How TV shows should be

As you well know by now, I am a demanding person. And the series currently on TV (except “Lost”) just piss me off. I don’t really enjoy any of them. Some are ok by leaving them on the background while browsing the net with the Powerbook on my lap, but they are not good enough to put me in the zone, make me throw away my laptop and get glued to the screen.

What I need is this instead:

I need the TV series to be big. Grand. Epic. Be about big, important, things. Not casual things like 2 detectives with different murder stories each week, or other episodic-style TV that might even have a fade background longer story. I need the series to affect many lives, I need a complex story and mystery, I need action, and I need intelligence. Here’s an example that I just thought about:

The humanity in the 24th century is about to make a big discovery. They come in contact for the first time with an alien race. But instead of having 5 or 10 main characters with episodic style action, I want each episode to use completely different characters, spanned in completely different locations. In one episode you are dealing with the military and how they see this new race. In the other episode, you get to know a large cast of doctors who find something mysterious about the capabilities of the race. Another episode deals with the politicians or the security agencies about the issue. Another episode deals with scientists who are told to work in a specific thing. Another episode is dealing with exploration expeditions to another planet and what they find there that ties back to our main story. Another episode deals with normal travelers who happen to travel through the alien space and what happens to them. Another episode deals with some people back on Earth and their take on the whole thing and how that affects their lives etc.

This allows the show being military, scientific, romantic, political, or all in once.

The point is that the story and the mystery should be unveiled slowly, but at many-many different levels. For example, something mysterious seen in one episode, might get explained in another episode with different characters, far away from the previous location. Of course, most of these characters will be recurring. For example, the doctor you saw on episode 2, you will see him again on episode 8, or the General you saw on episode 1 you will see him again on episode 5 and then 12 etc etc. There should always be some connection between some of the characters, like a complex web that becomes more complex as time goes by and the mystery unveils little by little. And you will get your surprises between some of the characters or their history too. It’s just that the majority of the story should get progressed mostly by new characters each time (more than 100 recurring characters, even more non-recurring ones), rather than a very specific “main hero” character. I don’t want a main hero because it’s not realistic to have just one smart ass guy who can magically fix the problem on each episode. People don’t shine that often!

Instead, I need to see a UNIVERSE. Like Star Trek had a whole “universe” background story, with many many recurring characters and stories. When you talk about Star Trek you identify with the whole story of humanity up to that point, not about 7 people on the Starship Enterprise. ST is bigger than that. Star Wars too. Which is why George Lucas has expanded the universe of SW to many new details and information that you can read online or on his novels, about characters and situations that don’t show up in his movies. In other words, I need the creation of this virtual universe that shows me how big it is and how grand it is by showing me many different situations of many different people in it, with only tie-in being the main plot and their occasional path-crossing.

If I was to give an analogy for what I want, is the online massively multi-player version of a computer game rather than a single-player PC game played by just one person. I am not sure I can make it clearer than that. It just has to feel “bigger than life” by taking place in a believable new universe. Heck, why else would I watch TV? If I wanted to watch reality TV, or traditional TV series, I would just record my own life during the day and watch it at night. I would probably be less bored.

Yes, my TV show idea above is indeed something like what “Lost” does right now. “Lost” is the first series to have so many main and recurring characters and have the viewer in the gaming seat, but I need the series I imagine to go even further. Even on “Lost” we don’t know the names of all of the 47 survivors, let alone their stories. “Heroes” is one of the shows that also tried to be “grand” (many characters, big thematic concept), but it fails in its implementation rather than the idea.

The only problem with this show idea is that it’s very expensive: not only you need completely different sets for each episode (or 2-part episode specials), but you need to make sure your many-many recurring actors are available for the job whenever you need them. Having an actor on call costs extra. Lastly, I need to know that there’s an end date, like on “Lost”. I don’t want the story to go on forever until it fails with the ratings and the series gets canceled. I need to know that the story is structured so carefully that there’s story for 3 or 4 or 5 seasons — and then it’s done.

But damn me to hell if I will ever enjoy a new TV series that’s not as “big” and “complex” somehow. I need to feel emerged with the story and their world, otherwise they are dead pixels to me.


