×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Drama Arcs Leave Viewers Bent Out of Shape

Finishing an arc without losing the aud takes a delicate balance

This isn’t how you’re supposed to end a show.

On the last episode of the now-cancelled TNT cop-drama “Southland,” the character that had become the glue of the gritty program over five seasons, John Cooper, was shot by fellow cops who didn’t realize he was a police officer, too. The last shot shows Cooper, played by Michael Cudlitz, bleeding out as his brothers in blue realize his identity and urge him to hang on until help can arrive. And this was the capper to a season that saw Cooper and his partner kidnapped by meth addicts in another, equally harrowing episode and some bumps and knocks for other characters in the series.

“We had nothing to lose,” says Christopher Chulack, executive producer on the show. “The show is on the bubble anyway, perennially so, and we wanted to be true to the characters, and at least true to the steadfast audience.”

Conventional TV wisdom posits that finales, whether for a season or the series, need to wrap elements in a tidy bow, leaving a few strands to pull on for next season. Yet in a world in which writers and showrunners want to be true to their art while media congloms keep an eye on the bottom line, one can’t always follow established rules.

Writers say tying up a story hinges on any number of factors: the relationship of the show to the network airing it; how concerned producers are about getting viewers to watch the next cycle; and the status of various cast members. In the end, the need to please the audience, they say, is paramount.

At FX’s “The Americans,” which recently completed its first season, writers wanted to “resolve things to the point that people weren’t so satisfied that they didn’t even feel a need to come back, but they weren’t left dangling so much on the precipice that they weren’t irritated or upset by it,” says creator and executive producer Joe Weisberg. That meant juggling not only a story about Russians spying on the U.S. but also a relationship story between two spies who work in an arranged marriage. “How do you find that place in the middle? It’s very, very hard to do.”

Indeed, the TV screen is littered with finales that have sparked all kinds of debate. Consider the second cycle of ABC’s “Twin Peaks,” in which the show’s central mystery — “Who killed Laura Palmer?” — is solved midway through the season (which then ended with a cliffhanger). HBO’s 2007 series finale of “The Sopranos” left some fans scratching their heads about the central family’s final fate. And ABC’s 2010 wrap-up of “Lost” left more questions than answers.

The architecture at Showtime’s “Homeland” might provide a roadmap of sorts. The writers have in both of the program’s two seasons known how they wanted to end their stories and some of the milestones necessary to get there, says Chip Johannessen, a veteran producer who now works on the program.

At the same time, writers say, the crew has to be open to vicissitude — following through on something that develops during filming or having to shift course due to network mandate. “There are essentially two ways of doing it,” says Joel Fields, an executive producer on “The Americans.” “You can sit down and really map out the beginning, middle and end and know everything that’s going to happen with story and characters, or you can let a story tell itself. I think we decided to work in a bifurcated way.”

The future threatens to make the process of writing endings even more complex. What to do when audiences watch your program by binge-viewing, or completely separate from its on-air TV run? That’s a story whose ending won’t be known for some time.

More TV

  • Ricky Gervais Golden Globes 2016

    Golden Globes: Ricky Gervais Returning as Host For Fifth Time

    Ricky Gervais is back. The comedian is returning as host of the Golden Globes for the fifth time. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association made the announcement Tuesday morning. “Once again, they’ve made me an offer I can’t refuse. But this is the very last time I’m doing this, which could make for a fun evening,” [...]

  • Disney Plus Technical Issues

    Disney Plus Users Complain of Login Problems, Service Errors on Launch Day

    Disney Plus opened its doors Tuesday — but some fans immediately faced problems trying to access the streaming service. Multiple users on social media said they had trouble signing in to Disney Plus when it first went live, while others said they had problems accessing specific content or using features (like setting up a watch [...]

  • Joseph R. Ianniello, President and Acting

    CBS Sees Q3 Profit Drop on Increased Investment in Programming

    CBS Corp. said third quarter profit dropped as investments in new series for its linear and digital outlets and costs associated with its pending merger with Viacom Inc. overcame increases in revenue during the period. The New York owner of the CBS television network and the Showtime premium-cable service is expected to merger with corporate [...]

  • Another Drama Series About Austrian Empress

    Another Period Drama Series About Austrian Empress Sisi Is in the Works

    Another TV head-to-head is brewing with the announcement of a second period drama series about Austrian Empress Elisabeth II – known as Sisi – in the works. Germany’s Story House Pictures and Austria-based Satel Film, which made Netflix’s “Freud,” are collaborating on “Sisi,” a six-part drama that goes into production in 2020. News of the project [...]

  • Disney Plus Launches; Two Episodes of

    Two Episodes of 'The Mandalorian,' Other Originals to Drop This Week as Disney Plus Goes Live

    New episodes of Disney Plus original series dropped Tuesday as the streaming service went live in three countries, with second installments of “Star Wars” spinoff “The Mandalorian” and other shows set to become available just a few days later. Disney’s new direct-to-consumer service launched Tuesday in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands, with company chief [...]

  • Carolyn McCall

    ITV Revenues Dip in ‘Uncertain Environment,’ but Content Sales Rise

    ITV revenues were down by 2% in the first nine months of 2019. CEO Carolyn McCall, who has set a strategy refresh in motion, said the U.K.-based broadcaster’s performance was in line with its expectations, adding that, “although the economic environment continues to be uncertain, we are making good progress in executing our strategy.” Total [...]

  • DANCING WITH THE STARS - "Boy

    Sean Spicer Voted Off 'Dancing With the Stars'

    Sean Spicer will no longer appear on America’s television sets every Monday evening, at least as part of “Dancing With the Stars.” The former White House press secretary was voted off “DWTS” Monday night despite President Donald Trump’s earlier tweet urging the American people to vote for Spicer on ABC’s dancing competition show. The tweet [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content