This isn't about any particular TV show but at a concept - and this is aimed primarily at American TV (and I'll explain why in a moment). There is a certain subset of TV shows that rely on a particular mystery or goal to keep an audience (I believe this is referred to as the High Concept). The audience gets hooked on a promise that the mystery will at some point be revealed, or the goal will be achieved. However, no matter how high the quality of the writing, once the mystery is revealed or the goal achieved the show no longer has a reason to continue, even though it unfortunately does.

Quite often the cost of producing a show is greater than the selling price to the networks. The big money is earned when the producer sells the show into syndication (reruns). The show can be sold in packages to local stations again and again. You can only imagine, for example, how much money Paramount has made off the original Star Trek series. Generally speaking, the minimum number of episodes required for packaging is 100.

You can see how this can be a big problem for American TV producers who must somehow manage to keep the show running for that minimum number.


In spite of promises in the first two seasons that "all your questions will be answered", they never were. I bailed on this show several episodes into the second season.


Guilty pleasure here. I enjoyed watching Emily/Amanda crossing a name off the list every week. But then the producers realized that if they kept on this way, Emily would soon have exacted her revenge on everyone involved so they started dragging it out and the show just got stupid. It is now just another prime-time soap.


The gimmick here is that dead people are returning to life 11 years or so after they died. How long can they drag this out before the mysery is solved?

Flash Forward

This show was canceled midway through the first season. Too bad because this one wasn't bogging down. It could have managed two seasons but that would have put it short of the sweet spot.


I watched this for a while at the start but, like Lost, the questions piled up one on top of another with no answers. While it didn't rely on a single mystery I quickly grew tired of "there are things we'll never know".

The Mentalist

This one had a story arc revolving around Patrick Jane's search for Red John, the man who murderd his wife and daughter. Supposedly, once Red John was brought to justice (or killed as it turned out) the show would end, however, they've rebooted the concept so we'll see how it goes. This was always an ensemble show which was about more than the core concept.

British producers seem to know how to produce "limited" series that last one, perhaps two seasons, then come to a graceful end. Two examples that readily come to mind are Fawlty Towers (John Cleese decided that they'd told all the stories that they wanted to) and The Prisoner. For The Prisoner, even though Patrick McGoohan bowed to pressure to extend the show to 17 episodes, in the end he decided to wrap it up. The ending was very unsatisfactory but at least it was an ending.

Years ago we had the "mini-series". There are several outstanding examples of these such as Roots, Chiefs and Rich Man Poor Man but these generally ran for only a few weeks at the most, never an entire season. So is there any chance that American producers will come to the realization that some plots have only a limited number of episodes?

That's interesting. Another show that uses this pattern very well is Castle, where the overarching plot is finding out who murdered Beckett's mother, and why. But it works well, I think, because it's not so central to the show and the show is enjoyable on an episode-per-episode basis. They use that mystery mostly in the season finales where one or two of the last episodes involve a new piece of the puzzle. I think that they do this well because if you follow the show religiously, it creates additional interest in the finales and the show as a whole, but it's not so much that it's overbearing (too much mystery, like in X-files) or an essential part of being able to enjoy any random episode that you happen to catch.

As with a lot of other things, it's all about balance. At some point, the producers / writers have to decide whether the show is a series to be followed religiously (e.g., Game of Thrones) or an episodic series (e.g., Castle, Star Trek series, Star Gate series, etc.). And if it's the former, you have to have a clear idea of when (and how) it's going to end, otherwise the plot is bound to suffer (like Lost). Lost probably should have run only for about 1 or 2 seasons, but it was so popular that it was too tempting to extend it, and it ended up going all over the place, and was becoming very frustrating. But I don't think it's really a matter of how long, but how long can it be and still be interesting. For example, Game of Thrones is planned to last for 8 seasons total (currently started the 4th season), but it makes sense because there is already (nearly) all the material (in the books) to fulfil that agenda and be interesting to the end, without stretching anything (in fact, they have to heavily compress things).

