(Lost)Here’s a surprise: Lost has been renewed for a three-season deal… but each season is only 16 episodes long. The writers are glad that they have an endpoint, because now they know how long they have to tell the rest of the story they have in mind. (Call me credulous, but I’m inclined to believe that they do have at least some of their plans worked out ahead of time.)

Though I have to say, I hope they’ve checked their contract for loopholes. Farscape thought they had a two-season deal, so they took their characters and story to some really dark places in Season 4, figuring they had another year to dig them out. Instead they got canceled, and it took a fan campaign and the sale of the Jim Henson company to get even a four-hour miniseries to wrap things up.

As for the structure, this is actually probably better than two 24-episode seasons. It makes it easier to show an entire season through without interruptions. This season’s schedule, with just 6 episodes at the beginning followed by months of reruns, was terrible. Of course, once they came back from hiatus, it was much better than the sporadic episodes they showed in Season 2.

Arc vs. Scheduling

This brings up a problem with trying to run a TV series with an arc to it: Scheduling can seriously mess it up.

Babylon 5 suffered from PTEN’s decision to hold the last four episodes of each season until fall, followed immediately by the following season. It undermined the season-ending cliffhangers, and broke the narrative in the middle. Eventually they started anticipating it: JMS would write a mini-cliffhanger five episodes before the end of the season, and in one case even wrote a recap into the script for episode 19.

Veronica Mars and Heroes have done a good job this year of breaking the season into mini-arcs that match the schedule. Veronica Mars had a 9-part mystery, followed by a 6-part mystery, followed by a series of one-shots at the end of the season, and each arc was shown without interruption.

Heroes told the initial “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World” storyline, followed it up with some backstory, and finished the first run with a teaser for the main arc for the rest of the season. (Heroeswiki breaks it down further, by tagline.) The second arc deepened the plot, and brought everything to a high point: the revelation of Linderman’s and Bennett’s agendas, plus cliffhangers in Hiro’s and Peter’s journeys. Now we’re in the home stretch. As the tagline says, “It’s time to save the world.”

That seems to be the way to go: If you don’t have the clout to change the schedule (like 24), find some way to work within it. Plowing straight through without regard to when the episodes are going to be shown, like Lost did with Season 2, is just going to frustrate your audience.

(Thanks to aeryncrichton for the news!)

6 thoughts on “LOST Renewal / Story Arcs vs. TV Scheduling

  1. I still have to say that I don’t think Veronica Mars has been all that successful with the this third season. When a show builds itself on a season-long arc format, it has a very hard time switching out of that format. Heroes was fortunate in its choice of format at the beginning.

    The other alternative is to simply do fewer episodes so that viewers frequently have a chance to catch up on the arc. I’ve been pretty happy with series from HBO that limit themselves to 12 per season, but provide a solid arc.

  2. One place where it did work is in setting up the players for the second arc (no spoilers, please!) during the first. That provided both a sense of continuity and a sense of connection that I actually thought was missing from the season 2 arc, particularly early on, before Veronica started piecing together the lives of the victims who had never appeared on the show before.

    I’m waiting a few more episodes to see how I like the one-shot approach, but the multiple-arcs structure works well for me.

  3. Yeah, my first thought was, “I hope ABC is better at honoring multi-season deals than Sci Fi was.” But Farscape-cancellation-inspired skittishness aside, I think this is a good thing for “Lost.” Knowing they’ve got an end point will allow them to structure the story to get where they want it to go, when they want it to get there. It should make for better storytelling.

    I’ve only seen the first 8 eps of this season of Veronica Mars, so I can’t speak to how they’ve handled the shorter arcs, but I suspect they’ve done the best they could with not being sure how long the season would be.

    I actually perfer the way British and cable shows have significantly shorter seasons — usually 13 episodes for a dramatic series. It’s long enough to play out arcs, and short enough to keep the writers from wandering around in filler. I’d actually like to see networks go towards a shorter length. It seems to me (optimist that I am) that with fewer episodes to pay for, they might actually be willing to pay for an show an entire season, so the creators would actually know what they’re dealing with (as is now the case with Lost).

  4. I imagine Farscape had fewer viewers than Lost and cost more to produce, at least in special effects.

  5. Oh, Farscape had a whole lot fewer viewers, not to mention two foreign companies (the French company whose name escapes me at the moment that owned the Sci Fi Channel, and the German EM.TV which owned Henson at the time) teetering on the brink of bankrupcy who wanted to be shed of a show that was costing them a lot of money to make. None-the-less, Sci Fi had trumpeted the two-season deal with a lot of fanfare as being something to enable the producers of the show to plan the story out over two seasons and really do it justice….which sounds a little too much like what ABC is saying to make me entirely happy. 🙂

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