The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posted by Matt on May 20, 2011

First thing: I have started a Tumblr site. It is mainly a place for me to post things (videos, pictures, links, etc.) that catch my attention at that moment. I need to post those because the Internet has so destroyed my attention span that I will forget whatever it was I was doing five minutes ago. This way, like my notebook collection and my dream log, I will never forget anything that happens to me, ever. Plus, I made the decision, one I have rarely broken!, that I don’t really want this to be a linkblog. I will reserve wordpress for longer things that are slightly less ill-thought-out, but still ill-thought-out.

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Enough of that, let’s get to business.

Remember Lost? It was a television show that was on a while back, and I think some people watched it. I never did, and something tells me I never will.

Why is that? Well, there is a lack of interest in the central concept, but good execution or a slightly more interesting take on the idea could still lure me in. But really, the main reason I will likely never watch Lost is this: it would take over 100 hours of my life to finish that one story. It would have to be the best fucking story ever to make me put in that level of commitment. It would probably have been easier when the show was originally being run, but I can barely get myself to watch half-hour shows that don’t follow a regular storyline every week. I am no longer a television viewer, I think.

But thinking about Lost again, after it left the cultural discussion (rather quickly, I might add, which is rather odd considering the force it was), as well as the serial television rage it inspired, alongside 24, I realized something: network television is awful for serialized storytelling, It goes back to what I was saying before: you have to devote so much time in order to follow it. It was alright when it was something like the X-Files, with “mythos” stories mixed in with standalone episodes, but once you start playing with a single devoted narrative? Then things start to become shaky.

This is primarily because of the large episode orders networks put out for shows. 20+ episodes a season is a lot of television, especially at the 40 minutes standard to network dramas. You would need a very expansive overall plot to make that work, with every little character moment or subplot or whatever mean something. Understandably, that would be difficult. So it should be expected that anyone who wants their big overarching story told in this way is going to end up farting around for a couple of episodes a season. The standard television season is pretty bloated, which is why it generally favours shows without overarching stories, and why it took so long for one to become successful.

The other problem, one that I remember being brought up while Lost was still on, was that if something is successful enough to actually be able to complete its story, it is also successful enough for the network to want to expand it beyond it’s original length in order to guarantee maximum profit on it (mostly via syndication, which doesn’t really work well for serial stories, but that won’t stop them). So a story that is already combating the bloat of long network seasons can also face additional bloat, and in these situations, you would need to be a pretty powerful Hollywood player to get the people airing your show to let you make it the way you want. There are ways to overcome something like this…for example, ending a storyline and then starting a new one. But would eliminate part of the appeal of these shows, wouldn’t it?

This is why I think cable channel schedules are far better for a serialized story. The average season on HBO or any other specialty channel is 13 episodes; this is a perfectly good number to work with. Plenty of time to move the plot forward, plenty of time to do character work, and barely any time for excess. You think you’re story is too ‘epic’ for 13 episodes? Fuck you. Limitations will probably help you make your story better. It makes you consider what’s important, what you need to make the whole thing work. Making your little epic leaner won’t hurt it…probably.

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