Remote Hoppin’: Game Changers

There are shows that change everything when the formula has become rote, and most of them try this too late. Plus, the “switch” is so outrageous that it has a term. “Happy Days”, realizing it’s days were numbered, had it’s biggest star, Henry Winkler as “The Fonz”, pull one of his typical crazy stunts. Now, when he pulled his Evil Knievel routine the first time it was cute, but the the powers that be wanted more. So, they had Fonzie jump over sharks.

You read that right.

Sharks. Like “Jaws”? Yes, Virginia, like “Jaws”. A plot device so unbelievable for viewers it ran right past insane. It was that precise moment when people knew that “Happy Days” didn’t have long to live because, quite simply, the writers had run out of credible ideas. Meanwhile a “game changer” is when a show changes course but it works within the confines of the series. It might stretch the imagination but it’s not so far gone that everything can’t be explained and usually breathes new life in a show that needs it.

When a show has basically shot it’s load and it’s die has been cast, those in the industry refer to that “Happy Days” episode. Hence the term – “Jumped The Shark”. And while many shows are prone to this, it still astounds me in this modern era there are shows that don’t follow the blueprint of say, “Lost”. Recently, more shows have caught on. “Fringe” has a game changer practically every episode. Part of the beauty of that show is that it doesn’t let anyone feel comfortable, and that’s a good thing. “Prison Break” has succeeded but since this might be it’s last season, it’s the way to go out with a bang. They don’t have many options left, so it’s smart to go out before jumping that shark. “Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles” has a slight game changer almost every episode, especially with the addition of Shirley Manson and the changes Summer Glau’s character has been experiencing lately. Because we (the audience) even don’t know if she’s reverted to her original “Kill John Connor” programming, Cameron can flip at any given moment.

Continued after the jump…

“Grey’s Anatomy” purports a game changer but it’s still business as usual. “Boston Legal” knows it’s leaving and with only having 13 episodes signed off on, they’re just having fun until the end. Who pulled a true game changer? “Desperate Housewives”, that’s who. With it’s five years into the future leap, we get to hear and see flashbacks into how they ended up where they’re at now. Some are obvious while some are not and some are not even known or realized yet. “CSI” ended with not a game changer, but it’s been leaked one is coming and it’s a big one. I have faith that the show will survive, given the quality of the series so far.

Many shows have followed the “CSI” and “Grey’s Anatomy” blueprint and have not enacted game changers, but cast changes. Here’s where people make a common mistake. A cast change, especially for an established cast member will automatically change the landscape of the show. But, that’s all it does. Nothing more, nothing less. Rarely, a game changer is attached to a cast change because it gives the director and producer a chance to “shake things up” but they run the risk of jumping the shark. Sitcoms can pull this off better than anyone else because they’re usually over the top anyway and it takes a monumental change to jump the shark. Something so outlandish that it rains down stupidity on the viewers.

One show that straddles the line of game changer and flat out insanity is “Life”. The premise itself is on the border and the show just rides from there. What “Life” has going for it is decent writing and an exceptional cast plus one helluva lingering plot device. It is that plot device that makes it a game
changer almost every episode. That single plot device is what drives the show and it’s leading star is why it works. Not many shows are that lucky. Some shows are just damn lucky. One such example is “Heroes”.

The creators of “Heroes” would like you to believe that the writers strike almost killed the show. Actually, the writers strike was a godsend for “Heroes”. Clearly the show had lost it’s way in season two and needed an out. The writers strike provided that out with a quick solution to the season and a chance to clean up and move on. Although, four episodes in for season three, “Heroes” is still drastically off course, losing viewers by the tons plus making monumental changes to established characters. Recently Hiro mortally wounded his best friend, Ando, just to go undercover with the villains. Plus Hiro has acted more and more naive, which is strange considering half of season one and all of season two was to wisen Hiro to the ways of the world and make him more savvy to battle evil. To keep Ali Larter on board and get rid of the Nikki character that viewers had come to despise, we now have Tracy Strauss, who is one of Nikki’s triplet sisters who was given abilities by “The Company”. Also to cash in on the chemistry of Adrian Pasdar and Ali Larter, the Tracy character is already involved with Nathan in the quickest relationship in recent television history. The only thing that might save this season is that it will be thirteen episodes then a break. When it returns in early 2009, it will be season four which will be named “Fugitives”. I wish it well, especially since it will be going up against a revamped and, from all early reports, rejuvinated “24” season. Many critics have already hailed the new upcoming season of “24” as one that will be hailed as one of the greatest ever. If that holds true, “Heroes” will have to do everything just to keep up.

Other shows have constant game changers – “House”, “Eli Stone”, “Dirty Sexy Money” just to name a few. The industry has to do this because of the advent of spoilers due to the internet, cable and reality shows. It keeps writers on their toes and viewers in their seats. For us, we reap the benefits and I, for one, hope it keeps happening.

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~ by sladewilson on October 14, 2008.

3 Responses to “Remote Hoppin’: Game Changers”

  1. Tim Kring needs to go back and reread some great comics of the past,he can even check out a series that has been evolving quite nicely as of late and thats even with the loss of the main baddie..”Smallville”. Great editorial,Slade

  2. That’s a great look at the crux of the problem: a successful show is one that endures, but endurance inevitably leads to repetition, and becoming stale. My current preoccupation is with the twists on Dirty Sexy Money. This show does a great job of staying a couple of steps ahead.

  3. Ok, that’s it, I’m starting to watch Fringe. I’ve heard way too much about it by now. As soon as my comp is working again, that is.

    Btw, great informational post. I’d love to read some more about how the shows are constructed.

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