02:29 AM EST

is to be found in the I Love Lucy show.
------------
"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
[ Parent ]
agreed on the wire (none / 0) (#99)
by suntzu on Mon Nov 27, 2006 at 12:50:23 AM EST

that show is really excellent.  i just finished season 3 the other day (started on 4 yesterday).

that show is great.  it definitely wouldn't be nearly as satisfying if i hadn't been watching every episode in order.

with any luck i'll finish up the whole series right before the last season of the sopranos starts.  then i'll have to go back and rewatch all the old homicide episodes (which, from the few episodes i've rewatched recently, is just as good as i remember it being).

[ Parent ]

you mean the fall of tv serials (2.00 / 2) (#3)
by circletimessquare on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 09:48:20 PM EST

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/10/23/DDGKOLSPOK1.DTL

nbc plans on getting rid of scripted shows

why? too expensive

so it's all reality tv, game shows, and news for us in the future, to save money


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Ah haa haa NBC lol (2.50 / 1) (#4)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 09:53:47 PM EST

Come on, don't compare present-day NBC with others.

In any case, this is a real concern with other channels also, the success of 24 and Lost is sure to result in executive need to find more of the same: original concepts and good writers and creators. A serial doesn't have to be expensive and high production values can be achieved with a modest budget - just look at The Shield.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

Lost and 25 (2.00 / 2) (#5)
by debacle on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 09:58:55 PM EST

Are not original concepts. They're rehashed cliches that have been really, really drawn out.

It tastes sweet.
[ Parent ]
Yes they are (3.00 / 5) (#7)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 10:12:16 PM EST

Why is it that every time someone admits to watching a wildly popular series there's some snob who snubs the series based on some triviality, not on the (de)merits of the series itself?

Everything has been done one or more times in entertainment by now. Everything is a rehash. The modern stories we fall in love again are the same Greek tragedies retold.

While 24 might not be an original concepts by your definition, it is original in that it is taking the concept of Hitchcock's The Rope and others to its natural extreme, and has gained widespread approval. And I challenge you to call the concept of 24 a cliche; there aren't that many movies/series based on that premise.

And what are parallel series/movies to Lost? Please don't say Gilligan's Island or anything to do with a guy named "Friday."

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

24 may be original, but it's not very good (3.00 / 4) (#63)
by curien on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 01:32:52 PM EST

I just got done watching the first season of 24 on DVD. I'd never seen an episode before (well, I saw part of one at a friend's house) as I don't really watch much TV (by which I mean broadcast... I download shows and watch movies a lot).

The first half of the season, my wife and I were struck by how good it was. We devoured episodes four or five a day. We'd just gotten through Carnivale (one of the best shows I've ever seen) and Arrested Development (the best comedy series ever made, IMO), and we were reveling in our enjoyment of 24.

But when Jack's family got kidnapped for... what, the fourth time now?... and his wife got frickin amnesia (what was that you said about lame 80s plots?), we started to come out of our lull. We were willing to forgive the seemingly endless rehash of the same plot device as acceptable for a weekly-viewing audience and the resort to bad soap opera cliches as an attempt to draw the female viewers. But at the end of the season when the second mole is revealed... well, that was just too much.

I'm not complaining that a character I liked turned bad. I'm not even griping about lack of foreshadowing. What gets me is that this seemingly (and lauded as) "smart" and "intelligent" thriller hinged on the terrorists being COMPLETE FUCKING RETARDS. That was just too much.

And the extra little twist at the end wasn't edgy -- it was posturing by writers who knew they had a weak finale and needed an emotional distractor. I'm sorry, but half a season of decent story just doesn't cut it. I want my fucking weekend back.

--
I'm directly under the Earth's sun ... ... now!
[ Parent ]

I agree 100% (2.00 / 1) (#67)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 04:41:41 PM EST

and that's exactly my experience with 24. I, too, watched the first season and will never return. I was mostly repelled by the frequent plot reversals and overall need to have two or three (forced) cliffhangers per episode (not counting the end cliffhanger).

