It has been a couple of months since I published my last article, and a month since my last post, but I fell rather ill, and I apologise for that. I am still ill, but decided “enough is enough” and that I could not go another day without writing, and here is the result. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please feel free to provide feedback. Constructive critique is of course encouraged. Thank you.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
why having a brilliantly successful television program is no excuse for poor production value
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I am disappointed. Genuinely disappointed by the fact that I can be watching a “kick ass” science fiction or fantasy show, perhaps a “Dramedy”, whatever it is that I am in the mood for at the time, and yet no matter what the studio, what the genre, or what the program is, as it grows, its budget increases, not, it would seem, so that it can be a better program overal, but so that there can be one or two amazing episodes, and the rest can be relatively standard. It seems that, the more popular the show is, the more it suffers from this affliction.
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Some of the most popular science fiction television programs ever produced have each had their fair share of “fillersodes”, “clipisodes”, and otherwise poor production value.
Doctor Who was once a program about travelling the universe, and in today’s “Nu Who” you will be lucky to even leave earth more than once or twice a season. Apparently the aliens would rather come to us. Sure, we have these amazing, big budget series openers and finales, but is it worth it if we have to live through episodes which are an insult to our intelligence, such as ‘Love & Monsters’, featuring a Blue Peter competition winning alien who “absorbed” people, full of toilet humour and having practically no screen time for The Doctor?
Stargate: SG1 has a seemedly ongoing joke where every season features a “clipisode”, an episode where the plot demands that clips from this and prior seasons be shown. It should be noted that Power Rangers does this very same thing. The plot is usually a good cover up for the need for clips, but is it really necessary?
Star Trek is another example. Pointless low budget episodes are abound, especially in experimental prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise.
Even the modern Battlestar Galactica, hailed by critics and fans as “perfect” suffered setbacks with episodes such as their Fight Club-style filler, ‘Unfinished Business’ where the characters face off in a boxing ring. It really upset the overal pace, although to be fair it did fill a lot of gaps in character development and the finale was clearly better for it.
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Low budget “fillersodes” filling the gap before the series finale are not always bad things, however. One fan told me “If done right they can bring something new to the table”. The best example that comes to mind is that Doctor Who also featured two episodes in the Tenth Doctor’s fourth series – ‘Midnight’ and ‘Turn Left’ – which were brilliant, edge-of-your-seat, yet clearly budgeted episodes.
So, why can all of these “fillersodes” not be “done right”? Or why not cut out these big budget, some may even say over-the-top finales and openers entirely, so that every episode can be just as good as the next? I understand all too well how visually breathtaking these can be and how, to be quite honest, I do look forward to them, but is it truly worth it if I have to sit through such rubbish in the process?
Really, do we need The Doctor encountering witches? Do we need the SG1 team sitting through a meeting – yes, an entire episode was dedicated to a meeting – discussing episodes that we have already seen? Do we need the scripted toilet humour, the poorly designed monsters, the fillers and the clips, even if it means having the so-called “epic” episodes?..
Some fans say yes, stating that it “give[s] them something crazy to do” with their big budgets, some say no, that it is “pure money saving and a waste of space”. It is clearly a matter of personal preference.
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I for one, though, feel as though this is a disease spreading across our television screens. Earlier seasons of most programs do not suffer it. They may not have these amazing, big budget finales or openers, but they do have good overal production value. Not one episode suffers from cheap jokes or poor effects or characters mysteriously disappearing because the budget meant they could not afford the actor for the entirety of the season.
And yet, as these “good overal” programs grow, so does their budget, and, in turn, the affliction hits them like the common cold, and I find myself weaping for their loss.
Merlin, for instance, was never a brilliant program, but it has always been quite enjoyable and I considered no particular episode to be “bad” as such. But, as the seasons went on, the budget rose, and I found that there were a lot of tightly budgeted episodes with practically no magic – and therefore no special effects – involved, so that they could do their big budget finales. I even turned off an episode ten minutes in that involved a creature causing general havok around the castle, because of its appalling use of toilet humour, how it belittled our beloved characters, and how downright insulting the plot was to my intelligence. And yet suddenly, come the season finale, it became clear why they suffered their viewers such an episode.
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Science fiction and fantasy television are not the only genres to suffer this. Even common household names such as Eastenders have their big-budget episodes with their car crashes, murders and weddings, which is (apparently) great viewing, but the fault here is the fact that many of the other episodes are drull, lacking in any of the drama that soap operas are renouned for because all of the budgeting for the talented writers, the “guest appearances”, the special effects, etc, went towards one or two episodes instead of being spread throughout all of them.
No channel, no genre, seems safe from this contagion.
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I understand that every program has a budget and that budget must be calculated with relation to what the writing entails – the people hired to work with each episode, the pay-grade of the stars, etc – but a loss of quality means a loss of viewers, it really is that simple, so why can the studios and channels not realise this and spread the budget evenly instead of wasting it? It feels as though they are a person with the funding for an entire wardrobe who decides they are going to “splash out” on one particular, more expensive item, and the rest of the wardrobe will suffer for that budget cut.
Why not follow by good example? Time Team, a popular, long-running Channel 4 documentary about hunting for history in people’s back gardens, decided to do some “Specials” in amungst the standard episodes in bigger places, such as the Cantenbury dig, which took them months, not days, to complete. Once the popularity of these Specials grew, the normal, lower budget episodes seemed sub-par, so they were cut completely. Now the program places its entire budget into big projects, and the viewing figures are far higher, because it is obvious that consistent quality sells better to the public. They decided to spread their budget over a few really brilliant episodes instead of dozens of “okay” episodes followed by one big-budget special, and it really, really works.
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In conclusion, enjoyable though these big-budget episodes may be, I feel as though the overal quality is far more important, and I am not alone. The general concensus amung fans, reflected in the viewing figures and internet chatter all show that the public are more inclined to stay with a program that is consistent with its quality than “tune-in” to one that will waste a large percentage of its budget purely for the visual spectacle of one or two episodes, and try to cheat them into watching poor production value for the rest of the series.
We, the viewing public, are not unintelligent. We know what we enjoy, and with the wide variety of programs available to us every day, do these studios and channels really want to take the chance of losing viewers for the poor quality episodes simply to increase figures for the ones that have the budget? With the advancement of “streaming” technology and all the different channels available it is so easy to lose us and never get us back.
Perhaps the industry aught to think about concentrating on overal quality if they want to keep those viewing figures, and in turn the money, rolling in.
Many thanks to all of the people that provided me with their opinions and facts for this particular article. It is greatly appreciated.
It is important that I receive feedback from my readers. I would truly appreciate any feedback at all that you can provide me. Posting comments of encouragement, or constructively critiquing my efforts. I really want to further myself as a writer and with your help I can.