Thursday, March 9, 2017

Canceled TV Shows: What Writers can Learn from Them

Stories come in many different forms including, books, movies, and TV shows. And, while I may only work in one of those mediums I think all writers can learn from any kind of story, regardless of if it's written or watched. So, today I'm writing about TV shows and how we can be better writers from watching them.

TV shows get cancelled for many different reasons. Sometimes great shows get the axe simply for falling in a bad time slot. But, often there are mistakes the writers make regarding the show's plot. In this post, I'll discuss some shows I loved, where I think the writers lost their viewers, and how you can learn from their mistakes.


Terra Nova - Premise: A family living in a dystopian world travels "back in time" to the land of the dinosaurs to give humanity a second chance. It was a great mix of science fiction and family drama.

Where they went wrong: They waited too long to explain what the show was really about. The last episode revealed this show was less "Jurassic Park" and more "Land of the Lost." Knowing this, there were so many more places they could have gone with the plot, and had they reveled it sooner I think viewers may have been more interested in a second season.

What to take away from this: Twists are great and exciting, but if your twist reveals something important about what your book is about, revealing it too late may mean your readers never get to it because you've bored them for too long. Or, worse, you leave your readers feeling duped that your novel took a left hand turn and became something they weren't expecting. Terra Nova may have done better if they'd left more clues to their big twist along the way.

Resurrection - Premise: The dead return to be reunited with their families.

Where they went wrong: They went too big. I loved the first season of this show, and the beginning of the second, but the last few episodes of the second season took the story in a direction that I didn't like. What I loved about the show was that it was about people, their lives, their deaths, family, friends and love. I think I cried at some point watching nearly ever episode in season one. Seeing how the loss of a loved one affected these people struck a cord with me, and seeing them being reunited with lost loves was beautiful. At the end of the second season, it stopped being about the people. Instead, the resurrection phenomenon went global and so did the story. They also added a story line about a character's baby with religious undertones that suggested he may be the Antichrist. Suddenly, the story was about good and evil, God and the devil, overpopulation, and the apocalypse; gone were the heartwarming moments between families. The show just got too big.

What to take away from this: Your characters are what make your book great. Don't let your plot run away on you. Resurrection would have been better if they kept the phenomenon local. They lost a lot by making it global. What made the show work was that it felt close to your heart. When the phenomenon went global it became distant and I didn't feel connected to the plot anymore.

Beauty and the Beast: Premise: Soldier turned science experiment looks after local cop from the shadows and falls in love with her.

What went wrong: This show had so much promise and I loved the first season. But the show quickly diverted from all the things that made it great. The caring yet quiet male lead that hid away in the shadows became an arrogant asshole who reveals himself to the world. His relationship with Cat took strange and unrealistic turns and she became unlikeable as well. The writers went to the extremes to push them apart and then when they got back together everything felt too easy. Their relationship became boring.

What to take away from this: Know what your story is about. If your readers get angsty star-crossed love in book 1, don't give them an easy going couple living happily ever after in book 2. Pay attention to what's working in your story and bring back those feelings in different ways as the story progresses. Characters change and grow, and sometimes they do out of character things. But, if there isn't at least hope that what we love about them most is still there, your reader will stop caring about them. If you go to the extremes to push them apart, accept that you may not be able to force them back together. An example of writers doing this right can be seen in the SyFy show The 100. At the beginning of season 2 Finn goes too far trying to rescue Clarke. He kills a number of innocent people and it's clear things won't be the same between him and Clarke after this. Instead of trying to force these characters back together Finn's story progresses in a more logical way, ending with his death. Though sad, it felt far more satisfactory than the path Beauty and the Beast took.

Second Chance: Premise: A twist on the classic Frankenstein novel, a retired sheriff with a shady record dies, then is resurrected as a young man. He sought to do right in the world, fix his own mistakes and mend the broken relationship with his son.

What went wrong: I tuned in every week for this show. It was great, and still is. Where they went wrong is that they didn't have anywhere to go after Season 1, and though they tried setting up a new storyline in the last episode, it felt forced. Unlike Terra Nova, that had a lot to explore and just revealed it too late, this show wrapped up an entire concept then tried to introduce a new one too late. They wrapped up all their threads, leaving no mysteries to be reveled in a subsequent season. Viewers want to see a continuation from season 1 to season 2, something needs to carry over.

What to take away from this: If you're writing a series make sure you think about where your second book is going. Think about which characters you're killing off. Would keeping them around make your sequel better? Think about which characters you've introduced. You need to think about where your story is going and writing the elements you need to take it there. Some mysteries should be set up in book 1 to be revealed in book 2. Otherwise you should consider writing a solo book instead of a series. Maybe Second Chance would have been better as a mini-series?

Penny Dreadful: Premise: Classic monsters, including Dracula, the wolf man, Dr. Frankenstein, and Dorian Grey come together in one series that follows Vanessa Ives as she tries to escape the devil.

Where they went wrong: This series wasn't canceled, but instead ended after three seasons, and it shouldn't have. Unlike the other shows on this list whose mistakes may have led to their cancellation; this show's only mistake was ending. This show was well written with interesting characters and dark, twisted story lines. But, they ended the series with stories left to be told. I didn't feel like Vanessa and Ethan's story had been fleshed out as much as it could have. I wanted to know more about Dr. Jekyll, and what would Dorian do now that Lily was gone. Would Ethan ever find out that Dr. Frankenstein brought his former girlfriend back to life? Would John ever find happiness that didn't disappoint him? I expected another season and I was disappointed when this ended where it did.

What to take from this: Don't leave your reader's with lose ends. If you're coming to the end of your book or series make sure you wrap up all your story lines with satisfying ends. Not everyone needs a happy ending, but don't leave them with unfinished business. Otherwise, write another book or you risk your readers being very unhappy with you.



What shows did you love that disappointed you when the writing took a turn? Have you read any books that make any of these mistakes?