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I have hardly ever been expecting a tv show as eagerly as I was expecting the 4th Season of Battlestar Galactica over the last nine or so months (now how is that about being auspicious?). In the last two years, I have been catching up with quite a bit of tv show material that I could never be bothered to watch before, or where the sheer format – the weekly installments putting their cruel dictate upon me – were just not my kind of ball game. Some considerations on this self-surprising development:

I suppose most of my change of attitude is due to the age of DVD boxes and online download platforms. It started, I remember, when I VHS-taped the first season of “24” a couple of years ago (and even before that, I was the occassional “X Files” and of course “Twin Peaks” audience member), but only took really off with the boxed sets of the first season(s) of “Lost”, “Heroes”, and “Battlestar Galactica”. I admit that those four shows have turned me around – I was absolutely amazed at the high quality of tv that is being written and produced on any given day in the wide world of US tv (only very recently did I realise that for some strange reason, all the best US tv premiers on Thursdays and Fridays – and I cannot for the life of me imagine why a broadcaster wants to offer his crown jewels on a Friday night, honestly!).

Outside those BIG FOUR, there is plenty of material with which I could brighten my day any time: the perennial “C.S.I.”, the hard-hitting “Dexter”, very clever “Californication”, eerie “Life” (will you be back, Damon? Pleeease!), terminated “Jericho”, sexy “Entourage”, even the recently re-discovered “South Park” (all episodes online, takes only about a month to watch 12 of them. Seasons, I mean). There will be the day when I will get the complete “Sopranoes” box set, no doubt. And “The Wire” lurking behind the corner, waiting to be discovered.

Through the writers’ strike, it became clearer to me how difficult it must be to sustain a coherent story line, credible characters and just the right pacing for each of these dramas to work out. The strike messed it all up royally, and nowhere was it as visible as in the case of “Heroes”, where the transition from excellent character drama to completely disoriented and pointless superheroes patchwork took exactly one day – last episode season 1 to first episode season 2. Arbitrarily introduced new characters did not work, storylines got lost, nobody really saw what the actual drama, the McGuffin driving the story, was. You cannot pack a show designed for 23 episodes in just 11 or so. It got random, and while there is the hope that the long hiatus gives the writers and producers the unprecedented chance to write the best and most intelligent and most dramatic season in tv show history, chances are rather that the show will glide into oblivion, having missed the chance to keep up the high quality, and not getting another one. “Lost” had a similar problem, actually, also introduced a new set of characters for the new season, but managed slightly better to keep their profile low, indicating that somebody out there knows what to do with them – only next year instead of this.

Even the shows that are running on very high steam and with constant quality for years – BSG and Lost, maybe – are extremely fragile in that respect. The audience’s urge to come back every week – to watch it or to start the download or to get home and watch the TiVo recording – can evaporate just like that if you push the wrong button once too often. “Lost” almost achieved that when they lost track of their mythology by introducing new characters and killing them off right away within one episode: the two guys who got buried alive in season 3 were not just irrelevant to the show, they were an intruder from the hostile planet of “continuous tv programming”, where a tv show’s story having a beginning, a mid-section and an end is considered blasphemy against the God of profitability. One-off stories allow a show to go on forever – and going on forever is exactly what all those shows I like cannot do without destroying themselves (with maybe the only exception and guilty pleasure of CSI, assuming that Grissom is immortal, and why should he not be?):

“Lost” needs to find a way to either get the people off the island for good – or to keep them there for good. “Heroes” and “24” are odd brothers in that they must find a new apocalyptic threat per season (one that did not really exist in Season 2 of “Heroes”, and a couple too many in the last “24” season), and Battlestar Galactica must lead the colonial fleet to Earth – or get smashed by the Cylon armies to smithereens – which is what I still kind of hope for: a truly heroic ending for that beaten-up garabage truck and its brave crew.

Before BSG had decided to fulfil its mission after season 4 (and praise the Lords of Kobol for this wise decision!), isolated episodes were seeping in by the minute: about Sagritarian sects, rogue doctors, admirals’ wedding anniversaries, trade union nonsense and so forth. I believe the high concentration of these episodes in the second third of season 3 made the decision to terminate the show after one more season unavoidable, unless you can live with the fact of turning a high-quality drama in a rubbish soap opera (as the X-files creators did, of course – learn from history, shape the future…). “Lost” is a bit more hesitant, but 100 episodes will be enough for them, two more seasons to go. The “24” format has reached a point where you cannot just repeat the same pattern, because only so many presidents can get assassinated per tv show. Unless they re-invent themselves after the long long long break, they should consider also going out with a bang (make Jack president, and have him shot when swearing the oath – and then his annoying daughter takes over his job, longing for revenge, and we will never have to watch again. Or we have to watch the loop re-runs of episodes 1 – 7).

As all the shows have been taking breath recently, and only the Battlestar has been revving her engines again, with plenty of waiting time ahead for all the others, I was wondering: what’s coming next? Where is the next “Lost”, the other BSG-like re-invention of Science Fiction drama, where is the proof that there can be decent tv outside those shows? I am a bit concerned, to be honest, that the time of big-scale drama may already be at an end, that shows that are running over a couple of seasons, but hardly ever lose their aim, their target out of their eyes, may be outdated? Or too expensive? Please no… I just got used to them.

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