Is Hollywood tired of dragging out TV shows?

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If someone had asked about the hottest comedy of 2019, no one would have predicted the immense popularity of NBC’s The Good Place. Following Eleanor Shellstrop’s realisation that she’s mistakenly been sent to the ‘Good Place’ in the afterlife, the show offers a hilarious exploration of modern morality. It’s averaged five million viewers per season, but at the height of its success, creator Mike Schur has decided to cancel the show. Is TV finally respecting artistic integrity over money?

“Is TV finally respecting artistic integrity over money?”

It’s more complicated to answer than you think. In the wake of the streaming era, companies’ potential for income has changed dramatically, especially for sitcoms. Think of The Big Bang Theory or Friends – on a typical cable network, sitcoms maximised profit with simple, funny premises and loose storylines which were easy to grasp. Traditional sitcoms, however, also risk delaying character development – potentially destroying a reliable source of humour and, by extension, the entire show.

In comparison, The Good Place’s format and restricted number of episodes allows for rapid character development and focused storylines. The bite-sized chunks of The Good Place demand that the viewer sample the first few episodes, to become hooked, and find themselves suddenly enjoying the show, demanding our full and undivided attention. Streaming platforms allow shows such as The Good Place to have shorter narratives because there’s no need for syndication; people can watch shows whenever they want.

Furthermore, streamed shows are more inclined to respect their commitment to storytelling because of their online availability. It’s becoming more obvious to notice filler episodes created for the sole purpose of increasing profit.

“It’s becoming more obvious to notice filler episodes”

In the case of How I Met Your Mother, its final season could even be considered filler: its twenty-four-episode season revolved around the last fifty-six hours before Ted’s wedding. The more the show dragged out Ted’s narrative, the more unbearable it became. It resulted in being detrimental to the show, the actors and the fans. The short, snappy style of The Good Place means that it can’t sustain its tight screenwriting for long; instead, it prioritises the experience of storytelling over profit.

This is also true of Jane the Virgin. The hit CW show played with the telenovela format, allowing for a weekly cliff-hanger. But, there was a time limit that the show respected, too; the show ended after just five seasons. Shows can’t compromise on commercialism and narrative integrity.

“Shows can’t compromise on commercialism and narrative integrity”

However, networking companies can’t gain income from integrity alone – art needs a consumer, and fan bases are integral in this ecosystem. With social media now essential in establishing an audience, shows must make more effort to engage. Take HBO’s Shameless, which maintains a fervent fanbase on Tumblr. Their efforts to connect with their audience have negatively impacted the show’s narrative. Fans sent death threats to creator John Wells when beloved character Mickey Malkovich left the show. In response, the show brought Malkovich back for its tenth season. Shameless is being unnecessarily extended to retain its fanbase, rather than enrich them.

But The Good Place utilises its internet presence in a different way. Gone are the days where you’d have to wait for the timeshift channel. Fans can comb through the episode again and again. Nearly every TV show in existence is on some form of streaming platform, and The Good Place takes full advantage of this by scattering Easter Eggs in every episode. It honours its fanbase by constantly challenging them to find things, infusing their compacted story with added layers and elevating the potential for replays. The show’s acceptance of their non-renewal forces them to use every opportunity to connect with its viewers creatively.

The Good Place takes advantage of its streaming platform by scattering Easter eggs in every episode”

Ultimately, The Good Place signals something more than just commitment to a story or narrative integrity. Its tight structure, effective writing style and fan engagement strategies are perfectly suited to streaming. The Good Place makes you want to binge the show and do it all over again. But its inevitable end doesn’t just champion artistic freedom – it’s showing TV shows how to optimise themselves for the streaming era, and, how to be successful at it.

Photograph credit Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash

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