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June 08 2009

Serial tales vs procedural shows - "the silent war going on in tv drama". The L.A. Times speaks to show creators and executive producers about stand alone dramas and arc driven shows. Joss mentions how Fox told him to make Dollhouse stand-alone and "as much as possible, make it easy on the audience".

I have always preferred serial to stand-alone. And it is the serial elements of the procedurals that most grabs my interest, though exceptions do occur. I hope the DVD/new media markets will continue to support long-form storytelling, if TV cannot.

[ edited by peacemonger on 2009-06-08 08:05 ]
I wonder if Joss being that blunt about it is a good sign for season two. As in, if he feels free enough to discuss early season one this way, does that mean they've now gone "ah, we see what you wanted to do, come back and do more of that".
I wonder if Joss being that blunt about it is a good sign for season two. As in, if he feels free enough to discuss early season one this way, does that mean they've now gone "ah, we see what you wanted to do, come back and do more of that".

Yes, sorry, that's what I was trying to articulate.
The Unusuals had great characters, but sadly few viewers.

"People need to know there are heroes."
Yes, and they'd also love to know more about those heroes. *cough*backstoryplease*cough*
I much prefer serials over procedurals, but I do admit that the latter genre has it all over serials in one way: longevity. Procedurals can perform admirably for years and years, changing actors -- even leads -- as long as the situations remain constant. Most serials wear out after 5 solid seasons, in my view.
Joss has strongly hinted in some recent interviews that the people at FOX have realised that the best they can do is to leave him to make the show as he thinks it should be. So I think that's a reasonable interpretation of his bluntness
I wonder if Joss being that blunt about it is a good sign for season two. As in, if he feels free enough to discuss early season one this way, does that mean they've now gone "ah, we see what you wanted to do, come back and do more of that".

I don't understand that last sentence, who are you imagining saying that? Fox? Hm, I think we already know that Fox really liked the second half of the season, especially the end, "Epitaph One" and Joss' pitch for Season 2. Kevin Reilly also said something along the lines of "we just left him alone". I never worried that the show might return to the pre-MotS way.

What I find interesting is that Joss finally describes the shutdown:

"We were encouraged . . . if you can call shutting us down encouragement. The mission statement is 'do stand-alone, do stand-alone, do stand-alone' and 'as much as possible, make it easy on the audience; don't get involved.'

...that's not something that occurs to my brain.

:)
I can see the longevity of the procedurals. They're like potato chips. They're comfort food, but they aren't particularly good for you. They dull the brain, and there is nothing to look forward to. You've seen one episode of one, you've seen them all.

How many procedurals can one imagine people saying "I can't wait for next week's episode" thirty seconds after the end of the episode they've just watched?

Joss's work and BSG have set the bar so high that there are few shows that keep my attention anymore. Lost is the only other one that comes to mind, although it's been all over the map, quality-wise. And I do like Mad Men. There are other shows I enjoy watching when I have some free time, but they aren't shows that I try to rearrange my schedule around or make a concerted effort to watch on Hulu or whatever.
How many procedurals can one imagine people saying "I can't wait for next week's episode" thirty seconds after the end of the episode they've just watched?

I am not a fan of procedurals, I watch way more serialized TV, but even I watch a procedural that elicits that reaction after each episode. A lack of cliffhanger doesn't mean that a show cannot be engaging, thrilling and leaving you wanting for more.
One thing in this article really caught my eye and I think its
important.

"Additionally, procedurals repeat well -- though syndication is
less of a moneymaker than it once was, suggests Andrew Marlowe,
creator-executive producer of ABC's "Castle."

"Every network is looking for something that syndicates well,
but first-run and international is becoming more important," he
says."

If syndication is becoming less important and the export market
more so, then the serialized show that travels well is going to
become more attractive. That bodes well for someone with a well
deserved rep overseas. A quality rep means (imo) that the show
can be sold to non USA markets before it airs the first time.
That's less risk for the studio and may possibly allow them to
accept a smaller initial fee from the network.
"If you have to do a lot of legwork to catch up, your level of engagement may not come back."

