Learning The Wrong Lessons From Lost & Battlestar Galactica

Science Fiction shows are being made in such numbers now you might think they were becom­ing main­stream. As a scifi fan I’d see that as a good thing. But a lot of these shows don’t seem to last very long. The Sarah Connor Chron­i­cles and Doll­house both only made it to two seasons. V’s audi­ence has plum­meted in just the first 4 episodes. Star­gate: Universe isn’t pulling in as many view­ers as Star­gate: SG1 managed. While Heroes has survived multi­ple seasons, it’s ratings are a shadow of what they were initially.

I’m notic­ing some common story telling tech­niques emerg­ing in recent sci-fi series and I’m start­ing to wonder, have produc­ers learned the wrong lessons from Lost and Battlestar Galac­tica?

The Story Arc

The most signif­i­cant change in modern tele­vi­sion is the emer­gence of the story arc. To vari­ous degrees it can be seen in almost all science fiction shows from Ware­house 13 to Chuck via Heroes and V.

The series that solid­i­fied story arcs as a valid method of tv story­telling was of course the scifi clas­sic Baby­lon 5. Adop­tion was slow initially, but we now have shows like Lost and BSG that almost have to be watched as part of a larger arc if you want them to make sense. Even the conti­nu­ity light shows like Chuck or Ware­house 13 gener­ally have a season long story arc these days. Each show stands on it’s own, but there’s some hints at a larger story as well. 

I’m a big fan of the story arc. Done prop­erly it creates a much richer story than can be achieved in the stan­dard 45 minutes. But there are a lot of down­sides. My wife and I fell behind in watch­ing Lost during the second season and after about a month real­ized it was just more trou­ble than it was worth trying to catch up again.

Grim and Gritty

Back in the 80’s and 90’s there was a big fad for “Grim n Gritty” super­heroes. Fortu­nately it seems to have faded in the last decade. Unfor­tu­nately that same trend has infected my scifi shows!

Battlestar Galac­tica showed that step­ping away from the space battles and focus­ing on char­ac­ters who aren’t purely black or white can produce some intense view­ing. But that doesn’t mean every single char­ac­ter has to behave like an ass.

Shaky Cam

As part of the trend towards a more real­is­tic presen­ta­tion, quick cuts and shaky hand held camera work. Done well this can add to the tension of a scene. Over­done, it is intensely annoy­ing.

How About Making It Good?
All of these tech­niques have been used success­fully before but they aren’t what made Lost or BSG a success. Strong char­ac­ters, a plot that pulls the viewer in and high produc­tion values are what actu­ally made those shows popu­lar. None of these elements are actu­ally required to make a good tv show.

Wouldn’t it be much better to create a show that is true to itself? That has a style that enhances the story it is trying to tell rather than mimics the latest fad? Wouldn’t the show do better if it wasn’t pretend­ing to be some­thing else?

About Eoghann Irving

Overly opinionated owner and author of eoghann.com. You can get updated on his posts directly on the blog here or through the usual social networking suspects. What? You expected me to say something interesting here? That's what the blog posts are for. Eoghann has often wondered if people read these little bio things we have to fill out everywhere on the internet and, assuming they do, why?