Several months ago, while dissecting the TV network upfronts, I applauded ABC’s decision to air Lost with no repeats.
After all, I had been through an entire season where the pattern of three new episodes, two repeats, one new episode, four repeats, clip show, one new episode, etc. had been driving me crazy. I thought that anything would be better than what we had just gone through.
Hoo-boy, was I wrong! Looked good on paper; in real life, not so much.
Lost goes on hiatus this week, after only 6 episodes, and it won’t be back for thirteen weeks. To put that into perspective, that’s a whole season of Deadwood or The Sopranos.
Even disregarding my sneaking suspicion that this season peaked in the first ten minutes (I’m going to keep this post spoiler-free because I know that one of the other ‘Loper households is making their way through our DVD of Season One), and the fact that the cliffhanger that they left us upon wasn’t all that cliffy, really, I don’t think that this format works, either.
So what would work? I think that ABC should think about should do one of two things:
- Shorter seasons: Why not? It works for the HBO shows, as well as BBC shows. Do a short, self-contained “season” and call it good. If you want a lot of episodes, then do two short seasons: one in the fall, and one in the spring. You end up hitting all of the sweeps periods, and you can still stay away from the repeats in the middle of the season.
As a matter of fact, if you did it right, you could run each season twice in its entirety: people who missed the first run of that season could catch the full season on repeats.
- Do the 24 thing: One season, 24 episodes; and go!! That way all of the magic numbers, callbacks, continuity, flashbacks, etc. are easy to follow. Or not, if you like to watch 24 with your brain off, like I do. My guess is that ABC will do this next year. If there is a next year.
There was also an interesting article in New York Magazine that proposed that shows like Lost have a predetermined shelf-life. A perfect example of this is the great BBC drama Life on Mars — which, like Lost, is built around a central, possibly supernatural, mystery — where they have announced that the second season will be the last season. All of the storylines will supposedly be wrapped up, and while I’ll have to avoid spoilers until it makes it to BBC America, if they do it right, we’ll all remember it fondly.
I totally agree with this idea, but I also know that if a show isn’t a hit, the execs can’t get it off the air fast enough, and if it is a hit, then they want to milk it until the exact moment than it isn’t a hit. Whereupon they take it off of the air prior to the final proper resolution of the storylines. So I don’t think that it would ever work on American broadcast TV. Too bad.