I also wished there were more mini-series. I think they are a great way to tell a complex story with good characters, as a kind of longer movie. Mini-series often come from people wanting to tell a good story but wanting to flesh out the characters and story more thoroughly than the could in a 2 hour movie. That's great, it's the creative goals that drives the format, not the other way around. I also remember a time when there were more mini-series here (in QC), usually about things like history (e.g., bio of a Prime Minister, or something like that), but rarely about fiction.

Dr Who is one of the longest running tv shows in history -- it's been running for over 50 years now. I used to watch it religiously every chance I could, but almost stopped with the new series started. The new Doctors seem just too young for the part.

Faulty Towers, I loved that show, only lasted 12 epesodes (2 seasons).

My two favorite American shows were Dallas and Law and Order SUV. Most new american tv shows suck, such as Modern Family, which would never have been shown 5 years ago before gay and lesbian marraiage was legalized here. Maybe it's just that I'm too old for those shows. Give me The Jeffersons and Archy Bunker anytime. I grew up with Cid Ceaser, Jack Benny, Jacky Gleeson, Lucy Ball, Bob Hope and many many other excellent commedians. They new how to make people laugh without uggering so much as one profane word. Too bad their kind of commedy is lost today.

Loved Jack Benny. And let's not forget about Red Skelton. I have fond memories of that show. As I understand it, he was exactly as nice in real life as he was on the show. He was not only a comedian and actor but a painter, writer and prolific composer who composed over 8000 songs and symphonies.

I like shows like Justified and Damages because each season has/had one story to tell. You could see the story progressing each episode. The creators could extend the show for another season as long as they had a story to tell completely within that one season.

Dr Who is one of the longest running tv shows in history -- it's been running for over 50 years now. I used to watch it religiously every chance I could, but almost stopped with the new series started. The new Doctors seem just too young for the part.

The new doctor will change that so we'll see how it goes. Although in terms of hours of programming I suspect some of the american shows are longer since each Dr Who season/series is rather short and sweet.

I gave up on Lost after the second or third episode when they encounter a polar bear because at that point I knew the explanation if it ever came was going to be stupid.

I've heard Fringe is another of the drawn out mystery type which is quite good after the first season so perhaps an opposite pattern?

I think in TV and film that there is a term for just believing things or ignoring them for the sake of action and entertainment.

Suspension of disbelief is the term I was looking for.

Only took me 2 months to remember it :(.

Why is it, on cop shows, do they say "the cause of death was a single GSW to the chest?". Why GSW? Is it because it sounds "coppy"? Usually one uses an abbreviation when it is easier to say than the full version. Wouldn't it just be easier to say "gun shot"? Even "gun shot wound" is easier to say than "GSW".

@Jim, I guess TV shows are just meant to be entertaining than accuarate. I don't think it matters to the producers if it makes sense or not, if it was realistic, 1 CSI episode would have to take about a quarter of the season. Might as well cram everything in a half hour or 1 hour or however long episode...

What do I hate about TV shows? Pretty much EVERYTHING would be my answer for 99% of the dross that passes as suitable for broadcast, to be honest.

I'm with happyGeek on this one. I watch the odd TV show like Men Who Jump Off Roofs or The Island but the majority of it is un watchable. I have to endure The Only Way Is Essex and Big Brother...

When I was a little boy (many moons ago), an hour long TV show had almost an hour of show. For example, Adventures in Paradise (not a porn movie but a drama/adventure show from the early 60s) was around 52 minutes including 2 minutes of teaser and opening credits and 1 minute of closing credits. That left only 8 minutes for commercials. A recent episode of Castle, meanwhile, was about 43 1/2 minutes with 30 seconds of closing credits. Aside from the extra commercials (which now seem to happen every 6 minutes or so instead of every 15) I now have to put up with opening credits being splashed across the screen for the first 10-12 minutes of the show (who gives a rat's a$$ who the third assistant producer is) as well as the annoying ads that are continuously popping up from the bottom of the screen. I don't care what show is "coming up next". I'm interested in what's on right now. A lot of these shows rely on willing suspension of disbelief in which you are supposed to become immersed in the fantasy of the show. This is difficult when the credits, pop up ads and commercial breaks continuously pull you out of the fantasy.

