Serial TV and Books: Another Perspective

sherlock1The other day on After Hours, I blogged about my love for the TV show Sherlock, and remarked it’s basically the only TV I watch, and like.  This is not the first time I’ve made the remark, online or in person, and 99% of the time, people probably look at me like I’m nuts, pompous, or both.

I once had a conversation with my friend about True Blood (I flatter myself that I converted her to the books, even though I haven’t read them), and we had this conversation about me not watching TV.  “Wait – you don’t watch TV, I accept it, even if I don’t get it (because there are some damn good shows on TV, Jean, and you’re missing out, but never mind because you’re weird).  But you haven’t read the books?  How can you read romance and not read the Sookie Stackhouse series?”

Good question, Eva.  And looking through my bookshelf, reading history, and preferences, I think I’ve narrowed it down.  It’s not series that I don’t do, per se – it’s the serialized, episodic, plot and character development surrounding a central cast of characters over a long period of time that I can’t stick with.

Why?  I don’t know.  I know there are good shows out there.  I’ve seen several episodes of Mad Men, Big Bang Theory, House, Downton Abbey, Grey’s Anatomy, Spooks, Desperate Housewives and 30 Rock, to name a just few modern ones.  And I can see why they’re popular and acclaimed.  But nothing stuck.  Nothing made me want to go on watching them, or go back and watch them from the beginning, even if I really wanted to like them (like Downton Abbey).

The thing is, I used to watch TV.  There was a time when I religiously tuned into Ally McBeal, Roswell, Dark Angel, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and many other ones I can’t remember anymore, because I cared.  I wanted to know what happened. My life revolved around them.

But it got old.  I got sick of the perpetual ups and downs, and twists and turns, and feeling like I’d have to tune in for another hour or half-hour just for another “to be continued.” Yes, there are individual arcs within each episode, beginning, middle and end and all that.  But I couldn’t help feeling that the individual investment (time and emotional) was not worth the resulting payoff.

So now, I watch movies, which are longer and which finish when the credits roll around (most of the time).  And I read books that don’t feature ten people and all of their different relationships.  Sure, I read series books and watch series movies (like James Bond).  But I don’t read or watch serials.

Of course, there are several humongous exceptions.  The first is Sherlock, which I explain away because a) each episode is 90 minutes, and, therefore, as the individual episode development of a movie, and b) there are few enough episodes so far that I don’t feel jerked around.  But if Sherlock hangs around forever, with cliffhangers every season, I’d probably leave.

The second is the In Death series by J. D. Robb.  I think at this point, there is little enough character and plot development that most books are starting to read the same.  I go back to the books because nothing has changed – it’s like going back in time to a comfort read.  Right now, I’m content with that.  But realistically, the days are numbered.

The third, to a certain extent, is Nalini Singh’s two paranormal series, the Psy/Changeling and the Guild Hunter books.  Despite individual romances in each book, there are definitely serial elements to both series – in the former, the war has gotten a lot more complicated and there are heaps and heaps of new characters; in the latter, Elena and Raphael form the backbone of the changing angelic world and pop up as central characters in several books.  At the moment, the world building, book length, and compelling characters make up for the wait between books and cliffhangers.  We’ll have to see.

So there’s my reason on not following serials, book or otherwise.  What’s your take?  How long does a series have to be before it starts to pall?  Is there anyone else out there who doesn’t watch TV?

- Jean AAR

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16 Responses to “Serial TV and Books: Another Perspective”

  1. Eliza says:

    I rarely watch TV anymore. When I am in the mood to watch something, it tends to be a PBS special on archaeology, genealogy, history or whatever catches my interest at the time. But weekly shows, serials, reality, etc? No. Not at all. I’ve just lost all interest because it seems like the same ole same ole after so many years of watching. We tend to be a book, music, or PC activity family. And it’s not about being pompous for us either; it’s an easy choice of how we enjoy spending our time.

    So, Jean, the next time someone gives you a hard time about not watching something, you can divert them by telling them about us! :)

    And BTW, my only serials are the Outlanders and In Deaths.

  2. PatW says:

    I don’t watch serial TV either. I do watch TV, but I like live sports and DIY or design shows. I don’t go to movies at all.

    As far as serial books go, the ones I enjoy are: the “In Death” series which I read for the mystery in each individual book, with the character development being secondary; the “Psy/Changling” series because I am fascinated by what is happening to the “world order”; and the “Liaden Universe” books by Lee and Miller which are mostly not romance, but feature a lot of continuing characters and several detailed cultural world views.

  3. Marianne McA says:

    That’s the reason I don’t watch soaps – when I did, as a teenager, I’d root for some couple to get together, and then, after they finally got their HEA, the writers would rip them apart again. I understand that’s the nature of the beast, but I hated it. On the other hand the same thing doesn’t worry me at all in something like the Big Bang Theory: that observation really surprised me – I’d somehow never thought of viewers wanting resolution from a comedy.

