We need a revolution in TV land! So that we aren’t left with painful cliffhangers after we’ve invested our time and emotions in a show.
IT is June, and the American TV schedule is littered with corpses: the family of superheroes in No Ordinary Family will no longer wield their amazing powers, we’ll never find out what the “visitors” plan next for humanity in V, nor will we know just what The Event will be.
A pity, really. I liked No Ordinary Family’s quirky charm and V improved in its second season – though the cheap special effects never did it any favours. The Event had an intriguing, if feet-dragging plot, though I had long worried for its longevity, seeing how its ratings floundered from the beginning.
I’ve learned over the years not to get too invested in American TV shows. I’d try to choose winners but can’t help be drawn in by excellent, unique shows that often end up cancelled – Firefly, Dollhouse and Rome, to name a few. Shows that succeed ratings-wise – and they aren’t always excellent shows per se – are renewed and tend to go on for many seasons, ratings willing. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. Unless they have some very good writers, some end up going on for so long that the characters and plot become stale, and whatever joy to be had is sucked out. Some stories just need to die at their appointed time. (Someone put House out of his misery, please.)
Good storytelling isn’t always rewarded in TV land, especially in the United States. Those that dare to be more adventurous don’t always survive, as the majority of viewers either aren’t receptive to complex, multi-episode storylines or take a while to warm up to them. (The exception is, of course, Lost, but that was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.) Critically well-received sci-fi drama Fringe was on the verge of cancellation this year and cult-favourite dramedy Chuck barely survived to go on to its fifth, and most probably last, season next year.
Apart from the sadness of not getting to watch your favourite show, the problem is that TV series often end in cliffhangers to entice viewers to return the next season. And since producers are usually not given enough notice of the cancellation to wrap up the stories lines, many cancelled shows end up with no endings, leaving the viewers terminally frustrated.
Well, this avid TV viewer is tired of this state of affairs. I’m fed up with shows that have no endings, I’m annoyed that shows with good storylines are given the shaft, and I’m no longer eager to invest my time in a TV show only to have it cancelled without proper resolution. What a waste of a story, and how futile the efforts of the production team. I demand a TV revolution!
At times like these I can’t help but think of how TV shows are produced outside the United States; for instance, in South Korea, home of the Hallyu Wave.
There, TV dramas are rarely cancelled because they are given a definite number of episodes to complete their run. If the show has good ratings, it will be extended by a few episodes. As a result, viewers get stories with proper endings – and are inclined to buy the box sets. And I have to say that it’s rather satisfying and stress-free to sit through a short 16-episode drama as opposed to five seasons with 22 episodes each season.
However, this system has created problems of its own. In chasing after good ratings, many producers opt to “live shoot” the shows. Meaning, dramas are produced in “real time” – the episode is often aired the same week it was made. This is so that producers can tweak the show’s storyline if ever the ratings begin to waver.
This often results in the production team having to rush to complete the episode in a very short time. Actors often bear the brunt of the gruelling schedule, some collapsing on set out of sheer exhaustion.
In 2009, actor Kim Bum fainted on the set of his drama Dream. South Korean superstar Bae Yong-joon (who starred in hit soap Winter Sonata) was hospitalised for early stage of sepsis the same year.
According to the Korea Times, “his immunity (sic) system has weakened due to stress and over work”. “I filmed all through the night until 6 o’clock this morning, and went home only to shower. We’ll have to pull all-night shoots tonight and tomorrow, too, to make the broadcast tomorrow,” said actress Yeom Jung-ah (at dramabeans.com) of the 16-episode drama Royal Family, which aired a few months ago in South Korea.
In the most extreme example of the live shoot system, the forensic drama Signs shot its last episode on the day of its broadcast. The result was a rushed product full of audio glitches and choppy editing, which annoyed viewers.
Changing the storyline to whet the audience’s appetites often results in continuity problems in the storytelling and unexplainable character transformations, though sometimes the tweaks do seem to improve ratings somewhat.
Flawed system it may be, but if South Korea can air complete dramas, I really cannot see why Hollywood can’t do the same. Even its cousin across the pond, Britain, air dramas with proper endings. Shouldn’t Hollywood attempt to fix the system and allow TV shows to do what they’re meant to do – tell a story? And as far as I know, stories have a beginning, a middle and an ending.
Elizabeth Tai is taking a break from Western dramas to sample the sweet and (usually) short relief of South Korean and Chinese dramas.