I think it’s easy to tell the difference between Bad TV and Good TV. It’s simple. You don’t watch Bad TV. It bores you. It’s not funny. You don’t remember what happened last week. It’s Bad.
But what about the difference between Good TV and GREAT TV? That’s a little harder.
You watch both. Both interest you. You probably laugh with both. And you probably remember what happened last week. Without the recap.
But for me, the difference between the two is a willingness to change. Good TV doesn’t change. Great TV does.
Good TV is the show that will always deliver. It will be the thing that will engage you, make you come back again, for the exact same story. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, remember BAD TV we don’t watch, Good, we do. But, let’s look at Law and Order. It’s Good TV. (Some days, I would argue that it is a drug, like crack.) I know exactly what I’m going to get–First 30 minutes the cops will investigate a surprising twisty turning tale of murder, then the next 30 minutes will be the Lawyers getting involved for more twisty turning tales of lawyerdom. It’s incredibly engaging following those twist turny tales. In the end, 99% of the time, Law and Order prevail. Ready for the next murder….
Or a show like Friends. Comic highjinks of friends going through their 20s and 30s together. Growing, learning, but, oddly, still living together, still going to the same coffee shop, over and over again. Joey’s dating another girl. Will Ross and Rachel get together? Yes, then no, then yes, then… Over and over again. It’s a funny show with characters you come back to time and time again.
But, nothing REALLY happens from week to week. How many of your friends do you still hang out with a the same coffee shop after 5 years? If the murder rate was really that high, would anyone rich live in New York City? If you are a character on a TV show, you go to the same coffee shop or hang out, and you don’t move, regardless of how high the murder rate… I’m looking at you Cabot Cove.
But, Friends and Law and Order are GOOD TV, so we come back.
Great TV is different. Great TV changes. Sometimes not in ways we like, but Great TV takes a chance and makes a change and says we won’t be going back to the way we were.
Ok, SPOILERS ahead.
Actually, let’s start there. Spoilers. Does anyone care about spoiling ANY episode of Friends? No. So, that’s something to consider, if you don’t want to hear a spoiler about a TV show, most likely, it’s GREAT TV.
Anyway. Spoilers. About Six Feet Under and Battlestar Galatica.
Both of those shows I think are two examples of Great TV, which took chances. Some of them succeeded, some of them didn’t.
In Six Feet Under they kill off the main character, Nate, right as the last season starts. Boom. Dead. He’s not coming back. He was the central figure of the show, he was the one we followed into the world. By the time he was killed off, we knew the other characters well enough, we wanted to know how would the react, how would they go on… What happens next? MygodIamsothere.
Battlestar Galactica actually had a bad habit of changing the direction of the show and never looking back. But I loved it for it. Season Three skipped ahead one year, turned the humans against each other, and then revealed characters we had known for years as Cylons. It got a little soapy. With the love triangles, Starbuck and Apollo did it. It got a little melodramatic, Col. Tight is a Cylon! But the show was sorta fearless in the choices it made.
And I love it for that.
And you’ll notice, both of my examples were from cable channels. Networks are risk averse. Lost lost it’s way until they were able to negotiate an END date.
And I think that’s sort of the key. Being free to END a show. To tell A story and then end it. Move the characters FORWARD, which means NOT going back or keeping still. An audience wants to see what happens NEXT, and next doesn’t happen if… well… it’s all reset waiting for the next episode, rinse and repeat.
So, enough of my thoughts.
What are YOUR favorite GREAT TV shows? Post below.