While I appreciate the sheer craftsmanship of being able to write such convoluted plotlines, those same plots are weaved in soaps every day, just with different maguffins. I'll take a good story over an excellent plot any day.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

Later seasons are much better (none / 0) (#79)
by peeping_Thomist on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 02:42:58 PM EST

The writers struggled a lot with Season 1.  When Teri got amnesia, you could tell the writers were desperate.  The writing for the later seasons is a lot tighter.

[ Parent ]
Even tighter? (1.50 / 1) (#84)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 10:57:56 PM EST

Watching the 1st season of 24 felt as tight as virgin midget's asshole might feel like. What I saw of 24 was that it was packed as tight as possible with plot points and reversals making each episode quite exhausting, but not exhilarating.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

24 is a roller coaster (none / 0) (#96)
by Cro Magnon on Fri Nov 03, 2006 at 01:59:25 PM EST

At its best, it is, IMO, a fantastic show. At other times, it's "WTF were the writers taking".
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
hey moron: NOTHING is original nt (1.50 / 2) (#9)
by circletimessquare on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 10:17:01 PM EST



The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
hey moron: They've been saying that for (1.50 / 2) (#15)
by debacle on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 11:32:48 PM EST

Hundreds of years.

Humans are always caught up in the past.

It tastes sweet.
[ Parent ]

yes, nothing is original (1.50 / 2) (#23)
by circletimessquare on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 12:23:41 AM EST

including saying "nothing is original"

you have a point asswipe?


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

Yeah (2.00 / 3) (#24)
by debacle on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 12:27:21 AM EST

It's six inches in your rectum and throbbing.

It tastes sweet.
[ Parent ]
sorry, this isn't a dating site nt (1.50 / 2) (#25)
by circletimessquare on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 01:12:59 AM EST



The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
Lemme ask you something (1.50 / 1) (#53)
by thankyougustad on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 08:43:01 PM EST

how is you threating to fag someone in their fag hole an insult to them? I get the whole rape thing, but where does that leave the dude who rapes other dudes? Fag city, that's where.

No no thanks no
Je n'aime que le bourbon
no no thanks no
c'est une affaire de goût.

[ Parent ]
dude, read the article (none / 0) (#8)
by circletimessquare on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 10:16:04 PM EST

they talk about abc doing the same thing

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
Well (none / 0) (#10)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 10:40:19 PM EST

maybe so, but my point remains. Besides, this kind of neglect for the intelligence of the viewer will hopefully result in another backlash.

Or maybe people will just feed on the feces.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

tv is dying (3.00 / 2) (#11)
by circletimessquare on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 11:05:04 PM EST

youtube is the new boobtube

and when i say tv is dying, it will of course never be dead

but don't expect tv to ever approach its glory days ever again

just like radio lost "only the shadow knows" and that "war of the worlds" sensation and similar cultural vitality when tv came along, so it now goes with tv: still used, but as a dreary also ran, like radio


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

I agree completely (none / 1) (#14)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 11:25:24 PM EST

Internet distribution is the next breakthrough in "TV" (and movie) distribution and it will change the industry entirely. Whether Hollywood retains its deathgrip on our entertainment remains to be seen, but I'm sure there'll be much more variety in the future, although 99% of it will be shit. Just like always.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

The Old New Thing (none / 0) (#20)
by rpresser on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 12:00:14 AM EST

http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20061013.html

Can you really see yourself sitting down to watch YouTube for 30 hours a week?  OK, maybe not a sane person. But can you imagine an average TV viewer, who does indeed spend that much time in front of the tube, doing so?

------------
"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
[ Parent ]

God save us from youtube future (none / 0) (#22)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 12:15:48 AM EST

That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that even the big production companies will move to internet distribution via iTunes or whatever MS retaliates with or some upstart. We will get the same series on our computer but there will be more of them (produced with less money). But they will certainly have higher production values than youtube shite.