But how engaged can you be with a procedural in the first place?!
Aaarrrrrgggg!!!! just .... aarrrrgg.

This is why Joss belongs on cable. Although I'm still hoping for the miracle of more than one more (short) season of Dollhouse, it would surprise me to get it.

And, basically everything palehorse said. Except I'd add True Blood to the very short list of shows I wont miss and really look forward too each week, when it's on.

And one other that is oddly enough, more procedural than anything else, Leverage. Which also comes with the funny (and Christian Kane) ;).

So it even takes cable to do a procedural that keeps me loving it and looking forward to it each week. The back stories on Leverage aren't as fully fleshed out as I like, but what we get is tight and concisely constructed.
And the characters in the 'here and now' are fascinating enough to hold my interest, mainly because of the rapid-fire, witty dialog, and a cast that came together in record time with that indefinable chemistry that makes a real ensemble.

Joss ..... please please, next time you have a brilliant idea, pitch it to cable.
Yeah, cause those stupid network execs gave Joss a second season, they deserve to never work with him again.

Does anyone know the network vs. cable average budget for a series? I was wondering if Dollhouse Season 2 was slashed down to cable-size budget or if it's still above it.
This is why Joss belongs on cable. Although I'm still hoping for the miracle of more than one more (short) season of Dollhouse, it would surprise me to get it.

I might be misunderstanding this comment but ... you know Dollhouse has been renewed, right?
I might be misunderstanding this comment but ... you know Dollhouse has been renewed, right?

Let Down | June 08, 13:29 CET


I didn't word that very clearly. What I meant is "Ok, we're definitely getting one more season (length still undetermined), but what I really want is a good, long run" .... more than one more season.
Which I think is highly unlikely. Especially in light of the fact that every time Joss comes out a little more candid about how it all came down, it becomes more obvious what a struggle it's been.

ETA: really hope I'm wrong with the "highly unlikely".

[ edited by Shey on 2009-06-08 14:00 ]
I have to say I do wonder why people are still so pessimistic about the future of the show. Against the miraculous evidence that Fox likes the show and wants it to go on regardless of ratings.
Yeah, I thought there was very little chance of a second season. But now that we've got it I think we've got a very good shot at a season 3 and beyond
well Fox absolutely loved arrested development too, but they only gave that 3 season... I think I would still be disappointed if we only get 3 seasons of dollhouse... although it would be better than 2.

Just because fox have given dollhouse another chance, doesn't mean that they will never decide to cut it if it doesn't have awesome ratings. I think that Shey is saying that on cable, Dollhouse would be assured a good long run... 5 seasons or so.

[ edited by mortimer on 2009-06-08 14:34 ]
There seems to be a kind of arrogance from a few people here about procedurals, as if they can never be good and should not draw your attention. Of course, since Joss does not write procedurals, I understand the reason why that comment occurs, but let's be clear here again- people watch what they watch for whatever reason they watch it, and for some people, there is immense pleasure in watching procedurals. Just because they watch in a way different from the way you watch is not reason to belittle them or the shows they watch.

I do watch both and I draw pleasure from both. But I will say this; it is much harder for me to commit to a serial because it requires me to commit my time each week in order to know what is happening. And the nature of my life is that I rarely can do that. Therefore, I will watch the serials I am interested in when they come out on DVD, so I can pick the time to watch. Just like I did a couple of days ago when I bought BSG S1 on recommendations of people on this board. But that also means I am not watching when the show is actually on, which is how it generates its revenues.

Good procedurals offer much more than a solution each week. CSI has done serial episodes, such as the minitaure crime scene killer, and it has explored a relationship over a far longer period time than Joss has ever done: it tooks 6 seasons for Grissom and Sarah to end up together, and they took 8 seasons for them to end happy. However, despite that, you can watch each week, draw pleasure from the story and the little of relations you can see, and stop there if you wish. And what is wrong with that? Of the new shows, I quite liked Lie to Me, and yet that is really a procedural. Who cares? I like it.

