- Published on Thursday, October 04 2012
- Written by Greg McIver
A fella named Shakespeare once wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” That quote was actually supposed to be several hundred words longer, but luckily good taste prevailed. The success of a television show is often measured by the length of it’s existence. If it only lasts for one or two seasons, then it usually considered a failure and tossed upon a large burning heap that consists mainly of David E. Kelley pilots. I often find myself thinking that if a show can last for four seasons, then it is a success. Five seasons is even better, and so on and so forth. If a show somehow makes it past twelve seasons, then it has attained "Law and Order" status and is hovering in the cosmos alongside the Star Child. This “longevity-based” way of thinking has been bred into myself and the rest of the country as a result of centuries of television broadcast history, and yet, every once in a blue moon, a show comes along that purposefully only sticks around for a short time. Now, why would a show do that? If a show is looking to be seen as a success, then shouldn’t it want to remain on air for as long as it possibly can? I’ll just sit back and wait for my computer to answer me...
Well, after waiting for 2 hours I realized by computer was either being stubborn or that it lacked sentience, so I guess I’ll have to answer my own question. The answer is no. Longevity does not always equal quality. "The Office" (U.K. version) only lasted 12 episodes and then ended with a two-part Christmas special. You’d think that a show that changed the face of television comedy as we know it might have stuck around for a bit longer. I honestly think that, by using some good economy of storytelling and avoiding the temptation known as “pandering”, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were able to tell the story they wanted to tell it and were satisfied once they reached their goal. Their main characters were able to grow and evolve over the course of a few short episodes and achieve their arcs in a very satisfying way that was not needlessly prolonged. And they were able to do this while making millions of people laugh their heads off. Now, I’m not saying that the American version of "The Office" is at fault for existing for 9 seasons; it certainly has made an impact on American television, but I can’t help but wonder if it really needed 9 years to do that.
I’ll cite one more example of a purposefully short-lived show and then you can be free to enjoy your Pinterests or your cat videos or whatever the heck it is that is currently gripping the nation... "Cowboy Bebop" is one of the greatest things since sliced bread, and we know how ultimately satisfying and awesome sliced bread is. For those that are unaware, "Cowboy Bebop" was a Japanese anime series that debuted in 1998 and only stuck around for 26 episodes. This show is widely regarded as one of the greatest anime of all time and space. Even people that don’t like anime will generally confess to loving this one. So, when it ended it’s run after only 26 episodes, people clamored for more. The creator, Shinichiro Wantanabe, did placate fans with a full length movie entitled Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door but stated that he didn’t want to keep making episodes just for the sake of making episodes. You’ve got to respect the man for wanting to preserve the quality of his work and not risking it for the sake of more money. In just 26 episodes, he was able to hugely impact the world of anime and influence a whole new generation of Japanese animators. Not bad, Mr. Wantanabe; not bad at all.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that "Firefly" should have been given at least two more seasons. Well, that and people should really stop and think about how much they really have to say when constructing a story. If you finish your first or second season and realize that you have more to say, then by all means, go forth and do awesome things, but don’t stick around just for the sake of continued exposure or more money. Our own editor, Katie Marzullo, is currently developing a television series which she envisions lasting only two seasons, because she knows the story that she wants to tell and doesn’t feel like compromising her artistic integrity. Will some new ideas come to her during this process and allow for the series to expand? It certainly has happened to other artists before, but until that does happen, it is the “here and now” that should be focused on. A truly rich artistic legacy is not dependent on how much a person does, but on how well they did it. Otherwise, you end up going way past your expiration date, like "Smallville" (10 seasons!!!).
Greg McIver currently resides in New York City. Check out his other reviews and articles at www.nerdtopiacast.com, and be sure to tune in to his weekly podcast Filmtopiacast 3000 which is currently available on YouTube, iTunes, and Stitcher.
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