It'll take a while for iTunes video distribution to reach reallllly mainstream. But XBox 360's marketplace or whatever it's called and/or the eventual move to fully digital TV (soon even in the US!) might be one potential ways for it to reach even the less tech-savvy people.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

OnDemand is the way of the future. (none / 1) (#26)
by Psycho Dave on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 02:33:36 AM EST

I've got it on my Comcast Digital Cable and I love it. The sooner networks can start putting more shows on there, the better.

I primarily use it for HBO. Since they post past episodes of their shows on OnDemand, I was able to catch up on every episode of The Sopranos, finally got to see the third season of The Wire before it got released on DVD, and got sucked into Entourage. I never watched any of these shows during their opening runs, but as a result of offering these, I'm now a fan of all three.

Of course, HBO's business model is much different than the standard broadcast one, which is there to sell you to advertisers rather than keep you as a subscriber. The invention of DVRs and the ability to fast forward through commercials makes them justifiably nervous.

I think there's a way around it all. For shows that require advertising, disable the fast forward button. You can still rewind or pause the show, but you can't skip through it. You'll just have to use it as an opportunity to go to the bathroom like it was in the good old days.

Plus, by switching to an on demand broadcast model, you can increase the number of people who watch the different shows. With a relatively small number of time slots, competition is fierce on the network schedules. You can watch Lost or you can watch Veronica Mars, but not both. And on demand model would reduce competition, but increase viewership of both and make niche shows more viable.

[ Parent ]

I disagree (none / 0) (#32)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 10:26:10 AM EST

The time of the commercial is largely gone. I'm sure we'll have some commercials but product placement and other more surreptitious advertising will become more and more necessary. Of course, if MS Vista really takes off we might be stuck with whatever DRM comes up and your nightmare scenario might play out.

Also, the advent of digital will mean there'll be many more channels available. I don't know what the schedule in the States is, but Finland will move to full digital in a year (that means no analog broadcasting whatsoever in a year). And although executives are promising "digital HDTV quality" what it really means is that the bandwidth which could be used to push one channel of true 1080p HDTV high quality video with 5.1 audio will be split into five channels 1080i video full with compression artifacts and it'll look like ass.

In other words, the rise of digital channels enables distributors to split their channels into more, having more reruns and creating an almost on-demand marketplace. Hopefully we don't have to wait for DVD to get the full HDTV quality, though (iTunes? OnDemand you mention?).

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

Anecdotal corroboration (none / 0) (#42)
by jobi on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 01:56:18 PM EST

The time of the commercial is largely gone. I'm sure we'll have some commercials but product placement and other more surreptitious advertising will become more and more necessary.

Here in Sweden, more and more commercial stations (i.e. those who live off commercials) as well as the non-commercial (e.g. state-sponsored television) are switching commercial breaks for sponsored shows; you get a handful of "This program sponsored by..." before and after the show, but no commercial breaks during the show.

Sweden is moving to digital, already most (all? It switched off a year or so ago where I live) of the analog net is switched off, and HDTV is becoming available on a few cable channels (at a premium of course, and it's really early times yet).



---
"[Y]ou can lecture me on bad language when you learn to use a fucking apostrophe."
[ Parent ]
eh network TV (none / 0) (#48)
by Altus on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 04:45:29 PM EST


has been dying for some time.  Its quickly being replaced by cable networks that cater to a particular sub set of the viewing audience.  The big three are likely to run themselves into the ground.

Im not sure that network TV dying is really a sign that the whole medium is in trouble.  That said, as the internet matures and high bandwidth content like video become very common place I think  you will see TV come to resemble radio more and more.

"In America, first you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women..." -H. Simpson
[ Parent ]

Bah (3.00 / 8) (#12)
by QuantumFoam on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 11:13:05 PM EST

Telivision is dead. Arrested Development, the funniest, most intelligent comedy I have ever seen, was canceled for Skating with Celebrities. This show was flawless. Anyone who hasn't seen it would do well to rent, Netflix, download, or buy the DVDs. Abslo-fucking-lutely brillaint.

