Episodic v. SerialComplications Ensue
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Screenwriting, TV and Game Writing Blog


April 2004

May 2004

June 2004

July 2004

August 2004

September 2004

October 2004

November 2004

December 2004

January 2005

February 2005

March 2005

April 2005

May 2005

June 2005

July 2005

August 2005

September 2005

October 2005

November 2005

December 2005

January 2006

February 2006

March 2006

April 2006

May 2006

June 2006

July 2006

August 2006

September 2006

October 2006

November 2006

December 2006

January 2007

February 2007

March 2007

April 2007

May 2007

June 2007

July 2007

August 2007

September 2007

October 2007

November 2007

December 2007

January 2008

February 2008

March 2008

April 2008

May 2008

June 2008

July 2008

August 2008

September 2008

October 2008

November 2008

December 2008

January 2009

February 2009

March 2009

April 2009

May 2009

June 2009

July 2009

August 2009

September 2009

October 2009

November 2009

December 2009

January 2010

February 2010

March 2010

April 2010

May 2010

June 2010

July 2010

August 2010

September 2010

October 2010

November 2010

December 2010

January 2011

February 2011

March 2011

April 2011

May 2011

June 2011

July 2011

August 2011

September 2011

October 2011

November 2011

December 2011

January 2012

February 2012

March 2012

April 2012

May 2012

June 2012

July 2012

August 2012

September 2012

October 2012

November 2012

December 2012

January 2013

February 2013

March 2013

April 2013

May 2013

June 2013

July 2013

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

January 2014

February 2014

March 2014

April 2014

May 2014

June 2014

July 2014

August 2014

September 2014

October 2014

November 2014

December 2014

January 2015

February 2015

March 2015

April 2015

May 2015

June 2015

August 2015

September 2015

October 2015

November 2015

December 2015

January 2016

February 2016

March 2016

April 2016

May 2016

June 2016

July 2016

August 2016

September 2016

October 2016

November 2016

December 2016

January 2017

February 2017

March 2017

May 2017

June 2017

July 2017

August 2017

September 2017

October 2017

November 2017

December 2017

January 2018

March 2018

April 2018

June 2018

July 2018

October 2018

November 2018

December 2018

January 2019

February 2019

November 2019

February 2020

March 2020

April 2020

May 2020

August 2020

September 2020

October 2020

December 2020

January 2021

February 2021

March 2021

May 2021

June 2021

November 2021

December 2021

January 2022

February 2022

August 2022

September 2022

November 2022

February 2023

March 2023

April 2023

May 2023

July 2023

September 2023

November 2023

January 2024

February 2024


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Writers like to write serial shows, on the whole, because telling a serialized story allows you to add another layer of story. Each episode tells a story, but the episodes together tell a bigger story.

Network execs, on the whole, don't like that. In spite of the success of shows like 24 and LOST, what broadcast execs want is a show like HOUSE, where you can tune into the show in the middle of the season, and know exactly what's going on by the end of the teaser.

In reaction, when we're asked "is your show episodic or serial," DMc and I like to hold up VERONICA MARS as a paradigm. Each episode is largely self contained, but moves the overall story forward.

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.

Lucky me, pay cable doesn't have the same problem. I don't have any factoids to marshal, but the pay cable audience is naturally much more devoted to the shows they're watching, since they're paying for them. And the flip side of that is they need shows that will provoke people to subscribe, so they need the show to pack as much meaty story goodness in each episode as possible. The additional layer a serial show gives you helps a lot there.



It just goes to show you, people are stupid.

By Blogger Tom, at 11:36 PM  

Did you get the feeling that Rob was talking about VM specifically or TV drama as a whole


By Blogger theblankscreen, at 12:45 AM  

I don't really get how people are stupid. Just because they don't necessarily have time or the focus to watch every single episode doesn't really decrease their IQ.

Unless I'm missing something...

I have to say that I'm a big fan of Stargate, their series structure allowed for the casual viewer to "jump" in and enjoy the story, while the overall arc rewarded the loyal ones. This added that extra layer and depth to a story.

By Blogger Jason Sanders, at 1:35 AM  

Theblankscreen: I think Rob is disinclined to let any future shows get too episodic if he can avoid it.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:10 AM  

I wonder how the increased importance of DVD sales will affect the studios outlook. Also I imagine that as more and more of the audience gets PVRs their tolerance for serialized shows will go up.

By Blogger Peter, at 12:35 PM  

The other question I have is: how do the numbers look for serial shows vs. episodic shows. Lots of people catch the occasional ep of Law & Order. What are the numbers for 24?

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 1:04 PM  

Interesting. I get the feeling as a viewer that the trend is toward more serial shows. Sitcoms in particular have been adding more serial elements--The Office and How I Met Your Mother are the two best examples I can think of. Each episode is watchable on its own, but it's rewarding to follow the plots from episode to episode.

I tend to think it's the influence of reality TV; in most competitive reality TV shows, one person's plot line ends every episode, so no one wants to miss a show. I wonder if this will continue, or if the trend's a bubble, or if it will always be limited to a certain segment of the population with Tivos and huge DVD collections. And of course a serial show that fails will fail spectacularly. At the first sign that not many people wanted to follow Drive, Fox canceled it after only four episodes.

By Blogger Andrew, at 2:22 PM  

24 had its worst season yet this year. Guess people were finally twigging to the number of heavily recycled plots. I'm kind of curious to see where they go next year (supposed to be a real shake up in the works).

I'm not sure what the numbers are in regards to serialized v. episodic. I've always been suspect of the Nielsen numbers myself, at least the parts that are made public.

I think that advertisers and networks should rethink their approach to serialized shows. Sure they may be less accessible to new viewers, but that shouldn't be the only concern. A loyal core of viewers are going to be more likely to buy things like DVDs and other paraphernalia, not to mention they're going to be more susceptible to things like product placement within the show. Also, I remember reading somewhere that serialized shows tend to attract individuals whose median incomes are above average. Now I can't attest to the validity of that, but it would certainly be attractive to advertisers if it was true.

By Blogger Peter, at 3:53 PM  

Jason, you're right. People that don't follow every episode of a show aren't stupid. That was a cheap comment.
Forgive me. I really wanted to see more Veronica Mars.

But I have a difficult time understanding why anyone would enjoy any one episode of a series. That's not to say that there aren't Great Episodes, but I don't know how you can enjoy one episode of a show unless you enjoy the series as a whole.
To me, watching 1 out of every 4 episodes of a series is like eating only one layer of a sandwich.

And technology is such that I think you should only episodes of a show because you watch too much television, not too little.

On top of that, I don't really think that many shows actually are episodic. If people liked episodic, we'd see more anthology shows.

Even Law & Order and CSI mix in character stories that sustain outside the courtroom/forensics lab. Those shows may not build on, or even reference, them often, but it's there.
And when we don't get direct character story-stuff, we still learn more about the characters by the way they behave in the circumstances of that isolated episode.
And isn't House even more serialized than those two shows? In every episode we come away with a better understanding of someone.

Hmm. Of course, I suppose there is a difference between story and character. I guess I just don't watch TV that way.
Sorry for the long post.

By Blogger Tom, at 12:20 AM  

Post a Comment

Back to Complications Ensue main blog page.

This page is powered by Blogger.