Dimitar wrote on October 18th, 2008 at 6:19 AM PST:

I like your idea, but it somehow reminds me of the story in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, one of the few games worth playing. In that game you have a crash on a new planet (in.. Alpha Centauri of course, our nearest solar system), and the humans are split not into nations but into ideological factions (militarist, religious, totalitarian, democratic, green, university and capitalist), each with a different viewpoint about the new environment.

Having completely different actors each episode is going to be expensive and will make the series less addictive..

I suggest that there will some people – lets name them the “Embassy to the extraterrestrials” (EE)responsible with dealing with the aliens and each human faction that has a an interest in them, and so EE will have to go through a lot of dilemmas, stress and controversy. You can devote less than 30% of the time to the EE, perhaps making their chief a narrator.

Another approach is to do it just like lost – have the same people, but don’t accent only on 2 or 3 of them and don’t have “main” characters..

Quink wrote on October 18th, 2008 at 6:41 AM PST:

*Long* time lurker, first time poster. I’ve been following OSNews since late 2001, but have never posted. Thanks for the many years of informative articles… 🙂

This show sounds pretty much exactly like what you’re describing. I don’t know what he’s been up to, as there hasn’t been an update on that site in years. I think he’s gotten discouraged after the many rejections, and even if the story is probably not anywhere near as good as it could be (don’t know), he’s right on target with everything he’s saying on the site.

Righard wrote on October 18th, 2008 at 8:27 AM PST:

I think you’d like Doctor Who then.

Michael Reed wrote on October 18th, 2008 at 8:54 AM PST:

Ensemble shows can be good.

I can hardly get through S1-3 of TNG. For me, TNG started to get really good when they ran out of things to do with Picard, Data and Riker and started to dream up ideas for the “supporting characters” like Troi and Bev. Their episodes are the best ones IMO. The Lower Decks and the first one with Barclay are also favourites.

The show Taken has a large cast and wide scope, taking place over the course of 50 years. Although, I didn’t really care for the show myself.

The 4400 has quite a large cast too. I’ve only managed to get the season 1 six parter and it looked quite good. I’d have to rewatch it and see some more before I make my mind up about it.

“Having an actor on call costs extra.” Perhaps some economies could be made by shooting out of sequence?

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Eugenia wrote on October 18th, 2008 at 11:58 AM PST:

>I think you’d like Doctor Who then.

I hate Dr Who. 🙂

>The Lower Decks and the first one with Barclay are also favourites.

Yes, “Lower Decks” was awesome. It is the kind of thing I had in mind.

Quink wrote on October 18th, 2008 at 6:10 PM PST:

May I offer Red Dwarf then?

Here’s a thread on sort-of the same thing.

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Eugenia wrote on October 18th, 2008 at 10:46 PM PST:

I did not see anything similar to what I talk about here in that thread. That thread was all about geeks fighting as to which one is the best sci-fi show, none actually suggested anything new as I do here.

By telling me to watch Red Dwarf, you don’t do anything different either. I am well aware of Red Dwarf, and it’s nothing what I talk about. Did you actually read the blog post? Or you just want to mention your favorite show “just because”?

Look, I don’t want to sound like a bitch to people who take the time to read my shit, but it’s difficult to stay calm when they don’t actually try to understand the point of the post.

memsom wrote on October 19th, 2008 at 2:52 AM PST:

American TV seems to excel at mediocre episodic drama and sitcoms. Anything else will ultimately get brought in by rehashing someone elses ideas (eg. the Office, Life on Mars.) Now I haven’t seen the new Life on Mars, but it will be crap.Why? The US TV people are incapable of remaking anything without changing the fabric of what made the show ‘cool’. The Office in the original UK version made two series and a Christmas special. The US version has ground the idea down to nothing. The UK version went away on a high, the US version will fade as the ratings drop off. So sad. If the US version passes two series, it will be a pile of shite too-hopefully, they bought the rights to ‘Ashes to Ashes’ too.

Okay, back to the point – this will not happen because the US audience is too stupid, US TV companies too frightened to take a chance and stingy with their budgets. The average TV viewer in the US seemiingky needs everything explained in detail – which is why Lost has fluctuating ratings. Lost dares to make viewers engage their brains and pays with poor ratings. It will not happen in the US now even more because there is going to be far less capital available since the world economic crisis.

