Legends (2014-2015) When the aim is to have a TV series that runs for several seasons this presents a challenge: how to keep the audience committed to the show and to watch every episode. The format of some shows is primarily plotted as a series, so that there is a new story each episode, an A story line, and addition long term character story-lines that carry across episodes and seasons. Here the challenge is to come up with a new idea or plot for each show, but is has to be the characters who engage most as they are the continuing element. Friends (1994-2004) or Will and Grace (1198-2005), the sitcom are good examples of the serial where the audience love the characters and shows that work like this are murder mysteries, a new murder each week, a legal or a medical show. This single story format mirrors the real life police, legal and medical practice, but it has to be the characters that engage. This idea, needing characters that engage may be the basis for all successful series, but it means that a show will fail if the characters don't catch on: there are probably demographics for audiences, so this is a factor. These shows fade because eventually the characters must move on and develop and this can change the show: they're silly and inexperienced in season one, and by season ten its hard to have the same level of inexperience and silliness.
Some shows are serials and there's a single main story line that dominates. Engaging characters are crucial, but the single story line is meant to keep audiences engaged. Here the major story line has to maintain credibility across season and sometimes this is a problem, because each season has to have a significant dramatic climatic and also prompt the story to continue. In Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2002) There is successful plot device that remains, for all the seasons, there is a hell hole under the town that releases demons, and this allows for new demons each episode. What appears to present a challenge is when the long term plot is a BIG MYSTERY or for the story to develop the long term plot either changes successfully or collapses. In Lost (2004-2010) there is a big mystery, where is the island? what is the island? why is everyone on the island? How can everyone get off the island? These mysteries offer a very strong and compelling start, and in the first season there are main intriguing clues, but then at the end of each season something has to change, the people on the island can't remain complete incapable of action to get off, and can't remain completely unaware of what's going on. As the season progress in Lost (2004-2010) the stranded people get of the islands, have to get back on the islands and then are separated on the island is different periods of time and there is still a constant plot line that the characters want to know what the island is and being there is a tension. The ending of the series attempts to offer an explanation, but it can't actually deal with all the issues. It may not matter that the serial/series ends unsatisfactorily, but perhaps the problem can be seen and addressed in advance.
In Legends (2014-2015) like Lost there is a big mystery which underpins a long story line, the central character is a specialist undercover operative, but he may have lost his real identity, who he thinks he is is false. This BIG MYSTERY can only end two ways: he's who he thinks he is or he's not: and what is the significance of either if he thinks that a false life is what he thinks is a real life? What Lost and Legends have in common is the idea that there is a hidden conspiracy which is meant to be a big deal. The super powerful conspiracy idea is also present in the X-Files ( 1993-2002), is there an alien/human conspiracy, and this has had a very long run, probably again because of the characters, but also because each episode has a complete plot which is solved, so that the long running issue does not dominate. So, the formula for a successful series is:
Great Characters who involve and engage the audience: character need to develop
A story format so that there is full story each episode as well as a longstanding through line
A conspiracy can keep a series going, but it can end up for a disappointing ending: if this is happening then:
The way to have the conspiracy show remain successful, is not just for the writer's to start with a puzzle they don't have the answer to, but rather they have worked out the conspiracy so that is has a basis that is valid and credible. The conspiracy can then unpack like a Russian doll at the end of each series: revealing a layer, but starting a new layer. So, the writer's need to work hard on the back story if this is going work out. Problems seem to have occurred with Westworld ( 2016 - 2019) and with Doll House (2009 and 2010) Here the central characters don't know who they are at the start of the first season or that they are trapped and by the end of season one they do: this should make major changes, but it changes an underlying story structure: the shows try to keep a mystery, but then facts are know, but supposedly not everything, but the audience know so much and so do that characters that there seems to be nothing but a gap, because the show has not real mystery left. It's easy to say, but perhaps these shows needed to work or on the functioning of the hidden mystery, what makes this significant and not a small thing. The Matrix film series faces this problem. In the first film the central characters and the audience know how the Matrix operates, and then this is somehow still supposedly a mystery, so the final revelation is no revelation at all. Also, the other problem with each of these three examples is that characters don't change, they find out who they are and then they are the same: they don't take significant action when they discover the secret, they carry on much as before. In Legends, the main character thinks he may really be someone else, but then he doesn't really ask anyone about this, because its a conspiracy that the conspirators don't reveal and the central character doesn't pay that much attention to either.
Copyright: Eugene Doyen 2019