How or why do producers create TV series in which the very premise of the show is unsustainable? Okay, with CSI I didn't exactly think it was unsustainable, so that isn't really the best example. I just thought to myself, "Are people really going to want to come back week after week just to see this?" Apparently, yes. My bad!
But what got me thinking about this recently was the new show Rules of Engagement. For those who are unfamiliar, the concept is that one guy is married, one is a swinging single, and one is engaged. Potentially rewarding concept. Good cast overall too. So I think to myself, okay, not bad. But how do you keep the middle guy perpetually engaged?
I mean sure, it is easy to keep the married guy married and the single guy single. But how long does "engaged man" stay engaged before he ceases to be, well... engaging?
There was a sitcom some time ago called The Single Guy. That, at least, was a concept that was sustainable in theory, but in practice people got bored as well. It also narrows the scope to being about relationships only. But even that concept was somewhat better than this one. I ask again, how does the engaged guy stay that way without becoming either unrealistic, or just annoying as hell?
So I think, well, maybe they start to swap places. I guess that is theoretically possible, but probably an unlikely place to take the characters as they are set up. Thus, I think it will be interesting to see how long this show lasts, and if it lasts for a long time, it will be interesting to see how they sustain it. But I really just have one question: why?!
I mentioned this to someone recently, and they mentioned Prison Break back to me. Now on the one hand, I hear it. How long can you sustain the concept of a single prison break without boring your audience? But then again, I also think they've found a good way to extend it. I have never watched the show, but from the promos I've been seeing during football games, it seems as if they have gotten out and are now being chased or something. So now it is somewhat more sustainable. Anyone remember, er, ever hear of a show called The Fugitive?
Still, the difference between that show and my naive understanding of Prison Break (not having seen it) is that firstly there was both an underlying mystery/desire driving The Fugitive and a framework for him to do unique things in each town along the way. I don't think those are in Prison Break, though correct me if I'm wrong. More importantly, The Fugitive had a name that specifically focused on the running man, whereas Prison Break is titled based on the story's beginning and initial driving force. Once that has been completed (as the promos seem to indicate it has), the name begins to be more irrelevant. Are its days numbered as well?
What about Lost? Sure, we've got a mystery, and little bits being revealed steadily. But how long can you keep throwing weird stuff at people, yanking their chains to make them think they are getting anything, but still not really revealing much? For Twin Peaks it was two seasons. Lost is past that point, right? But how far can it actually go?
Still, with all these examples, most of them fall closer to CSI, in that I just don't know how you get people coming back week after week, but those are the thoughts of the guy who (all together now) knows nothing about television. But I don't think Rules of Engagement falls into the same category. We'll see, I guess. If the show sucks, we won't even need to wait and see what they have planned!
Tags: screenwriting, television, Rules+of+Engagement