In the past few weeks, a slew of articles and columns have hit the web about the topic, with some writing the serials eulogy.
Simply put: Those people are wrong.
Though I myself said there won’t be another serialized series like Lost, and it’s fairly obvious that the series’ end is somewhat like the end of an era, the island-bound drama is still an extreme example. But that didn’t stop Broadcasting and Cable’s Marisa Guthrie from wondering if serials would die with Lost:
As the economics of television have become increasingly challenging amid viewer fragmentation, back-end potential has become even more critical. Unlike crime procedurals, which seem to run endlessly on ad-supported cable and in syndication, serials have always been a much tougher sell in the syndication market.
And this week, Aaron Barnhart of the KC Star painted a similar picture, this time noting the poor ratings for various broadcast network serial series:
[O]ther critically acclaimed serial dramas are taking it on the chin, even on cable channels, where smaller audiences can keep a show afloat long after a big network would ordinarily cut it loose.
As a major fan of serialized television who has lost some probably-in-hindsight-not-good series because they were too convoluted or too complicated, too fast, I get it. I’ve already said it in this space. Ratings for most of the serials on broadcast television are down and it’s hard to sell them into syndication. I mean who the hell wants to watch one episode of 24 randomly on WGN? Nobody I hope.
But just as I said 12 days ago, serialization and the serial is not going away. It might be moving in a cyclical pattern on the broadcast networks, but it’s still alive on cable. Every single one of the big series on cable — Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Damages, Sons of Anarchy, Big Love, True Blood, Dexter — is a serialized television program. Period. And aside from Damages, those series have all had good-to-great ratings for cable. And as TV By The Numbers points out, serialization television DOMINATES DVD sales. And I’d guess that Netflix streams or rentals tell a similar story. And this all matters.
So seriously, can we just let this talk go? Yes, Lost marks the end of an era, and era that was started by 24 and continued by Lost. But all the series that cloned those formulas or attempted to pull from them back then were failures. So to write a eulogy now seems like a way to start an imaginary discussion or argument that is not there.
Those two were the biggest and most extreme examples of serialization. When they go, so will those extremes. But television has been dealing with the after-shocks of their debuts since 2001 and 2004 respectively. It’s not a story now just because the two of them might be gone.
Update: One thing I forgot, that someone who read this noted to me: It also seems like people have such a limited definition of serialization anyway. Like I noted above, 24 and Lost are extreme examples, but hell, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and even Gossip Girl feature a certain type of melodramatic serialized story. It’s not some epic mythology like Lost, but threads continue pretty closely to where it left off in the previous episode. I feel like that’s an obvious thing to say, but maybe not?