Revitalizing Five Television Shows

I’ve made no real secret about the fact that I watch a lot of television. Some of it I watch intently, (hopefully) on the edge of my seat. Some of it I throw up there while I’m working. Sometimes I ignore the television completely; if I can really get going on something, the show might fully conclude before I even realize it (HGTV is fantastic for this, BTW).

I also write about it a fair amount on here. In case you haven’t noticed, television has entered a new golden age. Shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Sons of Anarchy have brought some of the best drama to the small screen since the medium hit the airwaves.

The television broadcast networks – the guys whose signals you can still pick up with a digital antenna and go by names like NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and CW – have largely missed the boat on this. Largely this is due to the restrictions of broadcast television. Cable networks like HBO, AMC and FX run 10-13 episode seasons for their television shows, whereas the broadcast guys go (almost) double that with 22 installments. If a program lasts four and a half seasons on broadcast, that’s over 100 hours of television (well, less once you take out the commercials). That’s a lot of things to have maybe a half-dozen characters do in a fairly tight period of time. That’s why you get things like NCIS, CSI and Law and Order for dramas, soaps like Grey’s Anatomy and wacky laugh track shows like The Big Bang Theory – endless opportunities for your characters.

I’ve tended to shy away from these shows. Being a film fan before television, I like shows with continuing stories – one long story like Sons or Lost split into hour long installments vs. shows like CSI which essentially start and end in the same hour. That’s a matter of choice, but I see more quality there.

All that said, periodically I get ideas for how to improve and/or relaunch television shows with existing characters that have more life in them, and I present five to you today. I’ll be honest: these aren’t the best of my ideas. Those I’ll keep to myself in the event I ever get a chance to create a show on my own. So if by chance someone out there with money wants to make a television show and you like the ideas set forth, let’s talk about the good ones.

2014’s 24: Live Another Day relaunched the former ratings giant after four years off. The show was essentially the same, except things ended after 12 hours (with a 10 minute epilogue to push the story to 24 hours). What was once the show’s strength is now its weakness: the real-time format just doesn’t work anymore. Jack Bauer and his friends still have a lot of juice left in them, so here’s what I suggest. First, move the show over to FX. 24 on cable will allow Jack a few more options (including something besides his coined “Damnit!”). Second, completely revamp the show’s look – move it away from the highly lit network to the closer-in, grainier film style. Make the new stuff feel different from the old. Third – no 24 hour format. Create a new story that pulls in old, favorite characters. Here’s a quick idea: Tony Almeida and Chloe hook up with Kate Morgan to break Jack out of the Russian prison because President Heller’s alzheimer’s has created a situation in which some evil general is now running the country. So the foursome now become the terrorist which they’ve fought their whole lives against. And it takes longer than 24 hours.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
I’m a self-admitted Joss Whedon fanboy – Firefly is still my favorite show of all time. So that, and my enjoyment of the Marvel universe, led me to stick with this show through the mediocre first half of last season to finally get to the good stuff. And the show is good now for sure. But still deeply flawed, mainly due to what I talked about before: the number of episodes. Consider this: In the Avengers universe – Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk – there have been nine films. Each of these films have run no more than 2.5 hours each, meaning there’s about 20 hours of story there. Agents of SHIELD (I’m not typing those damned periods again) did 22 in its first season. Even once you account for the commercials, by now there’s been more story in SHIELD than in the entire film universe. Though the events of Captain America: The Winter Solider were reflected in the show, the show has yet to affect the films. None of the Avengers even know that Phil Coulson – the man whose “death” united the sextet before the Battle of New York – yet even lives. Oh – and none of the Avengers have even made the remotest appearances on the program. For this show to bring the weight of the films, eventually Iron Man or Captain America will have to show up. I know this is difficult with everyone’s contract, but there’s always a deal to be made there. Robert Downey Jr. is currently negotiating a deal to appear (as the villain!) in Cap 3, so why not throw in a couple of TV hits? Apparently, Chris Evans is planning to quit acting for directing once his tour as Cap is done, so why not offer to let him direct a few eps of SHIELD in exchange for donning the shield on the small screen? Just a thought. Oh – and reduce the episode number. The story is going to burn out.

10 years ago last month, one of the most talked about and controversial shows in television history hit the airwaves. A lot of people didn’t like the ending – things didn’t wrap up into a neat little bow, so people got pissed. I tend to like ambiguous endings – gives you something to think about. Though the story of the Oceanic 815 survivors concluded, there’s a lot more life left on the island. Walt’s still there, tasked with defending it (oh, you didn’t know Walt is the new Jacob? Then maybe you haven’t seen the Lost epilogue, which gives you more answers in eight minutes than in six seasons. So maybe stop bitching about no answers and go find some, huh? Okay, fine, I’ll take pity. Here it is. Seriously; if you haven’t seen it, go watch it now. I’ll wait). The Garden of Eden is home to some pretty serious power, so there’s no reason why a lot more people won’t seek out the island to corrupt it for their own needs. And Walt will need help in stopping them, won’t he?

It’s terribly sad that this show is ending this season. It’s consistently the best show on broadcast television – by a mile – and the only reason (I think) no one watches it is because NBC never really put much effort into marketing it or finding the right audience. It’s an ensemble drama, with 10 principal adult characters and roughly a half-dozen principal children – most episodes don’t even feature all the cast members. There’s no reason why this show can’t continue for another six years or event longer. One of the great things about the last couple of seasons has been to see the kids grow up and get into different types of drama and situations – theoretically, this show could continue forever. So, how about getting some nice cable network to pick it up? USA, I’m looking at you right now.

The Twilight Zone
This is one from left field, to be sure. The Twilight Zone started in the late 1950s and has been on a few times here and there since. If you’ve never seen it, each episode was a half-hour and told a completely self-contained story each week. So why am I, the advocate of serialized television pushing for an episodic program? I love the idea of this coming back to life on a subscription network like HBO or Showtime that doesn’t have any boundaries with regards to language, sex, violence, etc. Since each episode is self-contained with no repeating stories, characters or even actors – think of the possibilities! Create truly free-form television – one week, an episode might be 15 minutes long, the next three hours. The Twilight Zone on HBO could be a haven for the kinds of stories that just don’t have a home otherwise – short form programming or something that resembles a TV movie. And since there’s no commitment, think of the talent that might sign up – you could have Oscar winners and $100 million dollar paycheck actors working for the union minimum, just to do a passion project with built-in distribution. Just keep to the show’s themes: grounded reality with tinges of weirdness. Very cool.