by Julie, enjoying the waning days of summer
I have been rewatching Bones this past week. I’ve been under the weather, and not up to much else, so I’ve watched a lot of episodes. There is something about rewatching a show from the beginning that lets you enjoy it again as a fan, and dissect it as a writer. Did the character arcs ring true till the end? Are the story lines satisfying? Did the series sag in the middle? Was it satisfying all the way through?
I could write a blog post about Bones over twelve seasons. But instead the question I’ve been asking myself is what’s the magic number? Robert Wagner always thought that five seasons was the magic number for television shows, so he ended Hart to Hart after five seasons. Carl Reiner wanted to go out on top, so he ended The Dick Van Dyke Show after five seasons. Now, there are lots of examples of shows that remain great after five years, but there also examples of shows that would have been well served to call it at five.
Last week I thought about the John Ceepak series by Chris Grabenstein. I love that series, which went to eight books. I recently reread them and would have happily kept reading more. The characters kept growing, but the core of the series remained the same. Grabenstein kept it fresh. Alas, I believe it’s done at eight.
Elizabeth Peters wrote twenty plus Amelia Peabody books, and kept the quality up throughout. There are other long running series that have held up for me . But I have found, as a reader, I sometimes lose steam with a series between books 6-10 if the characters feel static.
So, I’ve been wondering about that magic number. You know the one. The number of books in a series that completely satisfies the reader, but leaves them a little sad it’s over. The number of seasons of a TV series where the characters feel true, and the stories still feel fresh? The number where commerce has not run over creativity, and the art isn’t being forced to meet a bottom line. Not that I don’t get the lure of the offer of more money. I hope to have that creative dilemma some day. But I digress.
There is, of course, no right number. And there are so many factors out of a creator’s control. Series get canceled before they’re done. That’s a fact of life. But as a creator, I can’t help but think that thinking about my number as I plan a series would serve me well. Early on in my career, I wouldn’t have thought about that as much. But now, how many books are the number I need to tell the characters’ stories? I will say that of my three series to date, none of them hit the magic number. Which is frustrating, but that’s also the business.
This blog post isn’t an opportunity to trash series (TV or books) that went past their number. Instead, it’s an opportunity for us all to celebrate the long running series that worked till the end, and to sing the praises of the series that called it while they were still at the top of their game.
Let the celebrations begin!