Monday, June 04, 2007

Nobody Wants Another Gilligan's Island.

So, apparently Battlestar Galactica is going to be ending after next season, by mutual agreement between the producers and the network. This doesn't really surprise me at all... I know the show's creator, Ronald Moore, has repeatedly said that his intention was to tell a complete story and then stop. He did fairly recently say that he was looking at probably another two years, but, then, he's also said that he sees the series as a whole as having a traditional four-act structure, and that it's now heading into Act Four, which did lead me to wonder about the wisdom of having the fourth act be twice as long as the other three.

I know there are fans and critics out there lamenting the idea of the show going off the air so soon, but, personally, I think it's an excellent idea. And I'm not just saying that because I found the last season of BSG rather uneven, or because I'm a bit skeptical about the writers' ability to take last season's WTF ending and make sense of it. For a while now, I've been thinking that the British tradition of short seasonal runs and, in many cases, built-in expiration dates for shows has a lot to recommend it. It makes for much tighter story arcs, for one thing. Indeed, it was recently announced that Lost was going to follow this pattern from here on out, with three more seasons of 13 episodes each, and my only thought was that I wish they'd started earlier. The first half of this season could have been vastly improved by being chopped down significantly. And that's a show that needs a pre-planned ending if anything ever did.

In fact, if you've got a strongly arc-driven show -- and more and more of them are, nowadays -- my personal feeling is that you're probably much better off having a definite endpoint in sight. And if your show is structured around the characters striving after some particular goal -- "getting home" is a hugely popular one -- you really want to create a sense that the audience can actually expect them to meet that goal at some point, preferably before we've gotten so tired of watching them fail repeatedly that we don't care any more. Or before you get canceled without warning and don't have time to wrap things up with a proper ending. Mind you, it is possible to have your characters change goals and keep going -- Farscape did this brilliantly, shortly before meeting the "canceled without warning" fate -- but I think that's difficult to do well, and if it's done poorly, it comes across as artificial and unsatisfying. And a satisfying ending is better than an unsatisfying non-ending any day, if you ask me.

4 comments:

  1. I say more story arcs - no need to keep flogging a dead horse over and over and over. Have you watched Life on Mars? Two 8 episode seasons/series. They told the story, didn't have anything to add and ended it.

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  2. I have, and LoM was one of the British examples I was thinking of. That's a show that could easily have gone on for some time, I think, but would eventually have suffered from doing so. Good for them for realizing that and giving the audience a resolution while we still cared.

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  3. That's a good point. While I hate losing BSG, I would rather have them leave on a high(er) note than jumping the shark.

    I can see it now. "Apollo and Starbuck meet Jay and Silent Bob in Space!"

    Ummm... no.

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  4. Yeah, I think we can all name really good shows that went on longer than they should have and lost all their dignity before the end.

    Apollo & Starbuck & Jay & Silent Bob could be highly amusing, though. ;)

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