Watching the final eps of Dollhouse (I wanted to save them up to enjoy them one after the other – I have a strange postponement enjoyment for good tv, which may well form the framework for another blog post) – anyway, watching the last 3 episodes of Dollhouse made me realise just how brilliant a relatively short piece of television can be, all the more so when the producers/writers are pointed towards a fairly clear end date. A story needs to be told, and so the fluff goes out the window, leaving behind a taut plot.
Seasons 5 & 6 of Lost makes me think similar things. A finite end date, a finite number of episodes seems to heighten the sensation of what’s at stake in each episode, certainly at least for viewers. Knowing there is a finality to the narrative – it’s like reading a good book. The further you get through, the more you can see the end approaching, in rapidly dwindling pages.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love some longer serial narratives – part of me wishes that Buffy had gone on for ever, I very happily watch all seven seasons of The West Wing. But what I am starting to see is a position, an opportunity, for US television to start making shows which from the very start have a very specific end point in mind. A narrative which still far exceeds anything which could be told in film or even literature, but which is specifically honed to tell a story.
I would love to see US networks (or perhaps cable networks are the spiritual home of such a venture) taking on specific narrative (possibly cult) series, which from the very start are commissioned only for a single, or for a couple of seasons. Give someone like Joss Whedon 12, 22, 24, 44 episodes in which to tell a story, in which to create a universe, flesh out some characters, give them meaning, purpose, and take them to their conclusion. I would think that a network would be much less hesitant to cancel a show, knowing that there is already a finite end point, and in some ways, it may well give writers a much greater level of narrative freedom.
Of course, there would be a lot of room for transmedia expansion, and in theory, the metaverse created might extend significantly beyond the intial 2 series run, but the idea of that short, concise initial televisual canon is one that I find very exciting.
My thoughts on this are a little scattered… but the idea seems relatively sound.