So, I caught a network promo tonight which says that ABC is going to be running an hour-long “catch-up-on-the-serialized-storyline” show not just for Lost, but for Gray’s Anatomy as well. (I could swear they’re doing one for Invasion as well.) I also see one just ran on Sci-Fi for Battlestar Galactica, and once a year they tend to do one for the Stargate franchise as well. This is an interesting phenomenon that I have to admit that I’m torn on. The Lost special looks like it’ll be an interesting editing exercise if nothing else, doing a kind of “edited highlights” combining the entire show to date with footage from the episode The Other 48 Days, as if we’ve been watching the survivors of both sections all along, and connecting things like the walkie-talkie scene. But at the same time…it kinda says something that they seem to pop at least two, if not three, of these “catch-up” specials for Lost every season, doesn’t it? I don’t know if it’s saying something good or something bad either.
On the good side: I remember once watching an episode of Buffy, I forget which one, which was very tied into the mythology of the show, and the “previously on Buffy…” teaser timed out to six and a half minutes before they ever got around to “and now the conclusion.” Specials like this help to fill that need and save the actual new episode’s program time for new story, so we can Just Get On With It. It’s also possible that the producers are thinking that the public will thank them for that step when it comes time to put it all on DVD.
On the bad side: The downside here is, as with so many things, promotional. These damned things are pushed like they’re part of some movie-length new episode – ABC is bad about that, especially with Lost, because who’s gonna turn down two hours of Lost? Only then they tune in and discover that the first hour is refried beans. That erodes audience trust in the promotion, and undermines everything we’re trying to do from the local level on up to try to drive people toward the show.
The serialized stuff isn’t bad. Remember a few years ago when Warner Bros. (and their cute Warner Sister) were grinding their teeth together at the very thought of Babylon 5 being a five-year tightly serialized storyline? Now you almost can’t change the channel without hitting a long-range serialized storyline. (I’ll admit, as enamoured as I am of story arcs and long-range character development and shows that take actions and consequences into account instead of hitting the patented Star Trek Reset Button every week – which is a pretty good trick if you’re a show that doesn’t have “Star Trek” in the title – I’m almost getting to where I miss standalones. I think that’s one of the many reasons that Everybody Hates Hugo was one of my favorite hours of television of 2005, even with a season and a half of Battlestar Galactica and 14 new Doctor Who episodes for competition.)
It’s too bad J. Michael Straczynski is pulling down something like three dimes in licensing/residual revenue for Babylon 5 all these years after it ended its run. Because I think he’s had more of a seismic effect on the medium than he’d let anyone give him credit for. (Not that anyone’s looking to credit anyone who isn’t Chris Carter or Joss Whedon for bringing that storytelling device to the forefront.)