- Barack Obama: Because it will work this time. Honest!

Funnier than Mencia? /nt (1.25 / 4) (#13)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 11:23:30 PM EST


--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

Funnier than Mencia: (3.00 / 4) (#18)
by rpresser on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 11:54:22 PM EST

  • Visiting my mother's grave in the cemetery this past September, in the rain, to find mud all around it despite paying out the wazoo for "Perpetual Care" is funnier than Mencia.

  • Compiling statistics on the use of various punctuation marks within the comments of K5 is funnier than Mencia.

  • The JDF specification documents are inherently funnier than every single word that Mencia has ever uttered.

I should have a capper line here, but I'm too unmotivated.

[ Parent ]
I guess that means AD sucks ass /nt (none / 0) (#19)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 11:57:14 PM EST


--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

Mencia is one funny beaner (none / 1) (#93)
by Stain of Mind on Wed Nov 01, 2006 at 03:15:24 PM EST

I do like the show and his stand up routines.


[ Parent ]
ror (2.50 / 1) (#49)
by partialpeople on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 06:04:16 PM EST



[ Parent ]
YES (3.00 / 2) (#27)
by jnana on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 07:24:38 AM EST

Agreed! Arrested Development was one of the best shows I've ever seen.

I rank it up there with the Fawlty Towers (my previous all-time comedy favorite) and Babylon 5 (my all-time sci-fi favorite), and Arrested Development takes the Gold medal of the 3.

I wonder how it would have fared if it started on HBO originally? That it was cancelled so early is the greatest tv tragedy that I can remember.

[ Parent ]

I dunno (none / 0) (#38)
by thankyougustad on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 01:19:06 PM EST

At first I thought it was boring, then for a while I thought it was really funny. . . but by third season I just didn't give a crap about it. So there ya go.

No no thanks no
Je n'aime que le bourbon
no no thanks no
c'est une affaire de goût.

[ Parent ]
Mis-tah Eff! nt (2.50 / 1) (#64)
by curien on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 01:39:32 PM EST



--
I'm directly under the Earth's sun ... ... now!
[ Parent ]
OH HAY DON'T FORGET FIREFLY TOO ;_; (none / 0) (#90)
by Mylakovich on Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 11:11:18 AM EST

ALL MY FAYBORITE SHOWS GET THE AXE.

All internet aside I agree with you.

[ Parent ]

Who said TV is dying? (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by United Fools on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 11:46:23 PM EST

Our members watch TV more than any other activity. We cannot imagine without TV what our lives would be like. The ratings may not show it, but we can confirm the TV is alive!

We are united, we are fools, and we are America!
TV viewing is down. Period. /nt (none / 0) (#17)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Tue Oct 24, 2006 at 11:49:27 PM EST


--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

I don't watch TV at all. You member. /nt (none / 0) (#81)
by grargrargrar on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 03:57:42 PM EST



[ Parent ]
MORE MEAT... (3.00 / 4) (#29)
by mirleid on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 09:44:33 AM EST

...and I'm not referring to any dumb zombie serial...I think that the article shows promise, but it is a bit undeveloped...Maybe you should talk about what stuff like "Six Feet Under" did for the intelligent TV viewer, and maybe comment on the part played by mini-series like "Band of Brothers"...

Of course, if you're feeling really adventurous, you might want to venture into stuff like "Danger: UXB" (a series, according to your definition, and a really old one at that), "Space: 1999" (an "episodical") and "Reilly"...Basically, what I am trying to say is that the current craze for the "intelligent serial as a hip new thing" can be traced back to the BBC series of the late seventies and eighties (as in, they've been doing it for ages)...

Chickens don't give milk
Apart from BoB (none / 0) (#30)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 10:14:54 AM EST

I haven't seen any of the series you mention. Although we got quite a few BBC/UK series in Finland when I lived there, I only watched the episodic ones (Bergerac, Robin Hood).