This article is really not about the merits of one way of story telling over another. It is about the business considerations involved. There is no question that a procedural is a better business proposition, in terms of syndication and so on. As a story telling proposition, it may offer a more complex reading, but a good writer can write good stuff in either medium.
I'd take the best serialised show over the best procedural show any day of the week.. that's all I'm saying.

and by the best serialized shows, I mean Joss Whedon shows.

So much more character development, and looking at various characters, and moral issues from different angles. That's why I watch tv.

I mean, really, if you can't act a bit arrogant on a Joss Whedon fan site, where can you?

[ edited by mortimer on 2009-06-08 15:43 ]
On this Joss Whedon fan site you all have the right to be nice and respectful of each other.
On Whedonesque, the members are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the mods, who gently remind everyone of the rules; and... well, also the mods, who occassionally punish the offenders. These are their stories.
How many procedurals can one imagine people saying "I can't wait for next week's episode" thirty seconds after the end of the episode they've just watched?

I do feel this way about Criminal Minds, and it doesn't take me thirty seconds. I don't do things halfway; if I watch a show, I watch all the episodes. And yes, being used to serials, the character development can feel frustratingly slow. But obviously there's been enough for me to get hooked on the characters enough to want more, so they've got to be doing something right. I wouldn't have started watching it if it hadn't been recommended to me, but hey, I think it's damn good. So I'm off the train that thinks procedurals automatically equal bad. I also watch plenty of hybrids. It's about the show, not the genre. Not every show has to be/can be the best show ever. I have Joss for that, but there are many hours of the week.
There's nothing wrong with procedurals. I tend to prefer serials for the deeper drama and character development, but I also adore House. Hiring notable serial producers and trying to force them to a procedural format after hearing what seem to be pretty obviously serial pitches is a bizarre move though. That'd be like hearing the House pitch and insisting that he evolve past the cranky misanthropy after a couple seasons, so people don't get bored.
It's possible to do a show with the strengths of both serialized drama and stand alone procedurals, at least for a while. Homicide: Life on the Street was one of my favorite shows and I think it had that balance perfectly. During the first few seasons of CSI, I tried to catch every episode, although eventually there wasn't enough attention to character development and story arc to keep my attention. You could start watching either of those shows mid season and pick up enough to figure out what was going on.

Right now the shows I look forward to the most are serials: Sons of Anarchy, True Blood, Damages (if it returns). I'm satisfied with a serial show that lasts three full seasons or five short ones. Keeping the quality up longer than that is very difficult.

[ edited by janef on 2009-06-08 17:52 ]
Thank you, Simon, for helping me edit.

[ edited by janef on 2009-06-08 17:52 ]
You should be able to do it now.
I just want to throw in a comment. We've switched the conversation from serials v. standalone dramas to serials v. procedurals. There is a difference.

Or, more accurately, there is a spectrum between true procedurals and just standalone dramas. A procedural follows more-or-less the exact same formula every single show (Law & Order is, of course, the epitome of the form). But other shows can be predominantly standalone without really being procedurals (Bones is a good example that many here are probably familiar with). Both have mostly self-contained episodes, but one follows a formula much more than the other.

(This is differnet from the distinction between these and more serialized shows, where the difference lies in how arc-y the story is over many episodes.)

firefly and early Buffy were both, largely, standalone episode-y. Later Buffy got mroe arc-y. Neither were procedurals.
I used to despise the idea of procedurals. Recently however, I've found myself watching quite a few. For some reason I tend to differentiate between FOX Procedurals to CBS Procedurals - I'd say Bones and Fringe are very different in format to something like The Mentalist. Fringe is on the verge off switching completely between procedural and serialized. At the end of season one, it'd be crazy to just join in.

I love watching procedurals when they are on TV, and I might go out my way to watch a couple, but its not the stand-alones that bring me back to a show, its the mythology and heavier character development.

Odd that The CW only have one procedural-esque show, Supernatural.
I meant no disrespect in my comments. And I apologize for it seeming that way. I was responding to comments like "I can see the longevity of the procedurals. They're like potato chips. They're comfort food, but they aren't particularly good for you. They dull the brain, and there is nothing to look forward to. You've seen one episode of one, you've seen them all." And "But how engaged can you be with a procedural in the first place?!" These comments seemed to me to indicate the writers of those posts were sort of passing judgment on those who enjoyed procedurals. So, let me argue the issue, not the author, which is really what I meant to do.