Doctor Who holds much of what you desire. The classic series follows the changing cast scenario, but does fail on many fronts. But havee you given the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennent version a go? It creates the running commentary you requested. The last series brought together elements from the past 3 series towards its end. It’s not quite as fiendish as Lost, but is certainly more like what you want. What is ypur problem with the show, and which version were you refering to?

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Eugenia wrote on October 19th, 2008 at 3:11 AM PST:

I don’t like any version of Dr Who. I’ve watched a bit of the ’60s version, a lot of the ’80s version, and a bit of the new one (seen that episode with Kylie Minoque in it too). I find it very cheaply made. I can’t stand its production and premise. It doesn’t feel real to me, not to the slightest. It just feels like “cheap TV show, shot on video with zero cinematography”. It has to look as expensive as “Lost” or “CSI:Miami” I am afraid.

It’s a lot like this: you are 18 years old. Your father tells you, “I am going to buy you a car today” and you immediately dream of that bad ass Audi you were discussing with him a couple of months back. Your father buys you that Audi model alright. But instead of buying you a real car, he buys you a 25 centimeter long plastic model of the specific car you wanted. That’s exactly how I feel about Dr Who too. Close, but no cigar.

anon wrote on October 19th, 2008 at 3:28 AM PST:

the reason why they don’t make shows like startrek is because most people don’t like that crap. Think about it, you come home from a hard day at work you don’t want a mind fuck to watch, you want something simple that’s relatable to everyday life.

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Eugenia wrote on October 19th, 2008 at 3:34 AM PST:

Well, there’s already a freaking loads of that “easy going” shit on TV. I’d say, at least 15 such shows during primetime. Are they not enough for you to relax with?

Why can’t I, and geeks like me, have ONE show that’s different and DOES give us the mind fuck we want? After “Lost” finishes next year, we will have nothing.

And personally, I want nothing that’s relatable to real life. I hate “everyday stories with everyday people”. If I wanted such stories, I’d just record myself.

Michael Mounteney wrote on October 19th, 2008 at 3:47 AM PST:

I want my sausages cut up into moon and star shapes ! Otherwise I’m going to throw my dinner on the floor !

No sympathy from me for anyone who doesn’t like TV programmes. Give it the white dot and do something interesting.

Tom wrote on October 19th, 2008 at 8:01 AM PST:

I don’t think the television business in general lends itself to the kind of complexity you are talking about. I remember watching DVD commentary for one of my favorite shows (Angel) and the producers were talking about how much pressure they received from the network to produce more “stand alone” episodes. I think they worry that complexity alienates the average viewer, and since television makes most of its money from average viewers, people who like depth and complexity or SOL.

But that’s what sci-fi and fantasy novels are for, right? I have been reading George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” series. It’s fantasy not sci-fi, but it is very intense. Portrays the kind of fully realized (grand) world that a nerd like myself can really geek out on. Not as in to sci-fi, so I have don’t have any recommendations in that vein, but I am sure they are out there.

memson wrote on October 19th, 2008 at 12:53 PM PST:

E, you need to watch more of the new Doctor Who. Watch the first two seasons, they are amazing when watched end to end. The production is a lot better than the 80’s and prior version.

The earlier Doctor Who is like a Radio series. Half the point is that you use your mind a little to fill in the blanks.

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Eugenia wrote on October 19th, 2008 at 6:04 PM PST:

>No sympathy from me for anyone who doesn’t like TV programmes.

Yeah, sorry for calling trash “trash”.

gfx wrote on October 19th, 2008 at 9:19 PM PST:

The new Doctor Who shows are pretty big budget affairs, the soundtrack is decent, proper symphonic orchestra.
The Torchwood spin-off is also nice.
American shows I watch are House, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Californication.

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Eugenia wrote on October 19th, 2008 at 9:45 PM PST:

>The new Doctor Who shows are pretty big budget affairs,

Sorry, it just looks terrible to me. Really ugly. It just looks like a soap opera. Please everyone, stop insisting, I don’t like Dr Who. It is nothing like I describe in the article. You still have to see his ugly face on each episode too.

Memsom wrote on October 20th, 2008 at 1:41 AM PST:

Did you ever give Farscape a try? Muppets aside, Farscape is a real journey.

Re: Dr Who, which ugly face? Chris Ecclestone or David Tennent? You should try Torchwood too.

