Article in the NYT about the pleasures and pitfalls of serialised dramas, and the extremely Darwinian world in which they live and battle for a now more than once-bitten audience’s commitment. Like many viewers now, I won’t even look at a show until it’s aired four or five episodes and isn’t in apparent danger of cancellation.
My own feeling has always been that twenty-two episode seasons are too long for this type of storytelling. Too much padding, with time often wasted on third and fourth-tier characters, and lashings of deliberate ambiguity to pad the season out, makes me tune out pretty quickly. I’m loving Heroes at the moment, but if they haven’t averted nuclear apocalypse before the end of the season and moved onto the next challenge, I’m out of there.
The thirteen episode model seems much better to me. It focuses the storytelling on what truly matters, and does away with the myriad and meaningless sub-plots I always want to fast-foward through. No-one can tell me that The Wire would be improved by the addition of nine episodes per season, and I don’t think you can find tighter storytelling than that. Even the credits are meaningful.
More importantly, though, it requires less commitment from a curious audience to catch-up with just thirteen episodes on DVD. Lost is shedding viewers between seasons, because potential new eyeballs don’t have time to squeeze in twenty-four episodes between finale and premier. As talk in the UK about committing to longer runs of shows ramps up, I wonder if there’s too much effort being made to imitate a troubled model rather than stick with something better for the audience.