News broke overnight (UK) that Fox have cancelled fledgling series Alcatraz after one season. The JJ Abrams written show, about the titular island prison and inmates who vanished in the 1960s suddenly re-appearing in the present, had fan backing but didn’t generate the numbers – or excitement – the execs wanted.

This isn’t the first show to be cancelled before it had a chance to get going, and it won’t be the last, but the event did get me thinking about what it now takes to get a series made and keep it on air.

JJ Abrams got a lot of flak for his last big TV series LOST, fans and commentators said the central mysteries went on too long unanswered and when they finally were, the answer wasn’t quite as earth-shattering as it was led to be believed. There are shows out there that seem to have the staying power, Smallville managed ten years before fans got the final – if fleeting – payoff of the iconic shirt-ripping-big S- on-the-chest reveal. Supernatural has just been renewed for its 8th season, Dexter is in its 6th year, Fringe its 4th (although it is already known the 5th season will be the last). So why is it some shows seem to last and others don’t?

I think a lot of it is down the society we now live in. People today are used to instant access, instant results, instant answers. We live our lives in social media where questions and conversations exist within 140 characters. When presented with shows where we are expected to wait years before we get the answer to the big mystery baulks us and we tend to give it a miss. The long running shows I mention above have managed, in varying degrees, to side-step this problem by keeping the series spanning story arc going, but having mini-stories interspersed throughout. They’ve not expected the viewer to give up years of their lives to find out why this happened or why “X” said that.

I like shows that follow a plan, have a story to tell. I suppose I can happily sit and watch a show for 10 years, because I’m from the generation when social media and instant payoffs didn’t exist. For shows to survive beyond their first season – and some sadly barely even managed that – I feel they need to embrace the culture that dominates the world we live in. They need to be a little more forthcoming, give out a little more than they are, trust the viewer to stick around even if we do know some of the answers.

 

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