THE OLE EPISODIC VS. SERIAL QUESTION - Complications Ensue
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Friday, March 10, 2006

We're still trying to figure out if Untitled George Clooney Project is a soap, or if it has episodic A stories with soapy B stories. I don't really want to write a pure soap because you get boxed in by the plotlines, and because it would be hard to take advantage of the very rich territory we're mining for the show. So I've been spending the day coming up with springboards for episodic A stories. The problem is they are all over the place. A show like Grey's Anatomy, or any hospital, law or cop show, has stories that come in the door every episode. Very easy to find closure when people show up sick or injured, and by the end of the ep they've had a successful surgery or they're permanently impaired. Our territory doesn't have that kind of urgency. There is not an obvious immediate antagonist. So, do we manufacture urgency every week, à la, say, _________________, in a venue where the urgency is really more long term? Or do we focus on the quirky characters and their quirky issues, à la Northern Exposure? (No, we don't, we're trying to pitch a mainstream show.) Or something ever cleverer and subtler? And if so, what?

6 Comments:

Uh, Alex? Northern Exposure ran for six seasons on CBS (aka "the old folks network")

That's pretty mainstream.

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 10:20 PM  

Good point. But would it be mainstream now? Could you get away with that stuff in broadcast these days?

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:36 PM  

It worked for several seasons on ALLY MCBEAL. BOSTON LEGAL does the same thing. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT is all about the quirk.

And I think N.E. had a weekly engine for the story, not necessarily "urgent", but certainly enough to drive the plot.
It's hard to know if we don't know the setting.

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 12:02 AM  

I always liked Sybill
(sorry I can't spell - you know the one I mean though.)

By Blogger Eleanor, at 4:31 AM  

All excellent points. Quirky can go mainstream.

This particular one, though, I don't think wants to be quirky. But maybe that's wrong -- we'll take a look at that.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:18 AM  

Seems to me that the most successful series are usually the most original in subject and tone. Lost and Desperate Housewives struck a chord because they were unlike anything else on TV at the time. Mainstream shows like ER and The Practice are formulaic... but have a new chance to reinvent themselves with each new funky case that walks in the door. The first two seasons of ER were some of the most hysterical—and gut-wrenching—TV I've ever seen. Same goes for Chicago Hope and Ally McBeal (except Ally wasn't so much gut-wrenching as nauseating watching Calista become more emaciated over time). The pattern seems to be that the most original stuff happens in the first 2 seasons and then it peters out and resorts to exploring soapy plotlines to keep from getting stale.

But I got off-track: what I meant to say was that choosing quirky introspective plotlines stands more of a chance of competing against mainstream formula settings nowadays. When I think of good drama and comedy, it's almost always the quirkiest stories that come to mind, even if they are nestled within a mainstream-type formulaic setting like in a hospital, law firm, police department, or Forensic department. The trick with a quirky or highly original series is, of course, keeping your producers from letting the show die before it finds its niche audience... which can then coax in a more mainstream audience—Star Trek being the most painful example, though Firefly comes in a close second.

By Blogger Ross Pruden, at 3:39 PM  

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