Ensemble, Multi-Perspective, Serialized Narratives Hit Network TV by Allison Kiessling

So, there’s been a lot of discussion about how the rise of asynchronous viewing (online or via DVR) and binge watching are opening up new narrative options for TV shows. Namely, you can now make a TV show heavily serialized without fear of losing the audience. Along these lines, this year there’s been a sudden burst of shows with a premise that had previously been thought to be unmakeable, that is: a show that follows a murder investigation and trial from multiple points of view — the family, the accused, the cops, and the lawyers.

It was thought to be unmakeable for two reasons: 1) lack of a main character, 2) it needs to be serialized. But this year we’ve got: Bochco’s Murder in the First on TNT, American Crime on ABC, Secrets and Lies on ABC, and perhaps Gang Related on Fox falls into this category too. I’m not saying these are the first, I think The Killing, The Wire and a few BBC shows fall into the category as well, but this is the first batch of network shows like this.

Steven Bochco talks about the changes in viewing that have allowed him to make Murder in the First here (http://www.deadline.com/2014/01/tca-tnts-murder-in-the-first-better-than-abcs-murder-one-says-steven-bochco/). He also lists being able to make 12 episodes instead of 22. Bochco had attempted to make a network show like this back in the ’90s, called Murder One.

What makes this especially interesting to me is that just a few years ago, I knew of at least three writers who had written or pitched pilots with this concept, only to be told by their agents that they either needed to pick a main character, and / or figure out how to make it episodic. It seemed like the type of story that could only be told in a novel. At the time, we thought it was a narrative concept that we just hadn’t figured out how to crack. Now it appears that it was actually the technology that needed to be cracked.

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