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Sentimental yet sardonic [userpic]

Resetting franchises (rant/musings)

March 21st, 2004 (07:21 pm)

Every now and then in fiction, you build to a critical mass. You seem to have enough history and stories that have happened behind you that you start to build off that, and cannibalize your own past. Then you start to become a franchise. This should be avoided at all costs.

Once you are a franchise, you start to play things safe.

Franchises make money, and while you may be making X amount of money by doing the stories this way, the people behind you are happy. However, if you think you need to make changes, and you might end up maybe making X+Y amounts, but don't know for certain, they will dig their heels in. The franchise is all important. The franchise is making X amount regularly. The franchise must not change. No matter if it needs to grow and change.

They don't want you to change the franchise, even if it could become better, become it makes X amount regularly, and it might make less if you change it. Franchises are what has kept Star Trek stuck in their own personal time loop for ages. Build a sufficient body of work, and people will inevitably catalog it, analyze it and start to work out connections and contradictions. People will be going why didn't they use this invention here from that story back then. People will go if this is that, then that is also this, and wouldn't it be cool if.....?

Once you get into that looking back more than looking forward mindset, you're screwed. Eventually, and with all the good will and good ideas in the world, you start tying everything together in a ever-confusing, ever decreasing circle where nothing new can be introduced because you'd contradict this story from earlier, and spoil the franchise. The worst thing is : you can't get new people to try the story, because you have to explain too much. Or the story doesn't work without the knowledge of previous parts.

The only solution that appears to work, once you hit that critical mass, is the dreaded re-boot.

At this point, comic fans are throwing things at me. DC comics did the post-Crisis re-boot. Marvel comics are trying the back door Ultimate universe re-boot. We won't even mention the later Legion re-boot. People are still sore about these things after all these years. They lost years of their favourite stories that they grew up on, and want back. And Star Trek is sneakily trying this with Enterprise too.

The re-boot, in it's own way, is a beautifully simple idea. Start again from day one, knowing what worked and what didn't work the last time right. Start with the very basics and introduce slowly and carefully all the things that people loved the last time, and update them for the here and now. In the mid-80s Lex Luthor was re-invented as a corporate mogul, instead of the typical mad scientist inventor that he was for 50 years before that. That idea was so inspired, and resounded with the times so well, that it's stuck and has appeared in all formats since then : the comics, Lois and Clark, and Smallville. Ma and Pa Kent still being alive also dates from that era, and works too.

On a side note - anyone want to guess the earliest re-boot of fictional characters? The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, in the late 1950's. Every single Hardy Boy or Nancy Drew mystery that had been published between 1927 and then, were systematically re-written, updated and changed to better fit the times. Every single Hardy Boy that I grew up on in the 70's was a re-written book. Sales were falling, teens of the time were no longer buying the books and crisis point was reached. Harriet Adams, the owner of the franchise, and helpers took 18 years to do it, re-writing the plots, and on occasion gutting the originals. The names may have remained the same, but the insides were very different. Sound familiar, comic fans?

I guess what I'm trying to say is Change or Die applies to all things in the end. Stories and tales either remain locked in one time and place for the rest of their existence (Sherlock Holmes) or move on to new pastures green. The illusion of forward motion is sometimes all that matters, but that movement has to be seen. Enterprise is on that cusp now - actively mining it's own past, to ever-decreasing ratings. The Superman titles after 18, ever increasing in complexity, years are back to that cusp now.

I just hope it never happens to some of my favourites like Buffy and Angel. But I worry at times...

Comments

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Sentimental yet sardonic (booster17)
Posted at: March 24th, 2004 04:15 pm (UTC)
Yala by houses

Law & Order (yup, I am overseas, and no, don't watch it) sounds like it falls under the Change section of Change or Die. With the constant change of characters coming and going, most years you'll get the newbie who needs things explained to them, and to the new watcher at the same time. If they get the balance correct, you could start one year with the new guy, and follow them throughout the series until they're the ones dispensing advice.

The real trick is that it's an ensemble show. And one that's not tied too heavily to a time and place judging from the title. A show like Buffy or Angel has to have that character in each episode, and the show revolves around them. It can't go on without them. Law & Order in comparison could actually drop any cast member at any time (theoretically) and just say they were shot or something.

Ensemble shows, by their nature, can do that and avoid the loss of viewers. You yourself said that you miss one of the characters, but you're still watching, aren't you?

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Sentimental yet sardonic (booster17)
Posted at: March 24th, 2004 04:56 pm (UTC)
Re : Law & Order
Buffy focused fairy icon

It's also a show set solidly in the here & now - very real life, with no fantasical elements involved. Shows like Buffy draw you in further by having that element that makes you go wow. The realism type shows can't have that without dropping that air of here & now.

And I know exactly what you mean by killing off the wrong player. Certain shows don't work without certain characters in it. Although at times, it's amusing to see them try and plug the gap by bringing in a new character who just happens to fill the same role. Most of the tme though, pull out the wrong character, and the house of cards collapses around you.

Oddly enough, with an ensemble show, not every character has to be in each episode. And sometimes you can tell a more interesting story based on that character not being there. Actually, thinking about that, The Zeppo is kinda the reverse of what I just said, so feel free to ignore me - it's 1am here.

And for the record, my favourite characters are Amy, Dawn and Faith. Amy for the squandered potential, Dawn for the potential she still has, and Faith cos she's hot. *Ahem* And screwed up in so many interesting ways.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: CaptainBoulanger (captboulanger)
Posted at: April 6th, 2004 05:21 am (UTC)
Re: Re : Law & Order

"Northern Exposure" disappeared pretty fast after they wrote out the original main character (Dr. Fleischman) and replaced him with a new doctor... seemed odd to me, since the whole series was supposedly about him moving to Alaska in the first place. (The story as that he - a Jewish kid from Manhattan - got a scholarship for med school through the state of Alaska, which required a certain term of service afterward; the state pulled a bait-and-switch on him at the last moment and transferred his service from Anchorage General Hospital to a general practice in some one-stop-light town somewhere near Fairbanks....)

Posted by: CaptainBoulanger (captboulanger)
Posted at: April 6th, 2004 05:16 am (UTC)

Kinda like ER Don't they have something like one original character left? (For those not familiar, it's about the ER staff at Cook County General Hospital in Chicago). The building stays the same, but the docs and nurses come and go. They've had to get pretty damned creative with original ways to kill folks off, too. I think the last doc to get killed off had a med-evac helicopter fall on him after its engine failed...

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