No More Reunion
It's very hard getting into new TV shows when we live in a culture that seems to value instant gratification, rather than building viewer loyalty through carefully constructed plots. In the age of the so-called "reality" show, good storytelling is becoming a rare commodity. New shows are on a very short leash. They have to perform brilliantly in the ratings or risk being cut after a few episodes. Unfortunately, we may never know how good some stories are; how can we know—when the best of such stories are written so as to build to a climax over the course of a season?
Take the show "Reunion" on FOX. Or should I say: Formerly on Fox. The show, which sought to solve a murder mystery over the course of a season documenting 20 years in the lives of its central characters, has now been cancelled. According to Virginia Rohan of the Beacon Journal, the final 9 episodes of the season, which would have revealed the killer, will not be filmed, let alone summarized, for the benefit of viewers. "Over one season, Reunion was to span from 1986 to 2006, but ratings for this critically acclaimed show were dismal." So, after filming its 13th installment, the show is now history.
Taking its cue from "24," the series sought to plot not a 24-hour day, but a mystery of 20 years, with each episode taking us to the events of a different year, starting in 1986 and moving forward, chronologically, to the current day. Clever use of flashback made for interesting storylines and character development.
When Fox announced its lineup in May, the network boasted that [Renuion] "marks a groundbreaking concept in series television as it chronicles the lives of a group of six friends over the course of 20 years—all in just one season," adding that the series would "build toward answering two important questions raised in episode one: Which of the friends is dead? And how did that death occur?"
The latter question will forever be a mystery, apparently.
Fox had asked the producers to expedite the big revelation, but Reunion creator Jon Harmon Feldman explained why he could not: "The events of Samantha's murder are partially reliant on characters we haven't yet met—and events we haven't yet seen." In a telephone interview, he elaborated. "The story was arced out over 20 years, and there was no way to tie it up so quickly," Feldman said as Reunion was wrapping production on its next-to-last episode. "I don't know what the plan is. We're going to finish our first order of 13 episodes, and see what we can do, if anything."
So Feldman was criticized by the Fox people because he dared to suggest that a story may actually take a little time to develop, especially if one is to aim for things like integration and coherence.
As for fans of the show: We're screwed. Some are demanding to know the answer to the mystery, even if the producers simply announce it or post it to a website. Some would prefer a TV movie that wraps it up. Neither conclusion is likely.
But there may be even worse consequences to this whole sorry saga:
Some people, who set aside an hour every Thursday to watch Reunion, may be loath to ever again invest in a serialized drama, especially if they haven't experienced successful examples, such as Desperate Housewives, Lost and Prison Break. It's small wonder that network television is overrun with procedural dramas.
Indeed. But this is the kind of TV atmosphere that would have murdered most of the great serials in TV history. A great drama like "The Fugitive," for example, would probably never have made it out of development. And if it did, in fact, debut on TV, we would have had to have fast-forwarded to the identity of the One-Armed Man by Episode 3; to hell with the dramatic morality tale that the series would become!
All the more reason for today's viewers to count their blessings when they do come upon a successful serialized drama.
So... bring on "24"!