Saturday, April 4, 2009

'Battlestar Galactica' finale shows the value of ending a show in its prime

Good storytelling requires a good ending.
That’s something U.S. television shows are starting learn.
The updated “Battlestar Galactica” recently ended its four-season run on the Sci-Fi Channel with a very satisfying conclusion.
The final episode sewed up loose ends in the plot and answered the big questions. Plus, it had a rip-roaring space battle sequence and a twisty ending. It also had some heart-wrenching scenes as central characters said their good-byes. In other words, the show went out with a bang.
It’s the best show finale I’ve seen since “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” concluded in 2003 after seven seasons. (Of course, many other quality shows have had much-talked-about finales in recent years, such “The Sopranos” and “The Shield.” But I didn’t follow those shows.)
U.S. television series often drag on too long and die a slow death, like NBC’s “ER.” It aired its finale this month after 15 seasons and 331 episodes.
Medical comedy-drama “M*A*S*H” ran for 11 years. It was a great show for the first three. The Korean War, in which the show was set, only lasted for 3 years.
ABC’s “Lost” got its mojo back only after it set an end date and stated how many episodes were left. That gave the writers a mission.
Shows without an end date tend to meander and lose their way. Networks strive to stretch out a show to get enough episodes to make it suitable for syndication. In doing so, shows often lose their urgency and plot lines get needlessly drawn out.
I stopped watching NBC’s “The Office” this season because it had a been-there-done-that feel in its fifth season. It’s still a funny show, but I’ve gotten bored with it.
NBC needs to put an end date on that puppy.
How many years is that documentary crew supposed to be filming at paper company Dunder Mifflin before it actually produces something?
The original U.K. comedy series ran for two seasons and concluded with a two-hour special that showed characters reacting to the public response to the documentary about their office.
Thanks to the DVD business, studios and networks often work to provide finales to canceled shows. ABC’s “Life on Mars” is one example from this season. The show, a remake of a BBC time-travel drama of the same name, was cancelled in its first season.
The superior U.K. “Life on Mars” was always intended as a limited run show. It ran for two seasons and 16 episodes. Many British series are limited run, which makes their storytelling tight and fast paced.
If there was a DVD business when “Twin Peaks” was on the air, maybe that show wouldn’t have ended with the mother of all cliffhangers in 1991.

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