Typing Faster

May 21, 2010

The New Television Finale: How Battlestar Galactica, The Sopranos and Lost have changed television

Filed under: Battlestar Galactica, Future of TV, Kvetch, Lost, Stuff I Like, The Sopranos — petertypingfaster @ 11:12 am

Finales are by their very nature incredibly important to how we see our favorite TV shows. They’re the last time we get to visit with characters who’ve become good friends. Finales have been some of the most watched television events in history (just look at the numbers for M*A*S*H*, Cheers, Friends or Seinfeld).

People loved the show’s, and for the most part, they loved the finales. Sure sometimes things didn’t turn out exactly how people expected, but there was never a fan backlash because of it. People appreciated the show for what it was in its entirety, rather than how the finale played out.

I think it’s safe to say that for a large segment of the population that’s no longer the case.

I have quite a few friends who now think that Battlestar Galactica is a completely sh*t show based on how the series finale turned out, and specifically because of the questions it did or did not answer (and to a lesser degree the way it answered them). They’ve let their anger about the finale color their view of the preceding four seasons to such a degree that they insist it’s all crap.

I’ve seen the same thing happen with fans of The Sopranos. The final crash to black is too much for a lot of people to accept. They feel cheated by the fact that they don’t have the resolution that they wanted and / or needed.

And I’m willing to bet that the same thing is going to happen with Lost. From an article in the New York Times:

Among the best evidence that something new is happening with “Lost” is the fact that so many people, if their online comments are true, will be willing to change their judgment of the entire series based solely on how well the final two-and-a-half-hour episode satisfies their need for answers. Forget the first 119 hours — if you don’t tell me what happened to Walt, none of it will have mattered.

Similarly revealing is the carping over whether Mr. Cuse and Mr. Lindelof knew from the start where they were going to take their story. It’s a meaningless question with regard to evaluating the show — all that matters is what they have actually put on screen. But that would mean paying attention to the show itself, rather than your feelings about the show.

I think that the sentiment that it’s not about a single hour of television (or in the case of Lost‘s finale two and a half hours), but the entire 120+ hours that they’ve put on the screen over the past six seasons. At least that’s the way that things worked under the old author-audience relationship, a relationship that the article goes on to question.

The contract between author and audience is being rewritten throughout our culture. Certainly we have always expected the satisfaction of resolution and revelation in our fictional narratives, but we had to let creators provide it on their own terms and then judge the overall result. “Lost” is a sign that that’s not so true anymore, at least with regard to television. Now that the public conversation about how a work should play out can be louder, and have greater impact, than the work itself, the conversation will inevitably begin to shape the work in ways that earlier television producers — or, say, Charles Dickens — never had to reckon with.

“Lost” has turned fans into critics and critics, including this one, into semiprofessional fans, and in both cases you can sense that some exhaustion has set in. The mood among many of the show’s followers as they confront Sunday’s finale seems to be a mixture of regret and relief. Whatever happens to Jack and Kate and Sawyer on Sunday night, we’re getting off the island.

I think there is a sense of relief that the show’s finally coming to an end. I, for one, am kind of glad it is. I can’t help but think that the show’s really undergone a creative decline, and not just in the final season (I’ve been saying that since season 2, and even stopped watching it completely around episode 12 of season 2, before getting dragged back into it by friends and family). It is interesting to see how the relationship between creator and audience has evolved though.



  1. Great post!! It makes me sad to think how one finale can trump years and years of enjoyable television for some people. How if the ending sucks then the entire show did? It’s simply not true. There’s a series, and then there’s its final episode. It may make the inertia of the series lackluster but there is no denying that if you loved those episodes, the writers were doing their job… they just weren’t as perfect as we’d like them to be.

    Comment by Ximena — June 14, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

  2. Just stumbled across this and had a thought.

    The finales you site in the opening paragraph are all episodic shows. The finale can’t ruin those (short of absurdities like killing everyone) becuase there is no overall story to ruin. There’s just a bunch of individual episodes. Lots of people didn’t really care for the Seinfeld finale, but it doesn’t really matter becuase the body of the work still stands in isolation from it.

    Maybe the problem specifically arises when you have a series that claims to be telling an overall story. That puts a lot more pressure on the finale to “complete” the show. And I can see people maybe thinking it ruins the overall story, since it’s all connected, if the finale fails badly enough.

    Comment by Delaney — August 23, 2010 @ 1:05 pm

  3. Battlestar Galactica was supposed to be a story arch that streched the entire series. And it wasn’t just the finale that I had an issue with. It was the half hazard writing of the end of the 3rd season, and the entire 4th season.

    The backlash has been considerable. “Caprica”, the prequel to BSG was ripped off the SYFY network in the middle of it’s first season due to paultry ratings. I am one of the BSG fans that refused to watch “Caprica” because of my dislike of the handling of BSG. I know I’m not the only one who did not watch “Caprica” as a direct result of BSG.

    I see there is another BSG series now in the works. “BSG Blood & Chrome”. I won’t watch that either, since I already know how badly the ending is written.

    Comment by alex — November 24, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

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