I state as much as that a serial is not a new thing, and that soaps have been doing it for ages (re: zombie's editorial comment). It's just that they have become much more popular as at least two (24 and Lost) command top advertising dollar and as much mindshare as the most popular episodic series.

I tried to keep the story short and solid to encourage people to start discussion, and not to look for holes in my thesis. I'd be interested to hear in your opinions on how BoB and especially Six Feet Under affected TV.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

Well... (none / 0) (#44)
by mirleid on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 01:57:47 PM EST

In my opinion, BoB was the first serial that tried to portray war in a more "human" way, with real characters and grey areas; no more of the "all the huns are bad and all the allies are good" sort of thing that was pervasive until then. Six Feet Under is a whole other kettle of fish: completely fresh approach (the audience is stimulated to feel ambivalent about the characters, no-holds-barred where religion and sexuality are concerned, totally-out-of-left-field plot and setting) and an overall aesthetic that, until then, was the realm of so called artsy-fartsy movies (Bergman et al).

I would still encourage you to get "Danger: UXB" (you should be able to get the entire series for next to nothing on eBay). The story is about this young officer in London during the WWII which gets assigned to a team whose job is to go out and defuse unexploded german bombs. It's pretty gripping stuff, it captures with a high degree of technical accuracy the "arms race" between the german bomb makers and the English bomb "unmakers", it presents a pretty solid portrait of class relations in England in the first half of the last century, and, all in all, I find it to be an excellent series. Something like "Brideshead Revisited" (a personal favorite) with bombs and a bit more action.

Chickens don't give milk
[ Parent ]
Hmm... (none / 0) (#82)
by tthomas48 on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 05:09:35 PM EST

It's interesting you bring up the BBC. Since, a large portion of the reality shows that we got came from the UK (Trading Spaces, Big Brother, etc), I wonder if the current drama trend is just following them too.

[ Parent ]
I would watch TV, but I always forget (none / 0) (#35)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 12:26:10 PM EST

when the shows are on and won't bother to look them up.

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.

BT FTW /nt (none / 0) (#36)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 12:48:17 PM EST


--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

Whut's BT? (none / 0) (#40)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 01:38:15 PM EST


----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

YFI FOAD DIAF FFS /nt (2.50 / 2) (#45)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 02:18:27 PM EST


--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

oh come on (none / 0) (#74)
by j1mmy on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 09:27:58 AM EST

BT

[ Parent ]
Thats' what TIVO/PVR/DVR is for. /nt (none / 0) (#47)
by catseye on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 04:27:37 PM EST



----------
How can we fight Islamic Fundamentalism abroad if we do not fight Christian Fundamentalism at home?
[ Parent ]
IAWTS (none / 1) (#50)
by BottleRocket on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 06:05:08 PM EST

But I don't watch any of those. Ever since my apartment has lost its unsecured wireless network, I've been watching Friday Night Lights. God help me if those girls aren't 18.

$ . . . . . $ . . . . . $ . . . . . $
. ₩ . . . . . ¥ . . . . . € . . . . . § . . . . . £
. . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . *
$ . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $
Yes I do download [child pornography], but I don't keep it any longer than I need to, so it can yield insight as to how to find more. --MDC
$ . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $
. . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . * . . . . . *
. ₩ . . . . . ¥ . . . . . € . . . . . § . . . . . £
$ . . . . . $ . . . . . $ . . . . . $
$B R Σ III$

isn't desperate housewives a serial? (3.00 / 3) (#51)
by thankyougustad on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 07:25:42 PM EST

I only know because it was the only DVDlaying around the flop house I lived in for two months smoking opium in Thailand

No no thanks no
Je n'aime que le bourbon
no no thanks no
c'est une affaire de goût.

