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The Growth of a TV Series

Mr Trick

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@Oromous Depends what you class as a sitcom. If you restrict it to the old style work place, or friends meet up and chat about their lives in a pub or coffee shop type show then that probably is gone (although shows like HIMYM and the Big Bang revived it a little), but if you extend it to modern comedy shows like Brooklyn Nine Nine, What We Did in the Shadows or The Good Place then its still alive. To me the sitcom is a ever changing form. Those are still situation comedies, its just they've changed up the location and experimented a bit more.
 

Oromous

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I do think making fewer episodes has affected the quality and lifespan of television. As art, the British method of serials over series, except the four or five shows that have been running since the war, is probably superior.
I do enjoy the British's way of producing shorter serials more than the longer American series to be honest, and I find that their condensed storylines means that whatever messages or commentaries they had in mind are more impactful as a result, rather than losing the appeal and spark after 5 or 6 seasons. A lot of Ricky Gervais' series like the UK version of The Office were done like this to great effect, having merely two seasons or less for a single series, inserting their social commentary in this brief period and moving on to seek the next big subject to talk about as society evolves over the years.

I think there's ultimately good and bad to short and long form storytelling, but we are starting to see just how strong of a narrative the shorter ones could produce in their first season. And if writers are struggling to write series that are compelling for more than one season, maybe they should just be that, a single-season narrative before moving on to new experimental projects. It would certainly encourage the breeding of new and novel ideas, I feel.

But seriously, if you are going to write a long form story, at least have some idea how it is going to end. I cannot stress this enough.
I think it's a little more complicated than that. As I mentioned, a showrunner like Chris Carter did have an idea how The X-Files was supposed to end, but the network demanded otherwise because of how successful the series has become. No way they were gonna slaughter the golden goose. I believe most showrunners face this dilemma as well, having a series going beyond their control because of how successful they've become, that even if they wanted to end it sooner than later, the profitability of the show makes it impossible.

@Oromous Depends what you class as a sitcom. If you restrict it to the old style work place, or friends meet up and chat about their lives in a pub or coffee shop type show then that probably is gone (although shows like HIMYM and the Big Bang revived it a little), but if you extend it to modern comedy shows like Brooklyn Nine Nine, What We Did in the Shadows or The Good Place then its still alive. To me the sitcom is a ever changing form. Those are still situation comedies, its just they've changed up the location and experimented a bit more.
I was mostly referring to the former category, yes. But I think what I failed to emphasize about the flaws of the sitcom format is the status quo. For traditional sitcoms like the former group (HIMYM and Big Bang), status quo is god. That's why you'll rarely get meaningful character development that will span over multiple seasons. The Simpsons is perhaps the biggest offender of this, with an episode of season 9 literally reverting the entire history of an iconic character whom I shall not name, revealing that this character audiences have been following had stolen the real person's identity. Even when there is meaningful character development in sitcoms, it happens very gradually, like what happened with Ross/Rachel and Chandler/Monica in Friends.

It's good to know that there might be sitcoms that seek to change this dated format into something better - as all genres really should IMO, constantly evolving and changing - but I think that those who still seek the status quo, they just aren't as appealing anymore, at least to me, when compared to the more realistic and meaningful characterization in TV series nowadays, even comedy series.
 
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Mr Trick

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@Oromous That's why I actually prefer the US Office to the UK. They take the premise of the original, but make it even more serialised and even give plots to the supporting characters. The likes of Cheers, Seinfeld and Fraiser were some of early sitcoms to do arcs. In the UK the like of Blackadder and Only Fools did it up to a point too.
 

DeadlyDuo

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For traditional sitcoms like the former group (HIMYM and Big Bang), status quo is god. That's why you'll rarely get meaningful character development that will span over multiple seasons.
TBBT did have meaningful character development. When you look at how the characters started out and how they finished the series, there was massive development.
 

Oromous

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TBBT did have meaningful character development. When you look at how the characters started out and how they finished the series, there was massive development.
I haven't seen the entirety of Big Bang Theory to be honest. But I feel like I would still stick to my initial belief, that even with existing development like the ones in Friends, the showrunners would try to somehow revert the development back to status quo. Friends was a particularly annoying example because of how they kept making Ross and Rachel get together and then break up again.

I think a better way to put it would be that, it's not necessarily true that every sitcom would be written like this, but "status quo is god" is undoubtedly a real cliche in many sitcoms, usually older ones. It's up to newer and future sitcoms to learn from their mistake and avoid such cliches.

