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TV series arc

Discussion in 'Screenwriting' started by Yaso, Apr 16, 2011.

  1. Yaso

    Yaso Bronze Member

    At the moment, I'm developing a series for television. I looked at many of my favourite series and realized, the ones that interest me the most, have a definite ending in store, that the audience already knows when they are watching. It doesn't matter if the series actually reaches this goal, but it always creates a certain drive towards the ending. And you can always use dramatic irony to a great effect.

    For example:

    - The Incredible Hulk (David Banner is cured from the Hulk)
    - Smallville (Clark Kent becomes Superman)
    - Life on Mars (Sam returns to "Earth")
    - Dead Zone (the Apocalypse)

    The question is, how can you create such an ending? If you haven't got a prequel to an existing myth on your hands, you have to establish an idea in the minds of the audience how it could turn out.

    Look at the seven basic plots for this:

    1) In The Incredible Hulk and in Life on Mars, we see the heroes thrown into new situations they have to deal with. They want to return home, so it's a voyage and return story.

    2) On Dead Zone, Johnny wants to prevent the Apocalypse he has seen in his visions, so it's an escape story. You could also invent a chase, as in the new Battlestar Galactica. Those are basically quests.

    3) You could create a monster over the course of one season or more, the hero has to overcome. Then you've got an overcoming the Monster story. Which is also the Hulk.

    4) If your hero has to develop from nothing to greatness, you probably got a rags to riches story.

    5) If your hero is cast under some dark spell he has to overcome, you've got a rebirth story. Which is also the Hulk.

    6) If your character himself is the monster that has to be defeated, it's a tragedy. Also the Hulk.

    7) If your characters have to realize their own shortcomings, it's a comedy.


    In all cases, as with any story (ignoring mystery plots), it's obvious for everyone what HAS to happen. The surprise lies in the HOW it happens.

    That might be the solution, but maybe someone else has more insights into the matter how to develop arcs for a whole series. It's only my first one. :)
  2. mr wendal

    mr wendal Bronze Member

    It is a bit more complicated than that. Drama is conflict and there are more conflicts than seven. There are also a lot more genres than the one you named so look a bit further before spelling it out to us.
  3. Writerguy

    Writerguy Bronze Member

    Moreover, there are tons of series that are strictly episodic with no arc or ending. Do we know or even care what House's arc or ending might be? Do we know or care what the ultimate ending of "Gray's Anatomy" will be? NCIS? Boston Legal?

    Those shows are purely episodic, each episode stands on its own. These shows are the very definition of "series television," which is often referred to as "episodic television."

    "LOST" was an exception and everybody watched it with baited breath wondering how the hell the show was going to end. Its very setup precluded an episodic nature and required a continuous nature. Even then it was plain the writers didn't have a clue about how to end the show and it just became sillier and stupider the longer they dragged it out and the ending of its last show was anything but satisfying.

    Mini-series are different, they do have an arc and an ending.
  4. Yaso

    Yaso Bronze Member

    Name one that isn't a combination of the ones mentioned above.

    Of course, you don't need a series arc. But if you are writing a series that needs one, you have tools for this, right?
  5. Writerguy

    Writerguy Bronze Member

    The problem is that to write a series that has an arc that throws the story toward a particular ending you aren't really writing a series you are writing a mini-series.

    Episodic series can run for years, as we have seen many of them do, e.g. "Will and Grace," "Cheers," "ER."

    What you're writing would be segment-limited and be forced to be brought to an end at some point as opposed to being open-ended and able (thereby) to run for years.

    I don't think television producers have an interest in that concept, it doesm't befit their paradigm and presents them with a difficulty they're not used to facing.

    How long would you suppose the show you're writing would run? A year, two years, three, five? More than about five segments would be too many; you can't run a series a year (26 shows) to get to an ending that harks all the way back to the first show. Nobody's going to buy a series that can only hold up for a year, which is why series' are episodic.

    It appears to me you are writing a mini-series.
  6. Yaso

    Yaso Bronze Member

    Yeah, you are probably right. The series revolves around the adventures of one main character (again a coming-of-age story). I've planned 5 seasons. At that point, he's already grown up. If one wanted to continue the series after that, it would have a different concept, but the life of the protagonist certainly goes on.
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2011
  7. amp502

    amp502 Bronze Member

    Many different kinds of TV shows, many ideas that work, write what you like.

