For a show like this (and LOST, Fringe, and Moore's Battlestar Galactica), you either trust the showrunners, or you don't.
I basically agree with your entire post, Josh, but have to pick a nit on this part: Moore's Galactica
was a show that demonstrated all the pitfalls of not having a plan, and literally making it up as you go along. (The X-Files
is another.) And of course you are right about the distinction between not having a plan and not knowing how many seasons/episodes you have to get to the end of your story. The former produces confusion, inconsistency and either disappointment or a mythology so convoluted that even the creators can no longer keep it straight. The latter produces tap-dancing and stalling - often in the form of interesting detours within the story, sometimes into dead-ends and or misfires.
Even a well-planned "arc" show operates under constraints that a novel, for instance, doesn't, and this can lead to missteps and inconsistencies that are beyond the control of the show-runners.
A novelist can come up with a new plot twist in chapter 12 and go back and rewrite the first 11 chapters to make everything consistent. But the showrunner of an "arc" show is publishing each "chapter" as he finishes it. It he (or she) comes up with a new idea there's a choice to be made - stick to the plan and maybe end up with a weaker story or go with the change and live with a contradiction or a dangling plot-line.
And a novelist doesn't have to worry about his characters getting sick, or hurt, or fed up or arrested. He doesn't have a living, breathing actor playing each one to life - an actor who might be a pain in the ass on the set, or create problems with other actors or demand too much more money or too much more screen time (always a problem on an ensemble show with a large cast.) Sometimes those actors quit and sometimes they have to be fired. Novelists never have to fire a character mid-book because he keeps showing up on the set drunk. /img/vbsmilies/htf/smiley_wink.gif
That leads to another decision point - introduce a new character or recast? (That's also an issue with occasional recurring characters. The actor originally cast is not always available the next time the character is supposed to appear. That leads to "continuity problems" in the mind of some fans.)
Conversely a TV showrunner doesn't have to worry about an actor in a minor role proving so popular that he has to adjust his plot to keep the character around longer than planned, and make him more important to the story.
All of these things produce the kind of changes in shows that lead to some people (often those who don't know or don't care much about the mechanics of TV production) to cry "There's no plan!" or "Where's the arc?" when what's really happening are adjustments
to an pre-planned arc forced on the showrunner by real world factors beyond his control.
Given the initial set-up of Flashforward
, I'm very glad to hear that they plan to end the season on April 30th 2010. My thought at the end of the pilot was that was what they had to do, that stretching it any further would be a huge mistake. It is also a good sign that (like Lost
and Babylon 5
) they seem to be smart enough not to make the apparent initial premise/mystery be the premise for the entire series they've envisioned. That can get stale pretty quick. I said during the 1st season of Lost
that I saw no reason the Losties could not escape from the island well before the last episode of the final season (like in S4, maybe), thereby changing the whole nature of the show. People jumped all over me like I had just peed in the punchbowl. /img/vbsmilies/htf/laugh.gif Those shows used their initial starting pionts as a way into a larger and more mysterious story than was hinted at in the early episodes.
had stuck with the "will they/how will they get off the island?" as its main plot it would have been six or seven years of stalling and "filler". Because it couldn't be anything else. The whole point of a show like that is not reaching the conclusion. (Because the minute you do, the show is over. See Star Trek: Voyager.
*) You get away with this on an episodic "wandering do-gooder" show. In The Fugitive
, Richard Kimble's ultimate goal was finding the one-armed man and clear his name, but in any given episode his status as a wanted man was only the reason he found himself in that week's dramatic situation and why his doing the right thing would put him in jeopardy. The episodes were all about Kimble's life as a fugitive, not his quest to stop being one. Similarly Run for Your Life
and The Guns of Will Sonnett
could present characters on a kind of quest, but the goal was never terribly important in any given episode - instead it was the story the knight-errant walked into along the way. Those could do the stories they did because they had the whole American West, or the whole country or the whole world as their backdrops. With Lost
they were stuck on an island. (Gilligan's Island
had the same problem, but they were able to get around it by simply throwing all logic and common sense out the window and having a supposedly uncharted island get more tourist traffic than the Bahamas at the height of the season. /img/vbsmilies/htf/smiley_wink.gif)
Anyway, I'm glad to hear that the producers of Flashforward seem to be doing this the smart way.
* In a thread discussing the show on another forum, I once wrote a basic outline for an alternative version of Voyager
. In my conception, they discovered at the end of the pilot that it was absolutely impossible
for them ever to return to Federation space. As the show progressed they would discover the quadrant where they were stranded was under the thumb of a vicious dictatorship. Voyager
herself is a prime piece of advanced technology that both the rulers and the various small resistance groups would love to have. After a season of dodging both sides and learning about the territory and the players, Janeway and company finally decide that the only moral thing to do is abandon the Prime Directive and take sides. By the beginning of the 7th and final season they have pretty much conquered the entire quadrant and created a kind of mirror Federation. At which point an experimental ship from the real Federation arrives with a way home for the crew - except that they'll all be tried and imprisoned for violating the Prime Directive. /img/vbsmilies/htf/smiley_wink.gif