Memsom wrote on October 20th, 2008 at 1:47 AM PST:

Oh, one final comment: cinema is cinema, TV is TV, cinema on TV cost a hell of a lot of money. Unless the show has a big following and a lot of revenue is generated, it will kill future big budget productions. Sconomics drives TV shows and the money made be each show, equally at time of initial broadcast and through repeats (do Americans call them “re-runs”?) and syndication, dictate the power each show wields. If the mighty Star Trek franchise can dry up, there’s not real hope that your idea will work.

You need to win the Lotto and start a film production company 🙂 Or, start a movement and create a “geek TV” donations system to get the revenue stream to self produce.

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Eugenia wrote on October 20th, 2008 at 2:02 AM PST:

Yes, I have watched, or at least sampled, every major sci-fi TV show out there. Except Lost, Firefly, ST:TNG seasons 3-6, and only some parts of the new BSG and X-Files (the alien mythology), I can’t rate any of the rest as “great”. The rest of the shows usually rate from “just ok” (e.g. Heroes, Stargate: Atlantis, ST:DS9, ST:Voy etc), to bad (e.g. ST:Enterprise, Farscape, Sanctuary, all the UK stuff). There are elements in most sci-fi series that are good, but none of them are good throughout as the few I mention in the beginning above (and even these are not super-great, only LOST comes close).

Farscape I found it to be very traditionally made, boring, not exciting or unique. It’s just another sci-fi series. Been there, seen that.

>You should try Torchwood too.

No, I shouldn’t. I just don’t like the look of these series (and I’ve tried Torchwood btw, we had it on our SciFi channel too). Just don’t try to convince me about it, I just won’t like it because it doesn’t feel right to me. The video-shot UK series usually have good ideas, but the implementation and look sucks compared to the expensive US/Canada productions.

>Re: Dr Who, which ugly face?

The new guy. Tom Baker was my favorite of all Dr Whoos. He brought some comedy relief that made Dr Who bearable to me. Otherwise, I would have shot the TV back in the ’80s already.

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Eugenia wrote on October 20th, 2008 at 2:09 AM PST:

>cinema on TV cost a hell of a lot of money

Lost shows that is possible. I wouldn’t mind having complete no-name actors to bring down cost. Lost is the most expensive TV series today, it costs between $2 and $4 million per episode. However, Matthew Fox gets $250,000 per episode and the rest of his co-stars get a hell of a lot of money too. Instead of spending well over $1 million per episode for the stars that appear in it, pay only $200,000 for them by using talented, but no-name actors, and use the rest $800,000 for production costs (e.g. new sets). Also, shoot digitally, with the RED. With $3 to $4 million per episode you can develop a kick ass series like the one I imagine.

So trust me, it’s possible. It just needs a network with guts and fewer prima-donnas.

BTW, one great implementation of the kind of TV series I would like would be about the Marvel super-heroes. You have an overall plot (e.g. a secret Krill invasion), but each episode can study different super hero/villain, where their paths sometimes cross and the mystery unveils through all these different stories and almost completely different characters on each episode. The Marvel universe is big, and in order to do it justice, would require such a format, rather than let’s say, create a stand-alone episodic TV series only about the Avengers or the X-Men with guest star villains on each episode. What I want is to understand the universe they are in and what drives that universe, not just a single team of super-heroes that do their thing for 45 minutes each week. It has to feel bigger than the Avengers or the X-Men or whoever else.

Michael Reed wrote on October 20th, 2008 at 4:23 AM PST:

I don’t like the new Dr Who either. I suspect the reason that its ratings are so good is because it appeals to people who don’t like science fiction shows.

I think that they make too much of an effort to make it movie like, in terms of the “film look” processing and cinematography and the overly intrusive score. I wonder if you would dislike the look of it if it had been naturally and simply?

On the other hand, what looks like over egging the pudding to me, probably looks like American style high production values to the majority of British viewers.

TBH, I think that you and I working in different directions, I’m hoping that lowering costs of production and distribution will enable an age a greater number of low-budget series to be produced. I’d rather have things that were a bit rough around the edges visually but with a good story and good actors. I’m sure it will happen eventually. For example, I’d love to see a web based TV channel that produced nothing but science fiction pilot shows.

