Wednesday, October 10, 2018


Author Maria Robinson wrote, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

It is very difficult today to do a show like LOST: a large cast, remote location shooting outside Hollywood studio gates, and a long run to develop and execute a complex story structure. Today's audience is not as patient. We live in a world of instant gratification and quick swipe destruction.

Traditional American TV networks (CBS, NBC and ABC) have lost their grip on the vast majority of viewers. Current network shows are recycled sit coms and spot dramas from the 1980s and 1990s (medical, cop shows, family comedies like Roseanne). Networks do not have the time or resources to re-invent their shows towards a younger audience.

The younger audience does not sit in front of a television set in the family living room. They are mobile, independent loners. With an internet connection, they can search and find their own amusement. The top landing spot is YouTube, where people nearly their own age have their personal channels doing goofy things teens would do if they actually went outside and played in the school yard.

As the networks got bulldozed by cable operators offering a hundred diverse channels, cable itself has also run its course. You may have a hundred channels ported into your cable box, but the choice is becoming more limited as specialty channels can no longer find sponsors. And channels co-owned or operated by major media conglomerates have started to run the UHF business model of re-runs of very old shows to fill time slots.

Cable operators last gasp was the rebellious nature of original programming at HBO or Showtime. But those outlets have now been muscled out of critic's circles by the economic power of the new platform: the streamers like Netflix and Amazon whom are pouring billions into their own original shows. Netflix's model is to run a new series maybe for a season or two, then it vanishes. The idea is to keep subscribers tuned in to "new" shows and movies. It is a disposal approach for a growing disposable society.

Just as LOST was unable to get a syndication deal because each episode was not a stand alone story, current creators have to maximize revenue streams in order to survive the next pitch meeting. It is doubtful that a show like LOST today would be green lit for no more than 12 episodes. Could LOST have been compressed into a 12 episode season? Perhaps, as the tangential filler would have to be discarded and a clearer, tighter premise on the science fiction part of the program would have been the foundation for climax and conclusion. It would have been less character driven and more story driven series. For example, Jack could have been killed off in the pilot (as the original pilot script called for), but he could have appeared throughout the show as a trapped ghost (like Michael at the end). But that presupposes that the show runners would actually make a decision on whether the island was purgatory or time-space pocket of abnormality.

But even in today's smartphone world, YouTube content creators are yesterday's news when SNS feeds are the way to get more followers that social media marketers covet. Twitter and Instagram are the current hot platforms for quasi-entertainment (or more apt, time killing). It seems there is more ambiguous to celebrity wannabe status on those feeds which must strike a chord with Millennials.

If you are a studio head or even a guy sitting in his basement with his laptop, you have to wonder what is the next bit that will be a long term trend. It is like chasing a cat in a cornfield. There will be more misses than hits. But in the current climate, some viewers really do not care. And that could be the end of highly complex fictional storytelling.