What makes a good TV series? I personally love a TV series, as it can give me something that films can’t, taking advantage of its prolonged, often continuous storyline, to give us more hard-hitting drama. Sure, most series don’t have the money that film-makers do, but that doesn’t stop TV series from gaining the respect of loads of people. I know some friends who have abandoned the cinema and focus their time and money on keeping up to date with TV series. And after watching certain films like ‘Clash of the Titans’, I cannot fault their decision-making.
But are there any clear-cut ways to make sure you’re on your way to making a great series? I compile all of my favourite series and try and find any common links that could suggest the quick-fix way to making your own series.
3 – REPETITION
This might seem like a bad start, but hear me out. 40 minute episodes struggle to match a film, because very rarely to they get to have a start, middle and an end in one go. Usually, we are watching a continuation of a story, rather than preparing for a climax, which could become boring, if we want simply want to be entertained for an hour. This is why a certain degree of repetition can be good for a series: the audience knows what it is going to get.
For instance, ‘Bones’ usually revolves around the team solving a murder. The overall plot of the season is advanced in the background, so the character development happens at a safe pace, rather than being thrown at you in one go (one of the downsides to the short-lived ‘Heroes’). Therefore, even if the characterisation disappoints, we have the typical murder mystery to keep us hooked for around 40 minutes. It is the same for a lot of series. With Doctor Who, each episode revolves around a different point in time (past or future), given an alien twist. House has pretty much the same story each week with a different theme attached to it (Amish, obesity). It sounds dull, but it works.
Also, when the repetition is broken, we trust that the writers are doing it for good reason: we anticipate that it will be a game-changing episode. If done right, the writers can learn how the audience will react to certain plot points. When the episode of Doctor Who ends on a cliff-hanger, we expect the next one to be amazing. When the episode of Dollhouse randomly jumps five years into the future, where the action now takes place in an apocalyptic wasteland, the audience is in the palm of the writer’s hands.
2 – STORY ARCS
This is the obvious one. The biggest problem with films is the ‘ending’. Sure, the Emperor and Vader were killed, but the Rebel Alliance didn’t just destroy the Empire completely in that one fight. Yeah, the cute couple in ’50 First Dates’ got together, but how long will they last under those circumstances? We usually go to the cinema to experience a story and its climax (especially with action, horror and rom-coms), but when the climax is done, the movie usually awkwardly attempts to tie up every character arc and end as smoothly as possible.
Series can just carry on the story when the characters wake up in the morning. Yeah, Ross and Rachael (or Ted and whatever famous person they manage to convince to star in ‘HIMYM this week), got together, but every episode after that, it is usually a constant struggle to keep that relationship going. JD from ‘Scrubs’ is probably the best example: the perfect relationship he ended an episode with could be a brutal break-up in about two episodes’ time.
Also plot holes can be carefully swept under the rug. When a movie ends, fans usually picks holes in the film. However, with a series, writers can use that to their advantage and pretend they spotted the plot hole from the start and planned for it. Remember that plot hole I pointed out in Doctor Who in a previous article: what is stopping Stephen Moffat from starting the next season explaining that flaw? By the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon was poking holes out of his own series, joining us in taking the piss out of his own mistakes.
1 – CATCHY MUSIC
OK, I can’t actually explain this one, but every TV series I love always has a catchy theme tune. As in insanely catchy. If someone says the word ‘House’, my head instantly starts playing the theme tune. The theme tune for ‘Dexter’ will randomly pop into my mind several months after I last watched it. Have you ever heard the Friends theme tune or the Fresh Prince of Bel Air come on in a club? When you’ve seen the reaction, you will know exactly what I mean.
Or maybe I am looking at this from the wrong direction. Perhaps, it is the fact we watch the series, and in turn listen to the same theme tune, so much, that makes it catchy. I don’t really think of the Firefly theme tune as memorable, yet I struggle to get it out of my head. Maybe you guys have some better theories. If so, leave them in the comments below. This one will take a smarter man than me to figure out.
Pingback: What Makes a Great TV Series “Great” These Days?