I submitted a sitcom script to the BBC earlier in the year to a department that receives 10,000+ scripts a year, so there easily enough talent out there to support a far greater number of TV shows.

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Eugenia wrote on October 20th, 2008 at 4:44 AM PST:

> they make too much of an effort to make it movie like, in terms of the “film look” processing and cinematography

Dr Who does NOT have the ‘film look processing and cinematography’. Dr Who is a soap-looking show, shot in 50i video without shallow DoF. It is as farthest from “movie-like” as it could be. I think you have it mistaken for something that it’s not simply because it has visual effects. VFX is not enough to make the series’ world look realistic.

> I’d rather have things that were a bit rough around the edges visually but with a good story and good actors

Sorry, but I want all three. It has to have a good story and good actors, and look and feel ultra realistic by utilizing an expensive production.

Michael Reed wrote on October 20th, 2008 at 9:29 AM PST:

Dr Who is shot on DV but then processed to look like it is shot on film. It gives the show a glowing, blurry look. It’s an awful looking effect that Red Dwarf started using from series 7 onwards. In fact, one of the show’s creators said that one reason that people criticised S7 onwards is because they presumed that the budget had been substantially increased (it hadn’t).

For me, it’s a bit like the use of extreme audio level compression when applied to music: it’s OK at first but it quickly becomes fatiguing.

There’s a bit of discussion about its use on Dr Who on this video forum.

And Dr Who is mentioned on the Wikipedia page for “film look”.

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Eugenia wrote on October 20th, 2008 at 11:23 AM PST:

Michael, Doctor Who has absolutely nothing to do with the movie look. Adding some grain does not make it automatically “film look”. Doctor Who looks dirt cheap. It’s shot in 50i instead of 25p, it has no shallow depth of field, it has cheap effects and puppets, and it has very few exterior shots. All that, contribute to what I call “ugly looking”.

And please use HTML the next time for your URLs.

memsom wrote on October 20th, 2008 at 3:35 PM PST:

Puppets? Lacking exterior shots? Someone needs to actually watch the programme they are flaming! You are making it obvious you have never watched more than one show. Scifi broadcast is also not a good indication of the quality it was broadcasted in in this country.

As per usual, you are being you though, and we all love you desrly ;-)))

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Eugenia wrote on October 20th, 2008 at 3:47 PM PST:


What I meant was stupid-looking aliens. Like the Cybermen. They just don’t look serious. They look like people in suits. While Cybermen are supposed to be people who have replaced their organic parts, they still don’t look convincing. Other aliens are not well designed either. The Daleks look cheap too.

>Lacking exterior shots?

A lot of it is inside a studio with laughable decor. When I see that, I just don’t wanna see any more.

>You are making it obvious

Matt, don’t piss me off. I know what Dr Who is and have watched it on/off for years now, mostly because I had nothing better to do. I just HATE IT. How many times do I need to write that to stop suggesting it and going off topic? I just don’t like how it looks like, it has a very distinctive “cheap” video look. I can’t take it seriously. It looks like a freaking comedy more than a sci-fi show.

>Scifi broadcast is also not a good indication

Give me a break. What, did they remove pixels or something? And don’t forget that I used to live in UK, and before that in Greece. Or all of my TV receptions “were wrong” somehow? Don’t fuck this discussion by being silly please.

Please don’t mention Dr Who again (neither Red Dwarf or Torchwood). I just don’t like that kind of a show, so I consider it off topic.

Mateusz Szczurek wrote on October 21st, 2008 at 1:04 AM PST:

Eugenia, your complaints match well with what made me dump TV altogether (I still have the Sanyo Z5 connected to a TV tuner for those soccer emergencies). I read StarWars novels, and while most of them are just repetitive crap, the longer series have exactly what you write about – suspense, mysteries to be explained two novels down, a big world. First books in a miniseries are usually great (they do not end in these silly battles, when heroes always win) – try “Vector Prime”, with major character death and the new race and threat slowly unraveling.
Such things also make LOTR (the book that is) great.

memsom wrote on October 21st, 2008 at 12:41 PM PST:

Don’t stress! You being you is what makes your blog so compelling! Having said that, and with all due respect, I can’t agree with you 😉

TV in the UK is light years away from what it was in 1999/2000. BBC3, BBC4, ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4 didn’t even exist, for a start!

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