    A couple notes to get you thinking:

    Heroes started off in their first season with a major impending climax. People went crazy for it. The season ended, the big climax came, and they had to come up with something else to keep the series going. It... didn't work so well.

    Lost is one of the most-watched shows of all time. They started with a strict 6-season run and a fully thought out (maybe) plan for the whole show.

    Seinfield is about as episodic as you can get. Also one of the most-watched TV shows of all time.

    The Wonder Years took a coming-of-age story through its entire run.
    Freaks and Geeks did too, but didn't manage to make it work.

    Firefly mixed episodic with serialized. The show didn't have a successful run, but is certainly beloved by MANY.

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer DID have a successful run. The show had a vague overall premise ("Girl fights vampires") but each season (mostly) had a major arc with impending resolution.

    Oftentimes, when shows start with the premise of an impending resolution, they do fantastic. But when that impending resolution comes and passes, they struggle to keep the show going but rarely manage it (that's the problem I had with Breaking Bad's second season, but they seem to have managed to find a solid direction now... also of note, Breaking Bad WAS intended as a mini-series, and was picked up full time after its success).

    Write what you want. It'll be way better than writing what you don't want.
  8. Yaso

    Yaso Bronze Member

    Thank you!!!

    Maybe I'm just frustrated for watching ten years of Smallville and living through the decreasing story quality.

    I absolutely adored the concept. And I had fun during the first four seasons. Then, somewhere in the fifth season a change occured. My feeling was that the series became more and more episodic, which is really a shame. Now there are only a few episodes left and I'm afraid they are pulling a "Lost" on us.

    Hmmm ... What I want is to take the time and show a character growing up, while having adventures with his friends. School. First girl friend. Graduation. Looking for a calling. Working in a supermarket, stacking shelves. Having an affair with a married woman. Moving on. The first real job. Looking for a wife. Trying to settle down, but being fired. Not being able to have children. Breaking up. Moving on. Finding another job, and a new girlfriend. Not trying to settle down. Again breaking up and moving on.

    I want to see a character that makes mistakes, but who is trying to find himself and take life into his own hands! I want to see a progression, not just the same old, same old.

    Buffy is a good example. I love that series. You could say it's similar to my concept.
  9. ghost

    ghost Bronze Member

    I'm working on a TV pilot, myself (before starting my next spec). :D

    I think what grabs people can be different. For example, the Battlestar Galactica remake was *entirely* serial. There was, like, one standalone in the entire series. Lost (from what I hear) and The Vampire Diaries are other shows that resisted an episodic formula.

    Other shows try to balance a monster/case of the week formula with an arc (examples: The X-Files, Buffy, Angel, Supernatural, Fringe, Pushing Daisies, Community, Dead Like Me ... hell, you could even squint and say this about Arrested Development or Breaking Bad, because there was always a problem to be solved by the end of the episode).

    Others throw serialization completely out the window, much to my personal aggravation (hello, Glee).

    I also think it depends on the creator/showrunner. I recall an interview (with i09?) in which Joss Whedon defended not having a set plan for everything, and I think there's probably some merit to that (you might get a break out character, for example, or two actors might have really great, if unexpected chemistry, leading you to give them more material). I know other showrunners are much stricter. I seem to recall interviews saying that Matthew Weiner is a real stickler to his vision (and I mean, it's Mad Men, so it seems justified).

    As for what captures people ... a lot of the people I've talked to get hooked on the arc. They want an arc from the very beginning, because it's the character/plot journey that gets them invested. Personally, I've had that happen with a few shows, but I tend to fall head over heels when things get funny or meta. I think that's peculiar to me, though. :D

    In other words, I think you should probably be able to say what the gist of your story is pretty quickly (Buffy's a coming of age story; Angel's a redemption story; Supernatural's a mini horror movie every week, etc.), but I don't think the end goal has to be obvious from the outset (look at Fringe and how long it took to build up to seeing the alternate universe or Supernatural and how long it took to get to the apocalypse) or set in stone.

    ** Oh! And a note on Breaking Bad! I believe Vince Gilligan told the AV Club that he seriously had *no* plan for S3. It was all fly-by-your-pants, and I thought it was brilliant.
  10. Yaso

    Yaso Bronze Member

    Thank you very much! Great insights.

    I'm still writing on my series concept. How many sentences would you write for the main characters?

    I guess the inner conflict (want/need) is important. Also what makes him special to the story. Then the character background, where does he come from, what's his story wound? What else is needed?

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