Episodic v. Serial – Complications Ensue

Episodic v. Serial – Complications Ensue:

So when we actually saw Rob Thomas (creator of VERONICA MARS) giving a talk at Banff, DMc asked him about his thoughts on episodic vs. serial.

Rob busted out a factoid I’d heard before, but which really hadn’t sunk in. When people say they watch a show, on average, they watch one out of four episodes.

One out of four.

It’s a shock, because when I watch a show, I really want to see every episode. I missed maybe one or two FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTs last season, and I was really unhappy about it. One out of four? So the average audience member is really not that involved in the season arcs even of a soap opera like FNL; they’re just going along for the episodic ride.

Rob said if he’d been able to do a fourth season of VM, he’d have made it entirely episodic. No serial story at all. That was a shock.

Wow, one of the better shows developed for episodic viewing, and the writer wouldn’t do it that way again. Also – who watched Friday Night Lights that way? Good god. That show was amazing for layers and building. Why would you watch it for an episode here or there?

Maybe many people watch TV that way, but I sure don’t. There’s got to be two camps on this – I wonder what the split is?

And could you write a show that works for both camps?

Friday Night Lights

While I’m working through my CD ripping project, I’ve been knitting and doing some marathon Netflix watching. I can’t remember what prompted me to start watching Friday Night Lights, but I’ve been working my way through the first several seasons – and it’s GOOD. The writing is amazing. I wish I’d been watching this all along. The problem is that after watching the show continuously, I’ve started talking with a Texas twang. It’s a little embarrassing.

My Early Fan Fiction

A short list of shows and books I have written femslash fan fiction about – often in my head, but sometimes written down. Early on I actually wrote it down and posted on usenet forums, and I discovered recently that some of it is still out there. I’m not linking to it, because it’s pretty terrible, and since it was anonymously published, I don’t have to claim it.

Star Trek: TNG – Deanna Troi and Dr. Beverly Crusher

Anne of Green Gables – Anne and Dianna

Kate & Allie – one or two Kate and Allie, but more Jennie and Emma

The Facts of Life – Jo & Blair, obvs.

Princess Diana (RPF, OMG!)
I shouldn’t even bring this up now, but in the interest of being complete, yes, I wrote romantic fiction pairing princess Diana with other famous women. I feel bad about it now, given that celebrities tend to feel icky about RPF written about them.

Reva Shayne & Maureen Garrett from The Guiding Light
Who knows what I was thinking of here; Reva and Maureen barely interacted with each other. I wished they did, though.

The character of Buddy, from Family
I barely remember any of the episodes, but boy did Buddy have some girlfriends in my writing. I believe she had a crush on some girl Willie was dating? God, I can’t remember that far back.

Little House on the Prairie
(I know; blasphemy! In my head, Nellie Olson got a lot nicer and Laura liked blondes.)

Colette’s Claudine series
I thought Claudine should have ended up with Annie and not the asshole husband.

Star Trek: DS9
Jadzia Dax and Kira Nerys, please. I wasn’t placated by Lenara Kahn.

Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman
No clue who I was shipping Dr. Quinn with. Probably some guest star.

Ready or Not – Amanda and Busy
Most of this was pretty tame and just involved them realizing they loved each other.

Touched by an Angel (definitely going to hell for that).
I only wrote a couple of stories, so I don’t remember what this one was about.

Xena: Warrior Princess
Obviously, Xena and Gabrielle, but I had a long story I need to dig out where I shipped Artemis and Aphrodite, too.

The X-Files
I didn’t hate Mulder, but he was too much of a kook for Scully, so I gave her girlfriends.

The Lost Finale

Kottke does a nice round-up of sites’s comments on the Lost finale. Many of them express what I’ve heard as a common theme among fans – it’s okay that all of the questions weren’t answered, because most of them were. The major storylines were wrapped up.

io9, on the other hand, came up a with a list of 50 questions that they felt Lost really did need to answer with their series ending show, and a tally of what was actually covered and what was left open (more questions than not, unfortunately).

I’m with io9 on this one. Sure, red herrings are a mystery tradition. But they’re always exposed as red herrings in the end. That’s just good storytelling to wrap up the loose ends. Lost left way too many of them. Writing them off as unimportant is just yanking people’s chains. People who don’t think much may be okay without all the mind-benders solved. But thoughtful people want real closure in their storytelling. I wonder how many of the “it’s okay, they don’t have to explain everything” folks read novels regularly.

And I’m really dissatisfied with the ending as well. If you’re going to sell me a series of religious programming, label it as such so I can watch the sci-fi channel instead. Don’t disguise your religious blah blah blah as science fiction for 5 and a half seasons and then zing me with mysticism at the end. It’s pretty clear that the writers very much wrote themselves into a corner. They didn’t have an end in mind when they started, and they got a giant kick out people’s excitement at the layer-upon-layer of mysterious events, so they kept laying it on thick even after they had laid out so much they couldn’t explain it all. I cry deus ex machina foul. My fierce belief in free will over fate leaves me feeling this series was ultimately a giant turd.

I’m hoping that with on-demand technologies, television writing will start moving in the direction of series treated as long mini-series – with a completely plotted story line from beginning to end and more tightly written detail, rather that completely open-ended affairs that peter off after awhile. Television programs do have a predictable end point, no matter how popular they are. Using that to create a real story that holds together throughout would be much more satisfying.