On my recent P.I. fiction list DetecToday, we're discussing what makes a series versus what makes a standalone, and it's got me thinking about TV series versus movies.

With today's increasing continuity, series have the benefit of following characters in greater depth over a longer span of time. However, given the structure of a TV season and the goal to keep a series going for several seasons, there's a great chance of series going too long, of the characters' lives taking twists that alienate as many viewers as they draw. The longer a series runs the more likely original plans will be thrown out, leaving us to wonder, "When will the series end? When it does, will I care?"

There's something to be said for telling a complete, compelling story in a finite amount of time. I don't like to hear directors or writers say, "The first movie laid the groundwork. In the sequels I'll really wow you,"

What's your preference, a long-running series or one memorable movie?

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Well, you can compromise sometimes, such as in the James Bond franchise. I guess it depends on what the story is about. It's not crime, but take the Simpsons for example. The premise is the show is that there is the Simpsons family. There's characters but no specific plot, so you could go forever, but what about that new show Burn Notice? That's about a spy who got fired and he has to figure out why. You can only go so long without finally getting around to why the guy got canned. After that, the show would either have to end or would have to take a new direction.

Recently, I've been watching a lot of Japanese TV shows, and I kind of like their format. Every series is like a mini series here. Ten or eleven episodes and the show is over. I like it because it makes the show concise, with a narrow focus that keeps the story moving in one direction. If it's a good show, then it sucks when its over, but then there will be more shows to watch. I guess the upside for the actors is that they can play more roles and be in more shows rather than being stuck with one show for years. It's a refreshing change anyway from the American format, which is take a series and make it last as long as possible.

So to answer your question about which do I prefer: something in between a series and a one-off.
I see compromises already occurring - producers looking at shows like LAW & ORDER (which I do think is tired and old by now) and deciding they don't want that to happen. So, for instance, LOST has a finite end date, and I believe THE SHIELD does too. Of course, they're probably the exception more than the rule.

I prefer single memorable movies. Most do not beg for sequels - it's a pleasant surprise when a sequel/series is made that lives up to the original.
"it's a pleasant surprise when a sequel/series is made that lives up to the original."---And very rare.
I always feel that if a movie does really well, then the producers immediately start thinking "sequel." And the sequel almost always sucks.

As for TV series, if you've got something like Law & Order, which relies solely on plot and not on character development, then it explains the success of that. Other shows, like the Sopranos and Six Feet Under, jump the shark eventually and should disappear quietly. Grey's Anatomy jumped the shark at the end of its second season, but remarkably is not gone yet and will be back for a fourth season.
L&O jumped the shark last season, I think. That chick that replaced Dennis Farina just could not act. Or maybe she could, but she had zero chemistry with Jesse L. Martin. So I quit watching.

I think maybe some movie producers are more savvy now about sequels, knowing how badly they tend to suck... 28 Weeks Later was excellent (I know some hated it, but I thought it was a perfect sequel); Danny Boyle kept his fingers in the pie, and I think that helped. I also seem to remember hearing that Sin City II was in the works, again under the same management. In other words, "creative vision" seems to be more of a factor these days in the production of *some* sequels. One can only hope!
On one hand, L&O's self-contained episode format makes it easy to watch anytime, but on the other hand, this means rarely any continuity. Actors can be replaced with little comment, and the show can keep going and going and going--similar to novel series that have nondescript sequential titles (e.g. Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, James Patterson). This leads plots to blur together in readers'/viewers' minds, a bad thing.


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