I again note that people enjoy what they enjoy. Some people watch to see who will win American Idol. I don't, and I don't understand the appeal, but hey, whatever floats your boat. Some people enjoy serial TV, and at times I do- I like being able to invest in characters, which is easier to do when they change and grow over time. But I also like procedurals, particularly ones that are based in science, like CSI, Lie to me and House. In those cases, they engage me because they get at issues I enjoy following- bioethics, public language and private communication, and forensics. But that's me, and that's the point. I have my reasons for liking certain shows, and I don't care what categories they fall into; I just like them. And that is what matters. It does not diminish Joss Whedon and his work to like something that falls outside Joss' areas of exertise. I can still like Joss, too- liking one does not exclude the other. It is not dichotomous. I think it was this I was objecting to.
I wouldn't call Supernatural a procedural any more than I would've called season 3 of Buffy a procedural. Both have the best of both worlds (and my favorite format of TV): individual episode plots that, while not necessarily directly tied to, advance the overall arc of the season.

I'm getting tired of entirely-serial shows. LOST will probably be my last one. I enjoy it, but I'm tired of "OMGWTF LOST tune in next week kids!" I like resolution, however small, at the end of some episodes. Even the Constant, which could've ended beautifully on Desmond, threw in a twist.

So I think a combination is what works best for shows. And it's why, while not my favorite season, I think Buffy 3 is the best put-together season.
As someone who watches both serial shows and procedurals, I have to say that I understand why viewers like one over the other.

But I do take offense to the idea that serials are somehow superior and that procedurals dull the mind. Procedurals get a bad reputation for being the same week after week - but they're not! The good ones aren't anyway. To generalize and say all procedurals are dull and simple is -- to be frank -- insulting, to the viewers, many of whom are here and whom you call friends, and it's insulting to the writers and producers who work very hard.

Someone brought up Fringe and Supernatural - if you pan procedurals, you have to pan these two shows as well. Sam and Dean deal with a big bad every week, just like the FBI deals with another case every week. And if the characters at Law and Order deal with a case every week, how does it make Supernatural any less procedural than Law and Order? You can't have it both ways. You can't say that procedurals are bad and in essence, pan the people watching them, when you praise the same "serial" shows that you enjoy have procedural elements.

Lets face it - serial dramas can work. Look at Lost. But they can also fail miserably and become a burden. Look at Heroes. How far it has fallen! But look at the "procedural" shows that are doing extremely well, and for many Whedon alum too! Criminal Minds is doing extremely well (good for Nick Brendon), Castle has been renewed (go Nathan!). How can you dismiss these shows when they are obviously successful and are finding an audience.

On the flip side as well, some "procedural" shows have serialized elements to them, like the overarching storyline about Red John in The Mentalist. Bones had Gormagon. NCIS, perhaps one of the most "procedural" of procedurals, has extensive overarching storylines, sometimes several at once. Lest we forget, season four featured the case-of-the-week and was concurrently completely about Tony being undercover. There wasn't an episode in which we didn't get some clues and hints into that storyline.

Isn't it about time we all just shut up about the pettiness and band together to appreciate talent and good quality? Maybe then we can actually support these shows and keep them on the air. You can't complain and lament over a show's cancellation when you didn't watch it and didn't support it. I realize I've spent a post defending procedurals - and i think it's necessary to do so. But the bigger picture is that we should have reasonable discussion (rather than bickering) and should also work to make sure that we support the actors we enjoy - regardless of whether they're making the kind of television that we think suits them.

[ edited by The Ninja Report on 2009-06-08 20:11 ]
I wouldn't call Supernatural a procedural any more than I would've called season 3 of Buffy a procedural. Both have the best of both worlds (and my favorite format of TV): individual episode plots that, while not necessarily directly tied to, advance the overall arc of the season.


I rewrote that last sentence about ten times and still never got across what I was trying to say. But I digress, I somewhat agree with what you said, and it being your favourite type of episodes. I'd be lying if I said that episodes that forget what happened previously or similar don't annoy me, though. Smallville, for example, does that a lot of a serialized show.

