yourlibrarian: Buffy on the phone (BUF-WorkingGirl: eyesthatslay)
[personal profile] yourlibrarian posting in [community profile] sim_studies
In Rethinking the Long Tail I thought there was an interesting challenge to the idea that niche sales are the way to go for businesses. The authors argue that actually there is a greater concentration of popular entertainment now than there used to be. I was also interested to read this discussion of how ads tend to appeal to people through Time vs. Money and to think about how this related to fan activities.

Henry Jenkins' post on the Future of TV surprised me by not mentioning what I consider the most important change to TV in the last five years -- shortening seasons. After all, there isn't (to me) much difference in most films and television shows. Unless the film is doing something on a really large scale, what we used to call epic filmmaking which is now relegated more often to alien invasions and shoot-em-ups than period pieces and biographies, the only real difference is in the length of the visual storytelling form. Even a TV miniseries is longer than a film, and back in the 1960s seasons used to last nearly 30 episodes rather than 20. That makes a huge difference in terms of the variety of stories you can tell, the characterization you can do, and the investment that the audience makes with your characters.

But now we have as few as six episodes a season, something I used to snort about in relation to shows in Britain. What could one do in a mere 6 episodes? Well, one can make an impact certainly, and I don't think that a show that runs for 220 episodes is necessarily better than one that runs just for 22. But in terms of what the show and characters can do? You bet it makes a difference.

I mean, consider if Firefly had only ever shot 6 episodes because that was what was standard then (rather than the 13 we got which was only a half-season order)? Or Buffy? Or Supernatural? Those latter two didn't even hit their stride until they were at least 20 episodes in. Maybe some people would have preferred BSG end half a season earlier, but what if it had stopped at 6?

I've noticed that attempts to draw more male viewers tend to include making storytelling shorter and less involved, which makes me doubly wonder about the purpose of these shortening seasons (though I absolutely believe hedging financial bets is the overwhelming reason). It used to be you needed to have a full season of a show to sell it overseas, but with overseas distribution shortening its time gap, perhaps this is less important now? I do wonder about fandom effects of ever briefer shows. Will there be less fanfic? There's a difference between gaps and a huge gaping canvas, not to mention critical mass of people who have time to catch on to a show.

Short season shows would also seem even less likely to engage in efforts such as those described here: Why Don't More TV Shows Try To Connect With Fans?.
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Social Informatics and Media Studies

April 2010

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