It is? I stand corrected, never watched it (2.00 / 1) (#52)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 07:52:14 PM EST

I couldn't care less to watch middle-aged women show other middle-aged women the decline of western values.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

That's what I thought too (none / 0) (#98)
by markovich on Tue Nov 07, 2006 at 09:32:41 AM EST

But then I actually watched it! My favorite show is Battlestar Galactica, then Lost, then Desperate Housewives, then Prison Break.

Desperate Housewives is not about women. It's a mystery tale, and it's BLOODY good. I laughed at people who watched that show till I actually watched the first few episodes.

It's spoken about everywhere, because it is GOOD. It's excellent!

[ Parent ]

Admit it: it's the DVD you bought yourself as a (3.00 / 1) (#65)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 02:50:11 PM EST

'Treat' last Christmas.

----------------

Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

Lost isn't a serial (2.75 / 8) (#54)
by Potassium on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 08:54:36 PM EST

It's random garbage.

As much as it pains me, I couldn't agree more...[] (none / 0) (#56)
by mirleid on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 07:04:30 AM EST



Chickens don't give milk
[ Parent ]
it's jj abrams (2.50 / 2) (#86)
by sllort on Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 06:25:32 PM EST

all his shows are mindless trash. but he fools you the first time.
--
Warning: On Lawn is a documented liar.
[ Parent ]
Fails the BT test (3.00 / 1) (#55)
by godix on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 03:24:28 AM EST

which is where I sit down and ask myself are any of these shows worth the effort of typing their name into a bittorrent search much less actually downloading and watching? West Wing was the last show worth watching (and, incidently, a seriel predating your examples) and even then it went on years too long.


- An egotist is someone who thinks they're almost as good as I am.
With the exception of Lost... (none / 0) (#77)
by jolt rush soon on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 01:48:23 PM EST

The reason I watch any TV at all is the fact that I can nap it from torrentspy or uknova.

Yeah, TV shows have improved, but what's improved to a far greater extent, is not the programming but the effectively on-demand nature that many of us now experience it. I'm not talking about some kind of pay-per-show system where you're paying for a download or for your cable to enable a channel for an hour, but an artificial delay in the form of a TiVo or a video in your My Warez'd Telly folder, waiting until you want to watch that TV and then maybe keep it, and maybe even share it.

So, yeah, you're paying for a PVR (once) instead of a transient, blink-and-you'll-miss-it show and it's that convinience over anything else that's improved my TV watching. Maybe that's why I'll be able to watch some of these great new shows. I don't think I'd be able to remember to turn the telly on.

Charlie Brooker's said most of this already on Screen Wipe.
--
Subosc — free electronic music.
[ Parent ]

Charlie Brooker's Relelant Part... (none / 0) (#78)
by jolt rush soon on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 02:04:10 PM EST

...has been squirted onto youtube too. I was refering to what he says at about 2m38s in.
--
Subosc — free electronic music.
[ Parent ]
you're a relelant part. $ (2.00 / 2) (#80)
by th0m on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 03:32:32 PM EST



[ Parent ]
you're a cigarette (nt) (none / 0) (#83)
by jolt rush soon on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 08:03:11 PM EST


--
Subosc — free electronic music.
[ Parent ]
I don't watch much network TV anymore (2.33 / 3) (#57)
by IHCOYC on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 07:51:55 AM EST

These serials - I call them "soap opera style" ensemble cast shows - are part of the problem, in my opinion.

One problem is that these shows' audience is essentially closed after the first season, even after the first few episodes. Over the course of their development, they acquire too much backstory, too many open plot points, too many recurring characters whose significance requires explanation. They thus become unintelligible to new viewers. I liked Buffy and Xena and Charmed, and I figure to like Heroes; but for the shows that now have that depth, I defy anyone who's never seen them before to jump into the fourth season of any of those shows and figure out what is going on.

