Entertainment vs Selling Ads — Short run vs Long Running Series

As you all well know, I’ve given up on watching American TV shows in favor of programming I download from the Internet that is mostly from Asia.  A big difference that I’ve noticed is that many of the shows from Asia are scoped to last a finite number of episodes, vs. an American TV show, where the ending is dictated by advertiser support.   I enjoy the scoped shows better because it feels like the show has the intent to tell a story with a defined beginning, middle, climax, and conclusion.  I feel that in the US, shows are more about coming up with a compelling premise to draw an audience and thus advertisers too, and, then the story has to keep cranking until the advertisers pull the plug.  This leads to great first and second seasons for many TV shows, and then a decline as the writers struggle to come up with fresh new scenarios.  It all feels very contrived to me and it makes me wonder whether a pitch for a TV show starts:

“I’ve got a great idea!  Let’s make a TV show that appeals to single males 18 – 34 with and average income of $30K/yr.  These guys are into video games, adventure trips, and hot babes.  So all we have to do is string together a show that has action and violence, exotic locations, and a hot babe.  It will be like “Tomb Raider”!  Oh, but we shouldn’t leave out the women, so the babe will need to have some girl friends and a love interest”  and voila we get something like “Alias.”

Granted, “Alias” was a good show the first 2 seasons, but then it got very repetitive as it lingered on.  And then there are the clones that spring up in the aftermath of a successful show — think about “Survivor” and all of its past clones and the new clone coming up on the Discovery channel.  It seems from season to season everything is the same and that the networks are grasping to make old formulas work again — how many times have you heard of the prospect of a “Friends” reunion.

The same thing happens too outside of the US.  There are many anime series that keep going well passed their freshness dates like “Inuyasha”, “Bleach”, “Naruto” and “Konjiki no Gash Bell” (“Zatch Bell” in the US) to name a few of the current worst offenders.  All of these series employ multiple story resets to keep them going (oh, spoiler:  yes, Inuyasha eventually kills Naraku and then series ends after 168 episodes, but the manga still goes on …  Sesshoumaru Forever!!!  Wooo!!!!).  These shows, too, seem to be driven to sell kids toys and advertising in Japan.  Often, I feel the most connection with shows that have a defined story arc and visible character development.  Within the confines of a 12 or 13 episode series, the commitment for the network is less, so it seems that the makers of these shows are able to take more risks and makes some shows that may not appeal to everyone.  It really feels like storytelling and entertainment for the sake of entertainment without necessarily having demographics and advertisers in mind.  I wonder if this could happen in the US with short run series.  I wonder if a story was hit, would it be forced into sequels like movies.

I think though, the real thought for me is about advertising and its direction now that the intention of everything is to get you to buy something.  I heard lots of about “advertainment” and it is cool with me because I will ignore those things that seem contrived and watch those things that are entertaining.  In the end, though, there has to be some artistic integrity to keep people from straying away.  I also believe this is true as advertising enters video games.  At the heart, the advertisers and the video game makers have to keep in mind that people play the games to be entertained and not to be sold to.  I can guarentee that gamers will not play a game in which the advertisements detract from or hinder game play.

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