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  • Arc Based Television

    Did Babylon 5 season long arcs enable 24? Veronica Mars? other mainstram arc based shows?

  • #2
    I'm shooting from the hip here and I'll have to say it's a safe bet that B5 was the inspiration for the arc story format in current scifi programming. DS9 went from a stand-alone format to an arc-format in season 5 or 6 after noticing the success of B5's format.
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    • #3
      Originally posted by Macbeth View Post
      Did Babylon 5 season long arcs enable 24? Veronica Mars? other mainstram arc based shows?
      B5 definitely seems to have been the inspiration for multi-season arcs, but I don't think we can give it the credit for arcs in general. Before B5, drama shows with continuing stories were simply called prime-time soap operas.

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      • #4
        There were arc based sci fi shows in the UK before(Blake's 7 and The Tripods for example) but yeah I'd say B5 was probabley the biggest influence current crop.
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        • #5
          I think of Soaps (prime Time or daytime) eg Dallas Desperate Housewives or The Young & The Restless as continuing stories, but they are not necessarily going anywhere specific. They are written 'on the fly' and I dare say that the writers are not planning out the plot in advance. This does not make them bad and as performance art is pretty interesting, but not 'arc based'

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          • #6
            I would also stress that "arc" in our view means not only an ongoing story (like in soaps), but a detailed plan behind the story, so that the writers/producers already know in what direction their plot will go. So I think Babylon 5 had heavy influence on the TV-formats of the last years which tend to use arcs (e.g. DS9, Lost, BSG, The Shield,...). But it should ne noted that some of this credit also goes to the X-Files, of course.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Macbeth View Post
              I think of Soaps (prime Time or daytime) eg Dallas Desperate Housewives or The Young & The Restless as continuing stories, but they are not necessarily going anywhere specific. They are written 'on the fly' and I dare say that the writers are not planning out the plot in advance. This does not make them bad and as performance art is pretty interesting, but not 'arc based'
              Actually, you're wrong. Most soaps -- daytime and primetime -- do indeed plot out long arcs, and then smaller increments showing how they're going to get there. Daytime soaps, in fact, are probably much more carefully plotted out than shows like Lost or Veronica Mars, or even their nighttime counterparts like Desperate Housewives, because they are constantly in motion, airing five days a week, 52 weeks a year (with just a few exceptions). They don't have a moment to breathe, filming (usually) four days out of most weeks, so unlike weekly/primetime shows, it's much harder for them to adjust based on what the audience seems to respond positively to. In most cases, they make a plan, and stick with it. The exceptions are when the viewership seems to really take to a character who wasn't meant to have a long shelf life; in those cases they'll usually adjust enough to add that character to the canvas as a long-term player.

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              • #8
                I'd say B5's main influence wasnt so much prooving that arc based TV could work(we'd already had arc based sci fi in the UK with the likes of Blake's 7 and The Tripods) but that it could work within a high budget enviroment.
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                • #9
                  I detest shows like CSI due to their cookie cutter format. But what is everyone's favorite show? CSI.
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                  • #10
                    i think before B5, Hill Street Blues was probably one of the most noted examples of arc story telling in American television. So some credit should go to that show too if we're tracing back the origins of "Arc Based Television" in America. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if you go back into the really early JMS postings, you'll find him using Hill Street Blues at times to explain what he is trying to do with this new arced space show he is doing here.

                    (edit)As for soaps, while they may also plan things and map out plots beforehand, I do think there is a big difference there. Which is that about everything in soap storytelling seems to be geared toward being able to go on and on, and do storytelling without anything really ending. Where most of the arc storytelling in the more straight up drama television seems to be geared towards giving beginnings and middles and endings, the exact opposite of what a soap is. There is only one approach that aims to be a "novel for television" here, I think.
                    Last edited by Shabaz; 01-10-2007, 02:18 PM.

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                    • #11
                      Arcs

                      Homicide: Life on the Street was another show way ahead of its time that had arcs -- in the sense of murder cases that sprawled over a number of episodes.

                      The X-Files was another one that was arc-based. However, it had the problem that a) the arc was never planned in advance; b) it developed a serious schism between stand-alone and arc episodes.

                      I think arcs work especially well in a series that is character-based -- like B5, the aforementioned Hill Street Blues and Homicide, X-files some of the newer shows. Shows like, for example, CSI, which are based more on plot and gimmicks, don't work well in that format. What makes an arc work is the changes it creates in the characters.

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                      • #12
                        I really think that in U.S. television anyway, Babylon 5 is unique in its "arcness." Has any other series ever debuted with a stated lifetime? Every other show mentioned here pretty much stayed on the air for as long as the ratings allowed it to, regardless of what the story might have been originally planned to be. X-files and Alias would be examples of shows that meandered away from their core storyline after the first couple of seasons. I think that fans of Lost are afraid that a similar fate will (or in some folks' opinions already has) weaken that series.

                        DS9 and Voyager could be said to have had a lifetime of seven years, but they certainly were not structured as a "novel for television" like B5 was (although IMHO DS9 came pretty close for the final few seasons) and that lifetime of seven years was artificially imposed by Paramount rather than being the vision of the series creator(s).

                        A show like 24 is probably the most tightly plotted series there is, but they tend to wipe the slate clean between seasons thus missing out on the epic scale that is possible with something like B5.

                        I think that a large part of the genius that is Babylon 5 is that by limiting its life to five seasons that had been fully plotted in advance, JMS avoided having to create a lot of "filler" episodes that would have been required had the show's ratings convinced WB to extend the series. That feeling of watching a novel unfold over the entire five season run is unlike any other series I can think of, and is a very grand experience indeed.

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                        • #13
                          Still can't get no respect - talking about LOST

                          From Variety
                          http://www.variety.com/article/VR111...=1236&cs=1&p=0

                          Quote
                          McPherson, Cuse and exec producer Damon Lindelof said they were conscious of the need to ensure "Lost" doesn't overstay its welcome with viewers.

                          "None of us want to be doing the show that's the stalling show -- 'We're building sandcastles this week,'" Lindelof quipped.

                          Cuse pointed to "The X-Files" as "a great show that probably lasted two seasons too long."

                          "That show was a bit of a cautionary tale for us," he said.

                          Determining an end date for a popular franchise isn't unprecedented; Cuse cited the "Harry Potter" books as a model the show would like to emulate.

                          "J.K. Rowling announced seven 'Harry Potter' books, (conveying a) certainty that that story is drawing to a conclusion," he said.

                          As for this year's split "Lost" season, McPherson said the net would run all 22 episodes of "Lost" straight through next year, perhaps starting in midseason (a la "24").

                          End Quote

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