Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Willful Ignorance

In an otherwise good interview with Michael Loceff, a key writer and producer on 24, on Slate, Loceff says the following:

"I recently saw David Lynch speak, and he said that years ago he could not turn certain ideas he had into reality because when he was pitching those ideas, the networks and the studios were not interested in them because they involved long arcs?stories that spanned more than a single episode. Today, that's absolutely not true. Almost every show that you can think of that's tremendously successful is episodic and has huge arcs, and I think 24 has been part of this revolution that's shown that people really are willing to follow stories that extend over many episodes; that they will watch serialized television; that they are willing to come back every week; and that they have an appetite for complex, demanding shows."

Hurrah. I concur with Loceff - the trend of television dramas that feature long, involved story arcs is a godsend. But when he says "Almost every show that you can think of that's tremendously successful is episodic and has huge arcs" I had to laugh. Surely he's seen a Law and Order? The glut of procedurals on TV stand as clear testimony that the statement is more than a bit of bullshit. Witness: Here are the most popular dramas on television this season (with their total ranking listed first). I've put the non-serialized shows in blue.

1. CSI
2. Desperate Housewives
3. Without a Trace
4. CSI: Miami
5. Grey's Anatomy
8. Cold Case
10. NCIS
12. Lost
13. Law & Order: SVU
13. Commander in Chief
15. CSI: NY
19. ER
20. Criminal Minds

Eight of the thirteen most-watched dramas on television are not "serialized," do not have "huge arcs." I appreciate the man's enthusiasm, but a little sobriety might be in order.

Until Whenever


Gordon said...

In all fairness, CSI and L & O have had small scale arcs - they didn't drive the main plot, but were sprinkled within the episodes.

For example, on SVU, Stabler had the "am-I-HIV-positive" arc after a perp bled on him, we saw the gradual disintegration (offscreen) of his marriage, etc. These weren't the driving plotlines, and calling them "arcs" is being a little presumptuous, but there have been tiny recurring plots.

Tosy And Cosh said...

Of course. I know, for example (even though I've never seen an episode), that Without a Trace has had an ongoing thing with the Lapaglia character's marriage imploding. But none of the ones I highlighted are serialized in the way Locoff meant.