I like both equally anyhow. Each show, no matter the style, has so many pro/cons, its hard to list.

[ edited by Jayme on 2009-06-08 20:13 ]
I like good shows. Sometimes they're stand-a-lone stories, and sometimes they're serials.

Most shows that I watch have elements of both - often standalone plots and character arcs.

[ edited by redeem147 on 2009-06-08 22:28 ]
When you get down to it, the difference between Stand Alone Episodes and Serialized episodes is the the same as the differences between Short Stories and Novels. When I'm rushed or distracted, a Short Story is good because I don't have to read a long drawn-out Saga. When I am relaxed and have time to invest in a good tale, I read a Novel. Currently I'm doing both- I have Saturdays completely free, so I can read a Novel. The other days of the week, if I have time, I am reading "The Complete Collection of Short Stories", By A C Clarke. :D
"the silent war going on in tv drama"

I stand with the Browncoats.
Yes but where do they stand?
On my foot. Ow.
It seems like one group of people like procedurals because their idea of escapist TV is comfortable, familiar, somewhat repetitive (structurally), something to wind down with. Another group likes serials because their idea of escapist TV is getting completely lost in another world. One isn't better than the other, they're just different. And if you drew a Venn diagram, there would be significant overlap in people who like both kinds (country AND western). I think Group A is bigger than Group B, which is why we get more procedurals than serials.

I agree Joss would probably do really well on cable for that reason, since a smaller audience isn't as big of a deal on a cable network, and serials seem to be doing better there. I'm thinking of Sons of Anarchy, True Blood, Carnivale, Dead Like Me, etc.
Two of those were cancelled and the other two have only had one season. Hardly shining examples of longevity. Just saying.
Well, there are likely many more, but I have mushbrain from finishing my first semester of grad school today. It's the best I could do with my three remaining sad, wilted brain cells. :)
Eh, I don't think it's different ideas about what makes for good escapism. I think it's more like "TV as escapism" vs "TV as art." I like serial shows because I want something I can invest in, I want to be challenged and excited. I watch more episodic shows too, but as people keep saying, I watch them in a different way. Still, I don't think it's an insult to say that serial shows are better. You invest more time and energy, you get something better out of it. If you don't want to invest yourself in that way, if that's not where you go for your art, that's fine.
You invest more time and energy, you get something better out of it.

Guess it sill depends on the person. I invest more in "House" than I do in, say, "Heroes". And I get something better out of it.
I think that Shey is saying that on cable, Dollhouse would be assured a good long run... 5 seasons or so.

mortimer | June 08, 14:34 CET


That is indeed what I was saying. Of course there are no iron clad guarantees, but I think a show like Dollhouse - dark, quirky, complex - would have a much better chance of a good run, on cable. (Does anyone thing BSG would have made it on network?)

And ... what hacksaway said about Criminal Minds. It's the only procedural I watch and I do look forward to it every week. I think it's a big cut above the rest, but the main thing I like is that they manage to work in the main character's back stories without it seeming forced, as in most procedural. Also, excellent acting and a couple of genuinely unique characters.
Haha, a good point, wiesengrund. I invest more in House than in Heroes too (because Heroes is bad), but investing in House does have its frustrations. And for me, those frustrations generally have to do with the ways that it tends toward episodic rather than serial drama (though it uses a bit of both). House is a good show that would be better if it were less determinedly episodic, if character development and overarching plot were the focus more of the time, rather than being dragged out over as many episodes as possible for the sake of the series' longevity. Heroes has the opposite problem, it's too serial. Each episode doesn't have a beginning, a middle and an end so much as each episode is the beginning, middle or end of a larger story.

But take a show like Castle. I love the writing, I love the characters, but there's no reason you would mind missing an episode. And in my case, if I don't mind missing an episode, I end up hardly ever watching. It's interesting, people say, "I'm too busy for a show that requires me to watch every episode," but I tend to behave the opposite way for the same reason. It's because I'm busy that I don't want to invest time in an episode that I might as well have missed, for all the effect that it's going to have on the story.

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