Jericho an example of finite-length serial drama

by Paul William Tenny

While catching up on DVR stuff (20+ hours of backlog) I managed to snag the season debut of Jericho on CBS West. Now I haven't got a lot to go on here, but I'm just not getting good vibes.

The ratings were just about where the show left off when it was canceled, which is better than I expected after such a long time off, though they should have been a lot better with no other real scripted competition to deal with. With a slashed budget and slightly smaller cast, you'd figure that identical ratings to what it was canceled would actually work in its favor since CBS is getting the same number of peepers and the same advertising dollars, yet spending less to produce the show.
I just don't think it's going to work out that way. The premise for bringing the show back from the dead from the fan's perspective was that it was of too high quality or entertaining to die like that. From the network's perspective, they probably felt like an under-the-table deal was made for better ratings from more viewers, and that just wasn't going to happen.

CBS may in the end decide that 2.5/7 is good enough to go for a third season, but I probably wouldn't. There's a lot of heat these days for network drama and that's a lot of money to spend on a show that probably wouldn't make it even on NBC, and you know how desperate those guys have been.

The premier wasn't quite as good as it was before it went off the air, but it wasn't as bas as I was expecting. There's no question that it has lost much of its magic, though. Makes me wonder if this is another story that was best told over the course of one or two full seasons, but not stretched any further. The first season of Prison Break was spectacular, some of the best stuff I've seen on television in a long time, but has been absolutely dreadful ever since.

24 was awesome for two seasons, then started going down hill and hasn't recovered. Lost probably should wrap it at four seasons, not five spread across six years.

Some themes just wear out after a certain length of time, and it'd be really great of the networks were better at realizing that. I'm sure it's a fucked up concept for the people making the show to accept, too, but there it is. Not everything is about talent behind the scenes, some stories just have a finite length beyond which they become a monster that starts trying to exist solely for the purpose of existing, rather than entertaining.

Certainly there are a lot of shows that could go on forever, and I suppose those would be episodic dramas. Serial dramas seem to get boring the quickest, with sitcoms second (what few are left) and finally episodic dramas like Law & Order can just keep going until the end of time. Change the cast every five or six years and you're all set, right?

I wish the networks and TV talent would embrace this as a positive concept instead of dreading it as a signal that their career has just topped out. Imagine some of the awesome things people could do if they went into serial dramas knowing roughly how long a setup could be maintained before it starts to lose its appeal. There would be less time wasted on trying to keep a dead concept alive and more time spent experimenting, searching for the new great thing. To a degree they do that now, but there are so many stale programs desperately clinging to life that there isn't enough room to give a chance to all the newbies.

If the networks want to try something new to shake things up, that's something they should look into. This crap about giving up on pilots is a perfect example of going in the wrong, completely opposite direction of where things need to go. The networks already have too little patience with new shows, that they cancel them before even reaching half of a single season, but to give up on pilots too?

I'd rather see things move in the other direction, where the entire first season is the pilot for the series. After all, this is supposed to be television, not test screenings for feature films.

About Jericho though; I enjoyed the premier enough that I'll watch all seven of the newly produced episodes. I'd kind of like to see how it all ends. If you're ever looking for something to rent, I suggest watching the first season on DVD. It along with Prison Break S1 are well worth your time.
in Feature, Ratings, Television


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