The past few weeks I’ve been eagerly watching a variety of Japanese television, and I noticed something very peculiar (for an American).
The few Japanese dramas I’ve seen actually end. They build to an end and then just stop. They don’t drag it out for season after season, allowing different seasons to suffer based on actor/actress-negotiations and writers having off-years. They don’t end on ridiculous season cliffhanger-after-season cliffhanger. They have a well-defined endpoint and, by building to it, they keep the story fresh and force it to have a suitable length.
This isn’t to say that the Japanese dramas I’ve seen don’t go on for multiple seasons. But, I would assert that sequels (should) only happen when there is sufficient audience demand for one and when the storytellers think they have another story to tell.
Contrast that with American TV – the seasons are built not for any plot reason, but because a TV studio needs to have sufficient content to fill the months of September to May/June. Seasons are renewed, not because of a deep creative reason or even necessarily because of audience demand, but because of a misguided sense of momentum. This doesn’t always turn into a disaster (I believe House MD, despite its traditional has maintained a reasonable level of quality each season through the quality of its casting and writing), but even series that I thoroughly enjoy like Smallville have had their fair share of “useless filler” episodes and bad seasons.
In my humble opinion, it’d be far better to adopt the miniseries format. It prevents writers from creating ridiculous plot devices to keep a story going way past its prime (and past when its actors begin leaving for greener pastures), and it maintains a quality of production which only a purpose-driven creative process can lead to.
Given the challenges of the TV business, I’d say its at least worth a shot for an American TV studio to try.