And the networks' brilliant response to declining viewer numbers caused by excessive commercials is to add yet more commercials to make up for lost revenue. If they add any more commercials to The Big Bang Theory what we will be left with is 29 1/2 minutes of ads with a short segment of the cast saying "'sup?". Of course, there will be a pop up ad during this segment of the show.

Reality TV shows and repetition. Just when we're about to find out which useless contestant going home, the screen fades out for a second, and then we're treated to a replay of "And the person going home is..."

We might just as well be watching Teletubbies.

I agree that ads are annoying everyway they appear (eating up the whole show and eating up the bottom half of the screen). I think this paradigm will have to shift soon because everyone now has a DVR and barely watch anything live anymore, and even if you want to watch a show live, you start recording it, then spend the first 15 minutes watching a sitcom episode from your bank of recorded show, and then you start watching the pseudo-live show, skipping all the commercials. The point being that even thought a show can get great ratings, no one watches the commercials. And then, you have to add to that all the on-demand services (netflix, etc.).

I also agree with the hate of the repetitive nature of all these reality shows, where the spend more than half of the time of the show just previewing what will come up next in the same show. By the time you reach the climactic end scene, you've seen about 5 previews of it. They just stretch things out by previewing the same stuff again and again. The worse is when they preview the same "season climax" event again and again, several episodes before the episode when it actually happens, always hinting that it might happen in the current episode.

I was reminded today about another peeve. It's how the execs have decided to rebrand "reruns" as "encore presentations". As George Carlin said, "shoot is just shit with two ohs".

You know the hero/star can't get killed because he/she has to appear in next weeks show.

as well as the annoying ads that are continuously popping up from the bottom of the screen.

Recently I was flipping through the channels. One show had a popup on the bottom that said "You are watching...". How stupid does someone have to be to not know which show you are watching? Apparently this channel caters to those people. Couldn't help but laugh. The popups are now more entertaining than the shows.

How stupid does someone have to be to not know which show you are watching?

Trust me... that is normal for someone to forget.

Wouldn't it just be easier to say "gun shot"? Even "gun shot wound" is easier to say than "GSW"

"a single bullet to the chest" sounds far more like what they'd say in reality, and in official documents they'd write it out in full rather than use an acronym...
But it sounds "catchy official lingo" I guess, which is all that counts on television.

I hate it when they interrupt all those nice advertisements with their lousy program.

You must love informercials and the shopping channels.

I hate how on TV, people live in housing that they wouldn't be able to afford on the salaries they would make as their TV characters. Two cases in point, the main apartment on Friends and the apartment occupied by Dr. Frasier Crane.

The 2014 cost of the apartment on Friends was $3500/month.

I know I've stated before that I have a distaste for reality tv but I thought I would pose a real question about that genre of crap; who's reality is it? I know that the people I know, along with the people they know, don't live like total douches like them housewives or Snookies of the world. Seriously, wtf?

Looks like those "Housewives of XYZ" shows are about as real as it is amongst typical American housewives!

Looks like those "Housewives of XYZ" shows are about as real as it is amongst typical American housewives!

See, now that's what I don't really understand about many in our society that watch that crap. Do those viewers aspire to be like them?

My impression is that people watch that crap so they can feel superior to the train wrecks they recruit to be on those shows. Some people are incapable of feeling good about themselves unless they are looking down on others.

Some people are incapable of feeling good about themselves unless they are looking down on others.

Too true...

I hate how the geeks in films can hack into anything the baddie wants within seconds. They always try to use big words like "server" and "firewall" or "protocol", just to make them look clever. Most of the writers couldn't tell me what any of those mean, and come on - those words are not rocket science.