THE SUDDEN RISE
– AND FALL –
OF SERIALIZED DRAMAS
LEARNING A HARD LESSON IS NEVER EASY.
Networks have been battered by the failure of serialized shows this season. That means more conventional series will surface in the fall.
By Eric Kohanik
Television networks have a bad habit of jumping on the same bandwagon at the same time.
Back in the fall, that bandwagon was the serialized drama, a trend accelerated by such hits as 24, Lost and Prison Break. Their success spawned more than a dozen new shows this season that followed a serialized storytelling formula.
Most of this season’s serials fell by the wayside rather quickly. Basically, there were just too many of them – a fact many TV columnists pointed out at the start of the season.
“I think you were right to acknowledge the overabundance of serialized shows,” Kevin Reilly, NBC’s entertainment president, told the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour last month. NBC’s big effort in the genre, Kidnapped, was yanked fairly quickly after it premiered. “Kidnapped was a big disappointment to us,“ Reilly admits. “That was very painful.”
Most TV executives say the problem with this season’s failed serialized dramas was their tone, which followed mostly dark subjects: abductions (Kidnapped and Fox’s Vanished); bank robbery (ABC’s The Nine); murder (ABC’s Day Break); and grim stories of relationships (ABC’s Six Degrees).
Stephen McPherson, ABC’s entertainment president, says such shows were asking a lot of their audiences. “We loved the shows creatively,” he says. “I don’t look back in hindsight and say, ‘Boy, we should have done this differently.’ It may have just been timing.”
The timing did work out in some way for NBC, which found success with Heroes, a fantasy-adventure series that ended up “completely defying the logic,” Reilly says. “Highly serialized, highly complex – and it’s the breakout hit of the year!”
Having been battered by the failure of most of their serialized dramas, the networks are looking at more conventional show formats for next fall.
“As we go into development this year, we have more stuff that is procedural or closed-ended in that sense,” McPherson explains. “I think you’ll see things in that mix a little bit more.”
NBC is following a similar strategy. “We do have some serials coming back on,” Reilly says. “Nothing is highly serialized or as demanding as Heroes.”
Still, not everyone is giving up on serials.
“We are really experimenting and trying a lot of different projects,” explains Nina Tassler, entertainment president at CBS, whose big serialized effort, Jericho, is set to return to the air with a recap episode this week. “For us, the serialized form, we’re not as deep into it as, say, ABC is,” Tassler says. “We’re still in the learning curve.”
Reilly echoes the sentiment. “Sometimes, it’slightning in a bottle,” he says. “Serialization is one of the biggest hooks that we have into an audience, so we’re not running away from that.
“We are balancing it out a little more.”