The End of Epic Television?

After having just finished catching up on the TV show Lost in it’s entirety, I started to wonder:  Will we ever see TV shows of such epic proportions ever again?  Over the past several years television is more and more dominated by reality and game shows, and reason is simple:  They are cheap to produce and get very high ratings.


Shows like Heroes, Lost, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and many other television shows, mostly in the science fiction genre, have a few things in common.  That is, high production costs, huge casts, extensive writing, and most importantly, a relatively low draw in terms of audience and ratings.  Shows of this magnitude are essentially movies, movies which are over 100 hours long.  Since network television produces these shows purely off of ad revenue, it is not hard to imagine an end to it all.

“It’s going to be one of the last huge television shows in terms of size of cast and scope of production,” predicts Bender, in town to lead a master class at the Banff World Television Festival.

“Given the fact that network television is changing, it may be one of the last great rides of this kind of big epic storytelling.”

This he attributes to a combination of factors: the collapsed economy, what the networks are looking for in new programming, and the sheer cost of mounting a show like “Lost.”


I have never been a huge TV nut; I never sit down at 10pm on Tuesday nights to watch a show.  I either record it on my Tivo, or I buy/download it later on after the fact.  I would venture to guess that I am a part of the vast majority of television fans, especially fans of shows in this genre.  As such, it is not hard to figure out why the top rated shows on television are reality shows like The Bachelorette, talent shows like American Idol, generic sitcoms, and of course, crime dramas like NCIS, CSI, and Law & Order.  All of these shows are not only far cheaper to produce from the networks perspective, but they are far easier for someone to just watch at their leisure, without 5 seasons worth of plot and story line to worry about.

Bender says TV’s thematic pendulum is swinging away from serial television towards more stand-alone dramas. Procedurals are popular with networks, he notes, because it’s easier for audiences to drop in at any time.


But what will come of the good old-fashioned epic science fiction story, or drama?  The days of shows with long, intricate contiguous plot lines, I fear, are over.

I can only hope that cable networks such as Showtime and HBO can pick up where the networks are leaving off, and it seems they already have by giving us amazing shows such as Dexter and True Blood.  If this turns out to be the case, then I will glady pay to stay a subscriber, much as is the case with me and satellite radio.  You can’t really put a price on good entertainment.

3 thoughts on “The End of Epic Television?

  1. there is a 100 plus episode star wars live action TV series being developed that should be bad ass. It takes place between episodes 3 and 4 and could possibly lead to other planned spin off series which might bring the total episode count to 400.I personally love star wars and hope they repair the damage done with the last trilogy

  2. I don’t think much has changed. 90% of TV shows still suck, just as they always have. There will always be one or two greats per decade it seems. In the 90’s I can think of 3. The 00’s maybe 1 or 2.

    Watch The Wire. Not only is it epic, but it is real and believable in a way I’ve not seen with other shows. After witnessing the clusterfuck ending of BSG, steeped in bullshit mythology and meaningless “revelations” along with gratuitous action scenes with FF7 quality CGI, it is nice to watch something where your suspension of disbelief does not have to be raped.

Leave a Reply