    In books, I don’t usually mind serials or ongoing story arcs (though an egregious cliffhanger ending will stop me flat). But certainly one of the reasons I stopped reading the ‘In Death’ series (I got to ‘Witness’, maybe?) was that the ongoing story wasn’t ongoing enough. And on holiday, some years after, I picked up one of the much later books at a UBS and could follow it perfectly well – which confirmed my idea that nothing ever happened and that no-one ever changed. Which is one of my problems with soaps as well: if a character whether it be in Dallas or In Death has a life-changing experience, I want to see their life changed.

    I still love the Vorkosigan books – however many there are now – because while the characters stay recognisably themselves, their adventures change them.

    And, yes, much Sherlock love, whether for the original books, or for the Steven Moffat version.

  4. Leigh says:

    I didn’t realize how closely our thoughts align on serial books and television. I had horrible customer service with two satellite companies and did without television for close to three years only watching The Closer in the summer. I have television now (since the end of March and I think I have watched two hours of it – I signed up for it in anticipation of the last season of The Closer).
    With most series on television I just feel like the writers jerk readers around and maybe that is related to my need for HEA. I used to watch series years ago – like E.R. and then Gray’s Anatomy but it seemed like they became more about hook up and breaks up. And who ever came up with television cliffhangers needs to be shot – I hate waiting three months for an answer- ditto with books that end with cliffhangers.
    I made it to around book ten on both the In Death books and then Nalini Singh and then quit -so pretty much ten books is my max.

  5. Ell says:

    Yeah, I don’t watch tv either, way too much of it strikes me as poo. Too many comedies that aren’t funny, too many dramas that aren’t either interesting or dramatic…..sorry, no.

    I would read a series forever if the stories and characters would develop. Too often that doesn’t happen. Like Marianne, I love the Vorkosigan series, but then I’m very fond of pretty much everything Lois McMaster Bujold writes. As for the rest, I find more and more of the series that I used to read have become repetitive – and I’ve given up on them. Surely a series should have a story arc. Like Lewis Carroll said about telling any story: “Start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, STOP.”

  6. Hannah E. says:

    I totally agree, Jean. I struggle to stay with any series that follows the same characters for book after book. I’ve only read the first two In Death books, for example. I really enjoyed them, but I don’t feel motivated to read any more of them. I also only managed to get through three of the Night Huntress books by Jeaniene Frost before I got tired of reading about Cat and Bones. I do better with series that focus on a different couple each novel, but even those tend to suffer from a sense of “sameness” after a while.

    I don’t watch TV at all, because I just don’t have the attention span for it.

  7. Margot says:

    I don’t watch TV, either. Never really have, and when I do, it’s to watch the history or discovery channel. I’ve never particularly liked movies, either. I’ve always preferred to have a book in hand, without being stuck to the couch for however long the program is, but to pick my own hours.

    I can’t say I like series all that much, either. Or at least, not actively following them. If I come across an already finished series, I’m happy to read it, but I despise having to wait for the next installment. By the time it comes out, I’ll have forgotten half of what happened in the previous book, and that annoys me. (I’m also the type of reader who refuses to read a series unless I can start with book one, and then proceed to read the series in order, however loosely connected the books might be.)

  8. Corinna says:

    Not much tv watching here, either. In fact, there are only two shows I watch. One is a 50-year-old western called Bonanza. Yeah, I hear you groaning out there, but don’t knock it until you’ve really sat down and watched a couple of eps. It can be kind of cheesy at times by modern standards, and surprisingly timely at other times. But the main reason I love it is because of all the angst and family bonding between a father and three brothers. (It doesn’t hurt that the youngest brother is an extremely hot cowboy. ;) ) One great thing about this old show is that you can start watching at any point–any episode, any season (and there were 14 seasons!) and you don’t have to worry about what came before. Each episode is pretty much its own little story arc. And you never know what you’re going to get: some episodes are almost slapstick comedy, others are heavy drama, and others are a blend of both. An episode may feature all the family, or only one or two. Every story is different, and is wrapped up at the end, either happily or not so much so.

    The only modern show I watch is Supernatural on the CW channel. You’d think this show would have nothing in common with my love for Bonanza, but the main thing that drew me to one drew me to the other—strong brotherly bonds with a generous supply of angst. Oh, and hot guys. ;) SN differs from Bonanza, though, in that the entire show (which just ended its 7th season and is expected to have an 8th) has a huge story arc. You really have to start at the very beginning to know what’s going on, and you can’t skip around between episodes. You might eventually figure out most of what’s going on, but you won’t get the full impact if you aren’t aware of the characters’ family history.

    I always hated watching soaps for the very reasons some have expressed here, and I avoid serials in books as well. Supernatural is the only story, tv, book, or otherwise, that has managed to hook me so completely that I refuse to miss an episode, despite its 8-year story arc.

  9. Lori says:

    I’m with you on the TV thing. I gave up on most series a few years ago, when I realized that I pretty much want to see an HEA (for example, on ER) that lasts–anathema to most TV writers, apparently. In a series, the rule of thumb any more seems to be that even the most devoted couples must eventually break up, or else one of the couple must die.