There are other reasons why I don't watch network television. Cop shows are repulsive to me: at least they are when they feature Method-acted browbeatings, courtroom Issues Melodrama, and gee-whiz fictional science rather than gunplay and car chases. This more or less cuts me off from most hour-long drama series. The Method acting allows the networks to claim that their shows contain Great Acting. Issues melodrama allows them to claim that these shows are Timely and Relevant. It also means they are boring and indistinguishable. If they want me to watch cop shows, they need to stop talking and start shooting.
--
"Complecti antecessores tuos in spelæis stygiis Tartari appara," eructavit miles primus.
"Vix dum basiavisti vicarium velocem Mortis," rediit G

counter-factural: (3.00 / 1) (#68)
by SocratesGhost on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 05:30:37 PM EST

kids buy comic books.

-Soc
I drank what?


[ Parent ]
Cop shows (2.50 / 1) (#92)
by ffrinch on Wed Nov 01, 2006 at 12:10:46 AM EST

"It also means they are boring and indistinguishable."

Gunplay and car chases get boring and indistinguishable too.

If you want something interesting, try Dexter (police procedural, but the main character is a serial killer) or The Wire.

-◊-
"I learned the hard way that rock music ... is a powerful demonic force controlled by Satan." — Jack Chick
[ Parent ]

i second the wire (none / 0) (#100)
by suntzu on Mon Nov 27, 2006 at 12:56:42 AM EST

great cop show.  almost as good as homicide (well, so far, i've only seen up through season three of the wire).  excellent writing, excellent acting.

rent homicide if you haven't seen that.  seasons three through six are probably the best, but they're all good.

and while not really a "cop" show, there is the sopranos, of course.

[ Parent ]

Agreed - I would have even voted in the Poll (none / 0) (#59)
by harrystottle on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 10:02:40 AM EST

except it didn't include to mention my current favourite - the 4400.

Mostly harmless
Or the Wire [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#85)
by Happy Monkey on Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 10:38:56 AM EST


___
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Don't forget Babylon 5 (3.00 / 1) (#60)
by brain in a jar on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 10:20:05 AM EST

It was intelligent, It had aliens, and the whole 5 or so series of it was written in advance with a good ending to avoid it getting lost and jumping the shark, otherwise a major danger in TV series.


Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.

Good ending? (none / 0) (#91)
by speek on Tue Oct 31, 2006 at 04:23:48 PM EST

The ending (the episode where Sheridan lectures the bad bad aliens on how naughty they've been and how it's time to grow up now and stop killing people) was a pure Kirk moment. No, I take that back, it was a Picard moment and it was stupid. There may have been episodes after that, but that was the end of Babylon 5.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Nothing is even remotely as good as (2.00 / 2) (#66)
by jangledjitters on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 03:41:34 PM EST

the old Gunsmoke and Rawhide shows.

Everything else just went too ghey.

hi

Yes Rawhide was sooo heterosexual. n (3.00 / 2) (#71)
by livus on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 07:52:53 PM EST

snicker.

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

[ Parent ]
Credit where credit is due (3.00 / 4) (#69)
by SocratesGhost on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 05:46:52 PM EST

Hill Street Blues was among the first prime time shows to do this: ensemble cast, some episodic moments mixed in with overall story arcs. It's difference from Twin Peaks was only a matter of degree but not of kind.

It was one of the first "complex" weekly ensemble shows that didn't simplify plotlines for the sake of its audience. Had it failed, we probably wouldn't have the variety of rich dramas that we have today. Shows like Heroes and Battlestar Galactica are doing a good job of delivering powerful drama with the complexity and poignancy that is more closely associated with Tennesse Williams than Jerry Bruckheimer.

Television is still largely a vast wasteland but at least now we have an oasis or two.

-Soc
I drank what?


Good point (none / 0) (#72)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 08:51:57 PM EST

I was a bit young at the time of Hills Street Blues to really appreciate the finer points of the series, although I did watch it. The latina (?) lawyer was my first TV crush.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

Oh (3.00 / 2) (#70)
by harrystottle on Thu Oct 26, 2006 at 05:47:26 PM EST

and don't forget "Weeds"

Mostly harmless
The Market Changed (3.00 / 6) (#73)
by tscola on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 08:47:17 AM EST

The main reason the quality of TV writing has gotten better, in my opinion,  is that the TV market has recently gone through a profound change.

