I was originally going to post this in "LOL of the Day", but then as I started writing out my thoughts, it got turned into less of a comedic post and more of a discussion post, so it didn't fit quite right in... I also initially felt like posting it in the "Hugely Unnecessary Thread", but quickly realized just how much I have to say about the subject, and here we are with a new discussion thread.
So I found this amusing analysis from Cracked (a comedy geek culture website which came back recently after a year's hiatus for those who care). Obviously, this above chart isn't applicable for every show, as you could easily squeeze Buffy season 2-3 into the "Plateau" period of this chart, with season 4 perhaps landing on the "cracks begin to show" period.
But it's interesting regardless, this study on the growth of a TV series. I mentioned this before when I talked about why I watched Simpsons/X-Files/Buffy at the same time starting from their respective season 1. Originally, I did this out of convenience, but then as I started to see each series grow past their season 1, the similarity in their growth was intriguing, and I noticed that season 1 was indeed generally the season where the writers are still trying to find the show's identity (somewhere between "The Grace Period" and "For Real This Time" on this chart); Buffy, X-Files and Simpsons all utilized the experimentation of season 1 as a first-draft to boost better writing into season 2.
For what it's worth though, the above chart is probably more accurate in describing both X-Files and Simpsons, both of which didn't really reach their "plateau" period 'till season 3; Buffy had its success earlier in season 2. And both X-Files and Simpsons also reached the "Zombie Years" with their incessant continuations, never knowing when to stop; Buffy had its television conclusion just at the right time, and the comic books seem to be doing well with their continuation that a TV series sequel might have ruined.
Looking back at the TV shows I've seen over the recent years, it's kinda sad how many of them followed a similar pattern shown in the chart, and not just the aforementioned '90s series. Dexter had its "Cracks Start to Show" period since season 5; Sherlock season 4; Once Upon A Time season 4; Friends season 5. Over and over, these shows seem to hit their "mid-life crisis" around season 4 or 5, which makes sense because the first three seasons of these shows (minus sitcoms like Friends) seem to act like a trilogy of sorts, with season 1 setting up the beginning of a major arc or thematic character development and season 3 bringing some form of closure to it; season 4, like Buffy, often feels like the renewal of the series, starting anew with a new "major arc" that exists to keep the show running for another three or four seasons, a reboot of sorts, and I think that's the mistake and where writers and showrunners lost their way.
Now, I'm not saying all these just to shame these showrunners or even criticize them in a belittling way. It's just that, since I was a kid, I somehow gained this passion for analyzing the structures of storytelling, how it works, what kind of tropes it has, and how it shaped and was shaped in turn by entire cultures and zeitgeists throughout history. So I guess these struggles and patterns of a TV show's lifespan, how something so culturally inspiring like Buffy struggles on to its seventh season, it fascinates me how it all works, in the same way a horology hobbyist would study how cogs in a watch would work, I suppose. It makes me impressed when a show does succeed beyond season 4 or 5 like Buffy, or if it excels right from the very start like The Wire. The way stories are told through film and television has evolved so much over time that we even had a "Golden Age of Television" beginning two decades ago in the 2000s, and it leaves more room to explore and analyze just how much better TV series could be written in the future, especially with streaming services bypassing network censorship. Truly marvelous, isn't it? A whole new world for storytellers out there with creative freedom.
But enough rambling from me. I started a new thread because I want to hear your thoughts on this. What do you think about the validity of this pattern? Have TV writers and studio heads grown past the point where they could make a show successful from season 1 onward? Have they learned to make a show last long enough without a loss in quality? Or have they learned that "less is more" and made series with fewer seasons? How far has TV writing come since Buffy in the '90s?
Hope to hear from you soon.