    I also realized that shows want to reach at least a five-year (or 100-episode) mark, so they can go into syndication. In order to do this, writers often seem willing to take a series beyond its (to me) viable shelf life, and often in a direction that I find makes no sense.

    The only series I’ve ever felt compelled to watch to the bitter (and I mean bitter) end–and of which I own the first five seasons–is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

  10. Lynn M says:

    I don’t watch TV the way I used to, but I do watch TV on DVD, which is a completely different experience. I no longer have the fortitude and patience to endure week-long or, even worse, summer-long gaps between cliffhangers. Too, I can get a good read from early on if the creators are going to tell me a good story or if it’s going to be a constant case of forced conflict that keeps romances from happening, which grow tiresome very quickly. I discovered so many of my favorite programs this way – Sons of Anarchy, Everwood, Buffy, Bones. I have a very hard time watching TV shows in real time now. I’d rather wait for the DVD set to come out.

    That said, I’m not a huge fan of books that feature the same character over and over again. Once a couple reaches a happy-for-the-forseeable-future place in their relationship, I’m not as interested to watch them suffer additional conflicts. I do like series books that share a world and where I catch glimpses of characters from previous books, but I like “new” stories every time.

    • Lynn M: I don’t watch TV the way I used to, but I do watch TV on DVD, which is a completely different experience. I no longer have the fortitude and patience to endure week-long or, even worse, summer-long gaps between cliffhangers.

      I’m finding this is the case with my TV habits. I have a few series I will stick with (Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Smash, and so on), but the whole 22 episodes, having to sit down at a particular time on a particular day type of stuff makes me antsy.

    • Elysa says:

      Lynn M: I don’t watch TV the way I used to, but I do watch TV on DVD, which is a completely different experience. I no longer have the fortitude and patience to endure week-long or, even worse, summer-long gaps between cliffhangers. Too, I can get a good read from early on if the creators are going to tell me a good story or if it’s going to be a constant case of forced conflict that keeps romances from happening, which grow tiresome very quickly. . . I have a very hard time watching TV shows in real time now. I’d rather wait for the DVD set to come out.That said, I’m not a huge fan of books that feature the same character over and over again. Once a couple reaches a happy-for-the-forseeable-future place in their relationship, I’m not as interested to watch them suffer additional conflicts. I do like series books that share a world and where I catch glimpses of characters from previous books, but I like “new” stories every time.

      I agree. I like to let shows back-up on the DVR so i can watch them all in a row. I also wait a few weeks and play catch-up on OnDemand. I love TV, but I mostly watch premium channels. There are a few shows that I cling to doggedly. However, my dad – I am in school and still live at home – likes to DVR EVERYTHING and watch at max decible level, so there is a good chance that even if I am not interested in a show I have probably seen it.

      As for books, I like series that involve families and a common world. But I too prefer a “new” story every time. Who wants the reality of relationship growing pains to intrude on the HEA fantasy?

  11. Kari S. says:

    We don’t watch TV in our house. I live with my mom, and both of us would rather read than watch anything. Every now and then we do watch a movie or other program on DVD.

    I am also fed up with the serial nature of TV series. I think the last show that I really loved was Lois and Clark in the early 90s. It lasted four years, and if it had a slight cliffhanger ending, at least they were married and on their way to a HEA. Not being a fan of fan fiction, I never really attempted to find closure in online speculation about “what happened next.” Recently a friend offered to loan me Downton Abbey so that I could find out what the fuss was all about, but I realized that we would never get through it before it had to be returned to the library! And my interest wasn’t really there anyway. I just hate being sucked into any story that might take a HEA and ruin it the next season.

    In books I do enjoy continuing series. I love the In Death series and look forward to every new book, but I also know that no matter what else happens, Eve and Roarke will always be together. The Sookie series is a bit chancier; Charlaine Harris is known to have killed off important characters before. I have no interest in Trueblood, however. I don’t do “adults only” TV any more than I read erotic romance.

  12. wenmc says:

    I never watch TV and people do look at me like I’m strange when I don’t know the latest show or reality TV plotline. We don’t have cable, although the kids will watch things on Netflix, occasionally. My husband will watch things he has read about. Last night he was watching “Sherlock” on Netflix, b/c he read the books. I don’t miss it, if I have any extra time it’s devoted to reading.

  13. Susan says:

    I slowly got less and less interested in TV over the last 5 years, and now I don’t watch it at all. I still like my serial fiction, though. I still like some long series, especially the Psy Changeling and BDB. They seem to happen more on Paranormal than other genres.

  14. willaful says:

    “How can you read romance and not read the Sookie Stackhouse series?””

    Um — maybe because they’re not romance?

    We can only watch t.v. via netflix and it’s really changed my viewing — I find that nowadays I only enjoy shows that have arcs. (Excepting sketch comedy.)

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