Let’s talk about MyNetworkTV. The idea is so overdue that it almost seems quaint; thirteen-week stripped serials that tell arced dramatic stories, and then are over, poof, and another one starts up.
Because of the “gap” left by the merger of UPN and the WB into the CW, lots of local affiliates all of a sudden had hours without programming, and a whole network was left with empty prime time. So now, from 8 to 10 (Pacific, I don’t know how many feeds there are) we’re getting Desire and The Fashion House, based on classic telenovelas that have enthralled millions of our neighbors down south. These are full American remakes, of course, drawing talent like Bo Derek, Morgan Fairchild, and Tippi Hedrin (Tippi Hedrin, people!) in Fashion House, which, according to its website, “delves deep into the glamorous, yet unscrupulous, world of the fashion industry and how greed, lust and blind ambition make or break careers, and hearts, in the business.” Desire, a serial about mobstery restaraunteur brothers, stars Sofia Milos, near and dear to us from CSI: Miami’s many adventures.
Every weekday for thirteen weeks we’ll get another episode of the unfolding mystery, and as a bonus, the ADD-ridden among us will get special “catch-up” episodes on the weekends, where the week’s events are condensed into an easy-to-swallow hour. And then! When the story’s over, the shows go away. And whole new shows start, with whole new stories. Revolutionary!
The shift from the rigid network format (half-hour or hour, twenty-two week episodic structure that builds its story in time for sweeps and hiatuses) to a story-based one is the natural evolution of the medium. With DVD boxed sets and bittorrent downloads, we’re eating TV series by the season, not the month. Me, I’ve only watched “24” on DVD. I just wait till the season’s over and go to Amoeba so I can consume Jack Bauer’s entire day in one go, and I have been known to do just that — though, unlike Jack, I pause to eat and pee and get from place to place, so it usually takes me longer than twenty-four hours to get through a season.
And let’s all look at Doctor Who, the classic version, for a change: here’s a show that’s been producing story-based arcs for something like twenty-six seasons. And the BBC still remains a rich proving ground for short-form serials; six-episode, thirteen-episode, three-episode stories come and go, year in and out.
Now, we’ve had our share of excellent miniseries, don’t get me wrong, and from Roots to Band of Brothers to that one where William H. Macy had really big ears, I love me a good miniseries. I sat through Taken! I mean, mostly for Matt Frewer and Dakota Fanning, but still. Ten hours! I love a story that takes ten hours!
MyNetworkTV has all the hallmarks of failure, from a cheap-ass logo to programming that looks like it was shot on a sound stage behind the Border Patrol station in Tijuana, but it’s got nothing to lose, and it can afford to be shameless, and that just might propel it to that weird sort of hypnotic success. Soap operas run for twenty seasons, not because they retain viewership from start to finish but because everyone dips in, once in a while, enjoys a season or two of Luke and Laura and then goes back to college or whatever and leaves the series for the next generation to enjoy. This leads me to believe that we will eat this kind of storytelling up.