The earliest example I can think of for these “mystery box” shows is The Prisoner, in which Patrick McGoohan’s unnamed character is repeatedly prevented from leaving the weird village by various science fiction devices and an unknown bureaucracy. Can anyone think of one predating The Prisoner?
La Brea looks interesting, I will DVR it.
IMHO the writers of Lost got mad when fans guessed what was going on, so changed it, which hurt the flow.
Lost captured lighting in a bottle, despite the poor ending. But there was also the Leftovers, and some others I can’t remember. Wasn’t there one about a Dome that was meant just to be a short run?
Lost was really popular at the time it originally aired, including here. I remember lengthy threads after each episode aired. (“Was that a polar bear at the end?”) Of course this was in the days of shows releasing episodes only weekly and without 500 other competing shows.
Under the Dome was originally intended as a limited series, but was popular enough that it wound up running three seasons (39 episodes total).
I think part of the reason networks keep trying this sort of show is really down to Lost. It not only hit, it hit big, and its cultural impact was even bigger than the ratings, and it was one of the last truly mass hits on broadcast TV, as the media market was just beginning to splinter. There are a lot of senior network execs who were junior execs when Lost aired, and as they try to figure out how to survive, much less thrive, in the new media market, they’re grabbing what they remember from their formative years as being a potentially successful formula.
Agree with this. The studios are very risk-averse, so they keep trying to go back to what worked before, as it is considered safe, even if it only lasts a season or two. Ironically, something like Lost was probably considered risky, but it was a risk that paid-off.
I agree that Lost hit it really big, but that was a different time, including for this board. Here, for instance, is the thread about the final episode, including indices for each season’s episodes. (Look at how many posts there were for the episode threads.) Lost premiered in September 2004 and ended in May 2010, so before any streaming services were available. There were cable channels, but broadcast channels were still much more popular.
Now a show like Bridgerton or Ted Lasso can get lots of references in popular culture despite being seen by many fewer people.
I’ve only seen the previews (tucked in whenever they can in their Olympic coverage), and my first thought was “they’re doing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ‘Pellucidar’ in modern day !”. For those not familiar, Pellucidar was Burroughs’ “hollow earth” world: instead of a core, there is a “sun” suspended in the center of the earth, and Pellucidar is the “inner shell” of the surface. Having a sun suspended in the center, it is the land of eternal noon. (As I think about it, a lot of this makes a LOT more sense than the flat-earth models !).
I may check the show out, but was a little put off by the title. I am guessing they are going to tie in the famous tar pits not with prehistoric life, but with creatures making their way from the “other” world down below.
The whole point is to use the MacGuffin as a sort of initiator for interpersonal conflict and drama. The Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica both did it, much to their detriment. They lost something IMO, when they went from how the survivors were dealing with a mysterious, implacable and super-lethal outside enemy, to being basically what amounted to a political drama and/or soap opera in space or post-apocalypse. I’m not a fan of watching people behave badly; I can see enough of that in real life. I prefer the clever solutions and heroic actions against an external enemy.
La Brea is likely to be 95% that sort of thing, and 5% actually dealing with the primeval world.
You’re probably correct to think of the scenario as the MacGuffin. I thought we the audience of Lost were promised resolution to the mysteries and that show had gone on for so long and had so much stuff going on that we were never going to get satisfaction.
I also think that most network shows like that have a very vague sort of overall story arc, and/or various escape hatches that they’ll film in. This is by design- they don’t really want to lock themselves into a five-season arc like say… Babylon 5, where it was almost on rails after a certain point.
They’d rather have something much less restrictive, and allow themselves latitude for as many seasons as they can wring from it, with the option to exercise one of the escape hatches if the show’s popularity takes a downturn and there are episodes left to film in the remainder of the season. Or if they know far enough in advance, they can firm up the ending and make it a major arc through most of a season.
But that’s all assuming that the show isn’t just going to get canned after the first season without warning during the hiatus. There isn’t much they can do there.
I’ll watch it. I’m still pissed about Debris though. On the other hand, Manifest was terrible start to finish, and they got 3 seasons out of it, so what do I know.
That’s why I specified Network TV. There’s been some success on Cable/Streaming, I think mainly because:
A) The seasons are shorter
B) You can wait until it’s complete and binge it all
Manifest is still going, isn’t it?
I did not care for Debris:
the two stars had zero chemistry
The debris effects were basically magic
Both of them were trained agents, but they had no idea of how to lie. For example, when the guy saw some info that her dad was still alive, was told not to tell here, but decided to do so anyway, instead of saying “You dad is alive!” (which may or may not be true) he shoudl have said “I am not supposed to tell you this, but we saw a video clip of a man who looks a lot like your father.” Why does no one on TV know how to lie? It is either a bald faced lie or the absolute truth. Nor can anyone compromise.
Manifest was cancelled. The fans are still trying to get it picked up at Netflix. I didn’t care for it, but people seem enthusiastic.
I did like Debris, but I apparently don’t rule the world.
Same deal with Prodigal Son, for that matter. I really liked that show, but it’s gone. At least that way reached a somewhat coherent stopping point.
I liked part of it, but two things rankled.
There is no way a scientist would conclude that a 6000 yo chunk of wood from Mt Ararat was from Noah’s ark, as that never existed. Even the faithful usually say it is a myth based upon a huge but local flood, and maybe inspired by Gilgamesh.
Next Ben loved to make conclusions based upon a tiny bit of evidence then go crazy pushing it, like the 828ers being in the same lifeboat.
My wife liked it, but I did not.
I actually liked the way Lost was ended. The problem with Lost wasn’t the ending, it was the middle. They went from a series about a good mystery and the people involved trying to solve it and turned it into an evil organization using science for evil purposes stories. The finale took it back to the origins, and I liked that.
That was pretty much how Stargate: SG1 worked. They figured out the whole Goa’uld and System Lords setup pretty quickly, and the rest of the series was them gradually expanding their abilities to fight said bad guys. They could have had a satisfactory series finale in almost any season. Even the short-lived Stargate:Universe, which ended on a cliffhanger, ended on a thematically appropriate cliffhanger, that was both a decent end to the series, and good hook for any potential new seasons should someone else pick up the series.
I think that’s pretty much the cause of the problem. They cancel these shows too early, before they can really gain a following, and then when they try again even less people start watching live with season 1 because they are waiting to see if it continues, which causes it to be cancelled, and on and on… Last time NBC suckered me was with the one-season summer show Persons Unknown, (from 10 years ago and starring a then newcomer Chadwick Bozeman!) a mystery show with an intriguing premise that promised answers… and ended on a cliffhanger that was never renewed for season 2.
That second season of UTD, when the writers scrambled to extend a story line they thought was going to be one season and done, and had no clue after that, was delightful insanity. I mean, there are shows that are bad, but they are usually mundanely bad, written-by-committee affairs.
Season 2 was all like “now the dome is magnetic, and someone got crushed between a car and the dome! Now the dome is raining what looks like blood and burns like acid! Now the dome is shrinking! Now the dome went opaque and everything is dark! Why are there butterflies everywhere??” They just threw all the spaghetti against the wall to see if any of it would stick. But the spaghetti was half-baked.
By season 3 they got a new showrunner I heard, and the story line got tightened up and became just mundanely bad.
Maybe they can use the sets and dinosaurs from Terra Nova which lasted- you guessed it- one season.