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Pros And Cons Of Anthology Television

posted Mar 6, 2014, 7:18 AM by   [ updated Mar 6, 2014, 7:22 AM ]

So I'm a big supporter in switching things up when it comes to television. I support the Netflix way of unleashing entire seasons of shows at once, I support shortened seasons (especially when it comes to giving shows a Hail Mary before cancellation) and I support tracking ratings through non-Nielson methods such as online viewing and Twitter mentions. Now more and more shows are deciding to go with an anthology format, bringing in new casts, new characters or completely new storytelling to a show every season. This trend started with American Horror Story (mostly because I think Ryan Murphy has realized he can only write the first seasons of shows decently) and now True Detective seems to be going along with that format as well.

There can be pros and cons with this, as American Horror Story has taught us, and I hope True Detective does its best to avoid falling into some of the pitfalls of anthology television while playing up the benefits it can have. 

Pro #1: You get to bring new cast members every season
When you switch up casts every season not only does it bring new lifeblood into the series but it actually encourages more high profile actors to give your show a shot. It's appealing to an A-lister to be obligated to only one season of a TV show and with shortened seasons that obligation is only 6 months rather than a year of filming only one thing. You'd get to dip your foot into the television world without having to be known as a TV actor full time. There's still a stigma about that for some reason. TV is better than most movies these days, people.

Con #1: You get to bring new cast members every season.
I'm really going to miss Matthew McConaughey on True Detective, okay.

Pro #2: You're given a set amount of time to work with. 
Constraints can be good! When you sit down and have to say to yourself "Okay, I've got 8-12 episodes to make the audience care about these characters and to fit these characters into a compelling story" you will take more care to write less filler and more plot.

Con #2 It takes a very talented writer to pull this off.
Ryan Murphy has dropped the ball in every season of American Horror Story. Every. Season. He's fighting Jeff Davis for the "who can write the most dropped/pointless plot points" award. When you've got so many episodes to work with you need to write a solid story and hold back on including every little thing that strikes your fancy because you do not have the time to follow up. Write a book if you want to include useless crap that has nothing to do with anything in the plot, just like George R.R. Martin and Tolkien. 

Pro #3: You're given the opportunity to switch the story/genre up with every season.
One thing you don't want as a writer is to be stuck doing the same thing over and over. It's boring both for the writers and the audience. American Horror Story has excelled at changing up its setting/story every season and I can only hope True Detective does the same. The first season was more of a Southern Gothic type of thing, so why not try a season in an L.A. film noir type of setting? Or if rural is still your thing, try a western vibe. Or, my favorite, something Fargo-ish in Minnesota. It keeps the writers wanting to keep writing and it makes the audience want to keep watching.

Con #3: You have to work very hard to keep from repeating yourself.
You do not want someone watching True Detective next season and see the Brad Pitt character (I have dreams, okay) be Rust Cohle 2.0. I want the direct opposite of Rust and Marty but I want them to be just as well written and interesting to watch. I want a mystery that doesn't have to do with the abuse of women/little girls at the hands of some gross men next time around. The change of setting and actors are good to make things different but it'll be nothing if you write the same characters over and over again.

Do I think that anthology television is going to take over the medium? No. Building up characters and mysteries throughout multiple seasons does have its place, though I think about 90% of the time TV shows need to stop two or three seasons before they actually do. But I do think that this trend does have a place in mainstream television and I'm looking forward to seeing more shows take up the style.