Posts Tagged Fringe

Are We Doing TV Wrong?

I don’t watch Breaking Bad. I saw the pilot episode, I loved the pilot episode, but for the first two seasons of the show I didn’t have AMC on my cable package, and by the time I did it made more sense to wait for it to all wrap up so I wouldn’t have to deal with the most infamous feature of the show.

The waits.

The long long looooong waits.

Breaking Bad debuted on January 20, 2008. It’s 62nd and final episode will air on September 29, 2013. That’s 2,079 days between debut and finale, or an average wait of 34 days per episode. It aired in fits and starts, running in seven, thirteen, or eight episode chunks, with fans waiting as long as 399 days between seasons three and four.

Compare that to The X-Files. 202 episodes over 3,173 days, an average wait for 15.8 days per episode. One off season was even bridged by a movie. If Chris Carter and company had given us those 202 episodes at the same rate as Breaking Bad, the series finale would have aired sometime in November of 2012. Deep Space Nine would have run until 2009. Lost would still be running until 2015, Fringe until 2017.

It’s perhaps not fair to compare cable and network television here. Cable runs by different rules. Shorter seasons, longer off seasons, it’s the expectation. However, Breaking Bad is still an outlier. Thus far fans of The Walking Dead have waited 26 days per episode, and Mad Men fans have waited 28 days per new episode. Dexter, also ending soon, 27 days.

All of these cable dates tend to float right around a magic number. On average the fan of these major cable series have waited one month per episode. Which leads me to wonder: what if a series aired one episode a month? Reliably. Every month. No off-season. From episode one until the series finale. It means that fans would have to wait for every episode, but would never put up with waits of over one year, which both Breaking Bad and Mad Men have put their fans through.

It probably wouldn’t work with production schedules, but I’m curious about this from a theoretical point of view. Would you watch a show that gave you one hour of content, reliably, the same time every month?  Perhaps as a two hour block paired with the previous month’s episode. Perhaps a cable network that provided a genre per night of the week. Four dramas rotating on Mondays, four SFF shows rotating on Wednesdays. Is monthly television inherently more arbitrary than weekly television, especially when many cable shows are doing it on average already? Is that run of 13 straight weeks worth the long wait between seasons? Would plotlines be harder to follow? Would it be harder to get into a new series this way?

I don’t necessarily have answers for these, though I’m curious about opinions.

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Burn it. Burn it with fire.

This statement might put me on some sort of future arsonist watch list, but there are a lot of problems that could be solved by copious amounts of fire.  The management of this blog absolutely does not recommend nor endorse solving any real world problems with copious amounts of fire, excepting those problems that can be solved through the completely legal application of copious amounts of fire, such a hot dogs needing to be warmed or bonfires needing to be started.

Alright, that should have me in the clear.

I’m pulling this idea largely from my wife, who has seen far more horror movies than I have.  There are frequently points in those movies where the problems being faced by the protagonists could be very easily solved by the application of fire.  This could be because a largely wooden house is trying to kill you.  This could be because the monsters are in an isolated area with lots of trees around.  Just watch horror movies, and think to yourself at what point the problem could be caused if the good guys would just rub some sticks together then walk away just quickly enough to outpace the fire line.  It’s a non-trivial percentage.  Even when it’s not fire, it may be some other simple solution that the characters are overlooking in the moment.

As a writer, this can be a problem.  Because viewers and readers pay attention to such things, and consider such options.  Or, if this isn’t something all readers and viewers do, and something just my wife and I do…perhaps I should be placed on a future arsonist watch list.  That’s not the point.  The point is: there is a potentially extreme but easily accomplished solution to a problem, there needs to be a reason why it won’t work.  There needs to be a reason not to just burn everything down to the ground and let the fire brigade sort through the ashes at the end.

Recent show that did this well?  Fringe.  During their October 7th episode “Alone in the World” (available on Hulu at the time of writing this post) the team is faced with a lethal subterranean fungal growth.  The solution?  Copious amounts of fire!  It was the first idea anyone on the team suggested, the first that they thought to try, high fives were exchanged on our sofa watching the episode because it’s great to see someone go for the simple solution.  However, it turned out the fungal growth was psychically linked to a young boy who would also be killed by this apocalypse of burning.  Another solution was needed, but fire was suggested, attempted, and found to not work.

So while working on a plot, it’s essential to be aware of any simple solutions to complex problems presented in the piece, and it’s good to have a reason why they just won’t work.  Because someone reading the book, someone watching the show or movie, they’re going to come up with that simple solution.  And they’re going to be irate with either the characters or the work as a whole when it’s not at least suggested and dismissed as untenable.

Because sometimes, you really can just burn it with fire.

Fire picture released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license by Wikipedia editor Fir0002.

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