Until recently, the TV audience was not regarded as the TV network's customers. The advertisers were the customers, and they always had ultimate control of what got put into TV shows.

That all suddenly changed when TV shows were put on DVDs, boxed, and sold directly to the audience. Since the audience was now their customers, the TV networks actually had to pay attention to what their audience wanted, and they didn't have to pay as much attention to advertisers any more.

Excellent point (3.00 / 1) (#75)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 10:47:39 AM EST

DVD sales have definitely changed the face of the industry, but I hadn't thought about how it affects the content itself. And you are right. This will hopefully transfer directly to sales via iTunes and ilk.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

tv is for black people (1.37 / 8) (#76)
by cosmic defender on Fri Oct 27, 2006 at 01:14:06 PM EST



Waste of my time. (2.75 / 4) (#87)
by nate s on Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 08:56:06 PM EST

And what's with the "Battlestar Galactica will challenge your worldview" nonsense?  I tried to watch a handful of episodes and it felt like reading the newspaper with the names changed to protect the sources.  It's one of the most didactic shows on television right now.  It's also one of the most melodramatic and probably no other show on television right now repeatedly victimizes its female characters to the degree that BG does.

Anyway, my girlfriend loves the show, but there is honestly nothing on television that I would waste my time watching on other than a channel-surfing basis right now.


Don't blame me for your crappy taste (2.00 / 4) (#88)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 03:03:35 PM EST

While I agree that BG can be blatantly derivative of today's news, it is nonetheless taking the liberal and conservative POVs to their natural extremes. This is a revelation for most plebes out there and is a challenging thought exercise for the more enlightened as well.

Yes, it can be melodramatic but within the context of the show (which is impossible to get with a few random eps) it's quite understandable. You'd be melodramatic if the continuation of the entire human species relied on a single decision, mistake or action you take.

And finally, it's good to see a TV series which dares to portray females as vulnerable creatures, not the superheroes they have to be in every single other series due to feminazi agenda.

I am a bit surprised at how well BG does in the poll above, but then again it has boobies and spaceships which seems to get the k5/slashdot crowds going. It is an excellent series, but I prefer The Shield.

--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

Agree, BUT (none / 0) (#89)
by tetsuwan on Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 07:44:18 AM EST

Kara/Starbuck really needs to cut her hair and get back to piloting. She was much better in that role. I loved the way she was fucked up but kept it burried. I hope her braking up with Anders is the first step.

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance
[ Parent ]

calling others plebs? (none / 0) (#94)
by thekubrix on Thu Nov 02, 2006 at 01:43:21 PM EST

And yet you don't have HBO....

HBO has had some of the best shows out there:

Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Oz, Rome......(maybe Big Love, but its new)

as for lower class television, you didn't mention CSI or Southpark wtf?

I don't have HBO 'cause I don't have a TV /nt (none / 1) (#95)
by MotorMachineMercenary on Thu Nov 02, 2006 at 06:45:46 PM EST


--
"My mental image of you is Wyatt's brother Chet in Weird Science."
- Parent ]

Deadwood! (n/t) (none / 0) (#101)
by willj on Mon Dec 04, 2006 at 04:14:43 PM EST



[ Parent ]
It's the money (none / 0) (#97)
by kreyg on Mon Nov 06, 2006 at 02:25:32 AM EST

It seemed to me the rise in serial coincided with television executives being stunned by the sales figures from the release of TV series on DVD (Babylon 5 in particular comes to mind). Since production has already been paid for through advertising during broadcast, release on DVD should be hugely profitable if there is demand.

Making a TV show into effectively a 15-20 hour movie (for a season) is probably at least partially a fabulous marketing tactic.


There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind. - Douglas Adams

The Rise of the TV Serial | 101 comments (89 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
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