Going back to the discussion on the formatting of a TV series, I think that the way TV series are written nowadays, it has also changed our way of enjoying them, or rather, further make the narrative more unpredictable. Back then, you could probably guess that certain characters won't be killed off since it's still season 1 or even season 2 of the series. We would make presumptions that certain plot developments won't happen until later on in the series, usually season 3 or 4, a point in TV storytelling where writers often conclude an overarching plot that has spanned the previous seasons. Mulder and Scully won't ever find the truth, period, until the series is over in 5 or even 10 seasons. With sitcoms, it's even more predictable - Ross and Rachel obviously won't get together until the end.

Nowadays, with TV series being as short as 1 or 2 seasons, all bets are off. Furthermore, writers are even more self-aware these days of the common storytelling cliches than the '90s, when being "meta" was becoming a popular trend. So I'm sure many writers would make greater effort these days to really subvert expectations to make the maximum impact on season 1 alone.
 
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DeadlyDuo

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So I'm sure many writers would make greater effort these days to really subvert expectations to make the maximum impact on season 1 alone.
I think writers have to be careful on subverting expectations in that they should have a plan rather than having something come completely out of left field for the sake of "subverting expectations". For example, OUAT broke the original curse at the end of Season 1 rather than they end of the series which subverted expectations, but then they didn't really have a plan after that. They had a few carry over plots from season 1 but there was no goal in mind unlike in Season 1. The end of Season 2 was re-written once the writers knew they had permission to use Peter Pan which they didn't get until they were in the middle of writing Season 2. Fans had figured out that Baelfire was Henry's father and the writers said they considered changing it as a result but decided to keep it for the emotional factor. If they had changed it, they would've considered it "subverting expectations" but it would've made no sense since the clues had already been laid that Baelfire was Henry's father.

An example of "subverting expectations" done poorly is in OMWF where it turns out Xander was the one who supposedly summoned Sweet. It's so out of left field that, even to this day, fans still believe he was just covering for Dawn because the logic of the episode doesn't support the Xander did it theory.
 

Oromous

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I think writers have to be careful on subverting expectations in that they should have a plan rather than having something come completely out of left field for the sake of "subverting expectations".
Good point. All things should be done in moderation and with careful thought. I know a lot of writers would probably take the easier path and just throw red herrings across the face of everyone, resulting in poor imitations of what Scream did and call it "subversive."

But I think TV storytelling these days has evolved in a way that isn't restrained by the usual conventions, where a certain antagonist isn't defeated or a goal isn't achieved or a secret isn't exposed until season 6 or 8. I mentioned Mulder's quest to expose the government, but there's also Lucifer, where Chloe didn't become a believer until season 4. Sherlock didn't catch Moriarty until season 3. I think with network television, it was harder to not stick by these story conventions because studios needed the audience to come back next season to see if that big goal of the characters is accomplished. But even in the 2010s (late 2010s in particular), each season of a TV series has to be like a movie of its own to meet the audience's heightened expectations, each season having its own beginning and a conclusion. The clearest example of this is Daredevil on Netflix. Kingpin was arrested at the end of the first season instead of lurking in the background until season 3. The continuation of Daredevil the Series, therefore, became more about "what comes next?" Now that there's a vigilante like Daredevil on the street, how will the citizens of Hell's Kitchen react? The logical next step was The Punisher. Jessica Jones too had her archenemy killed in season 1.

So you see, there's a more natural progression there as opposed to holding off a major plot development 'till later. I think this is easier to accomplish with comic book series because comic books already have major story arcs of their own, each arc capable of filling out a single season, and each arc has its own beginning and ending. But even with non-comic book series on Netflix, you can see more writers try to incorporate such organic storytelling, where writers ambitiously ask "where can the characters go from there in a realistic way?" Sometimes, like OUAT, it doesn't work, but it's like you said, DeadlyDuo, you should have a plan in mind how you're going to progress the story. Other times, you have Umbrella Academy where the sibling conflict hits its peak at the end of the season and still have more content to explore in season 2. If this was a '90s series, Vanya wouldn't lose control of her powers until season 3.

Of course, the problem with all this is... this becomes the new expectation. We now know big-name antagonists might die or get beaten at the end of the first season. So, how writers will challenge this story convention in the future is up in the air.
 
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