TV Trend: Series Story Arcs
by Bob Niedt - Friday, October 4th, 2013

TV with a plan is way better TV.

We’re talking episodic TV: series television that comes at its handlers with a course pre-mapped. We don’t see it often, but it’s becoming more frequent. I believe the model is “Lost.” The producers came in with a game plan. They mapped out a course for the series — a beginning, middle and, better, an end — and said, yes, it will finish after so many seasons and we have a conclusion.

We jump to “Breaking Bad,” which concluded its run rather spectacularly Sunday night. The genius producers, including series star Bryan Cranston and “BB” creator Vince Gilligan, knew where the series was going from the get-go. At least, it looked that way.

Too often, a series is pitched to network or cable executives based on a spectacular pilot and a course for the first season plus a rough draft for Season 2.

Then? Everyone waits. Does the series have legs? Will it be accepted? What will the ratings be?

A series is also pitched on the Hollywood cred of its producers and backers. Everyone bet the Steven Spielberg series “Smash” would be a smash. Instead, it was a spectacular disaster.

Another? One of my favorites, “Twin Peaks.” The spooky, funny and often creepy soap opera exploded in its first season, with critical raves, a cult following and a leader: filmmaker David Lynch. There was little in the way of a plan beyond that, and “Peaks” imploded in Season 2.

One more, and yes, this is in my stable of favorites, too: “Friday Night Lights.” Still one of the best series in recent memory, the network apparently didn’t put much stock in it. Execs decided to air a drama about high school football in a small Texas town on Friday nights, guaranteeing most people of that age wouldn’t watch it in real time.

But “FNL” survived, buoyed by critical praise and word-of-mouth – then got off course with a goofy plotline in Season 2 that was a train wreck. There was recovery in Season 3 – “Friday Night Lights” aired from 2006 into 2011 – but it boggles the mind that control-freak Peter Berg let the Season 2 plot line get by.

(An aside: The accidental killer, nerd-turned-footballer Landry, was played by Jesse Plemons, whose drug czar-killer character in “Breaking Bad” got his comeuppance Sunday.)

There didn’t seem to be a plan. But with the ever-changing landscape of dramatic television, well, changing again, series producers and pitchers are heading to the network and cable bosses with “limited run” series. That means ever more, they are coming up with plans to bookend their show with a beginning, middle and an end.

With an out, of course. Should the thing catch on, there needs to be room for sequels and spinoffs.

CBS’ “Under the Dome” was supposed to be a limited run, summer burn off of what used to be called a miniseries. Alas, we’ll be back under there for a Season 2. There was renewal.

And “Under the Dome” has a “Breaking Bad” connection, too. It stars Dean Norris, who played ill-fated DEA agent Hank Schrader on “Breaking Bad.”

 On to …

I didn’t do a full review of the “Breaking Bad” finale from Sunday night, but I did drop some comments on my Facebook page. Here’s some (spoiler alert if you’re still catching up with “Breaking Bad” via Netflix):

I found the “BB” finale wholly satisfying. I thought it was epic in its rendering. The acting sizzled. Shot setups and sequencing were genius; witness the lighting in the scenes involving Walt and Skyler. They were worthy of Terrence Malick: Slow, steady pacing, Southwest sunlight slicing through the blinds and embracing the characters. Gorgeous.

Tension throughout remained high; Vince Gilligan creating the scene where Walter is sitting in the snow-covered Volvo with the police lights throbbing through winter’s blanket? Incredible.

And, yes, I totally bought into the machine-gun-in-the-trunk setup. It was so worthy of this show; I actually laughed when Walt was creating it out of a car battery, a garage door opener and what? An assault rifle? Whatever.

And Walt’s death scene? Cosmic, as the camera lifts toward the heavens and Walter White passes before us.