We watch... so you don't have to.

Serial Killers

I read comics. I read comics to the point where our garage's storage space has been given over to my library and the proprietors of several shops know me on sight. My brother and I caused each other's relapse into carpel tunnel syndrome when an IM debate over how we'd rank the Green Lanterns turned ugly (we differ sharply on Kyle Rayner's relative worth); the husband and I once whiled away the hours on I-5 by conducting a March madness-style tournament between Marvel and DC characters. (Image, Top Cow and Wildstorm characters would have played in the NIT, but we ran out of freeway before that tourney.) And, as readers may recall, I also watch TV. If comics and TV were the two circles in a Venn diagram, I would be living in that spot in the middle.

You would think this would make me the perfect audience member for Heroes. And through November 2006, you would have been right. I was with the show through its eleventh episode, the one that aired on December 4, 2006. Then NBC yanked the series off the air for seven weeks, and I ... found other things to do with my time. I haven't watched an episode since -- despite liking the show -- and had decided I may wait for the season one DVD to come out and revisit the whole series at once. I think of this as the television equivalent of reading a graphic novel.

Heroes is not the only serial I've skipped because of hiatus. When I found out that Lost was pulling their six-episodes-and-out stunt last fall, I deleted the season pass from my TiVo. I am under no obligation to make sure a show stays on the air -- especially when it scampers off the schedule whenever it pleases in some weird, Nielsen-fueled perversion of The Rules.

I like my serial TV like I like my serial comics -- to come on a steady basis. However, serial comics tend to do two things that serial television series do not: they rarely go on hiatus, and they like to do serial story arcs that contain a resolution. Contrast that with the odious TV practice of wrapping up a lengthy narrative stint with a cliffhanger.

(There are exceptions: each season of The Wire, also known as "the Platonic ideal of television shows," boasts self-contained season-long story arcs. It also calls back to previous seasons and lays groundwork for future ones. This is because The Wire is written by novelists -- some of whom know a thing or two about balancing sprawling narrative against brisk pacing -- and, again, it is the Platonic ideal of television shows.)

(I am also hopeful that Brian K. Vaughn will whip Lost into shape, since his pacing and plotting on Runaways, Ex Machina and Y: the Last Man have shown that he knows how to balance the need for short-term narrative gratification against the sustained satisfaction of a series-long story arc. But not quite hopeful enough to restore the season pass on my TiVo.)

Although comics geeks have not taken over the nation -- only its cinemas -- it is nice to see that we're not alone in disliking long hiatuses and fatuous cliffhangers. Networks are now avoiding the hiatus strategy and planning on running uninterrupted seasons of Heroes, Lost, 24 and other new shows. I love this news. I love it mostly because I am gullible enough to think that finally, finally, someone who works in scheduling has realized what we viewers have been saying all along: we watch TV on our convenience, not the nets'. It's our time you have to respect, not the other way around. And if you're going to parcel out a story in installments, make sure you remember the cardinal rule for the audience: we're not going to wait around forever, no matter how good the story may be.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go check to see when the Heroes DVD comes out. I have a feeling I'll be back next season.


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