Friday, June 05, 2015

The Trouble with Ensemble Casts

When I discovered this show was on YouTube, I was so excited, I watched the first few seasons straight through.



I also watched the first five seasons of this show on Netflix.



Both shows' storylines tanked after the first few years. That happens about 90 percent of the time with serial TV series, I've found. They usually linger on for years before someone finally puts them out of their misery.



I started wondering, though... Why can I watch old shows about teens and 20-somethings, but not new ones? So I decided to try out the newer version of the above two shows. I started with this one:



I barely made it through the first half of one episode. They introduced us to no less than eight people in the first ten minutes. I couldn't figure out who any of them were. There was nothing to grab onto.



I decided to try out 90210 before I gave up forever. From scene one, I was hooked. We were introduced to a family. We got to know the two teens in that family before we started meeting all the other generically beautiful people.



Because we were introduced to a central character (the female in front of that picture^) first, we cared. We could get to know the others through her. That was exactly what Melrose Place did in 1992 (Allison) and Beverly Hills 90210 did in 1990 (Brandon and Brenda).



Wiewers need a hero. We need someone to root for. I've personally found the same goes for literary fiction. When a book throws too many characters at me in the first chapter, I tend to get lost. 



I don't think I'm the only one. After all, the new Melrose Place lasted one season, while 90210 stuck around for five seasons and had high ratings and good reviews for first couple of those.

What TV shows do you watch?

57 comments:

  1. Some great shows from the past, thanks for sharing that. Nice weekend!

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    1. Hope you have a nice weekend, too!

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  2. Some epic fantasy books are like that. Too many characters to follow.
    Favorite shows right now are Daredevil, Game of Thrones, and the Flash. Yes, my geek is showing...

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    1. Those are very popular shows--geek is the new cool!

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  3. I don't watch new TV shows but I have to agree with you Stephanie... I get hooked from a central character or two... then I can branch out from there.... otherwise I get lost and give up too... xox

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    1. It is tough to find good new TV shows. I see a lot of previews for interesting ones...The Whispers is one I can think of off the top of my head. Often I end up not liking the shows as much as the premise!

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  4. The old Melrose Place was my wife's fav at the time. She even gave up an episode when I asked her out on a first date (I had no idea). After that, she made me watch it with her.

    I don't watch any tv shows now--I am so boring.

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    1. I rewatched the first few seasons...after Sidney "died" (she was in the first few minutes of the new series before she was killed again) the show took a nosedive, I think. Too many new characters and none of them were remotely interesting.

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  5. I haven't even tried watching those two newer versions!
    All my shows have finished their seasons (REIGN, OUTLANDER, TWD, LAST MAN STANDING) but BABY DADDY and VICIOUS have returned this week for summer seasons :) I usually leave my summer to catch up on British series so I have POLDARK, OUR ZOO, INDIAN SUMMERS and BANISHED waiting to be watched in my computer

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    1. Once Big Brother starts in late June, I pretty much watch nothing else until September. I should have never discovered live feeds...it's just way too addictive.

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  6. I used to like 90210 and Party of Five, back in the day.

    You know I love BB and a lot of Bravo shows like Southern Charm and Flipping Out. I have been loving TV Land's new show, Younger, and another new show they have coming this summer, Impastor, looks good.

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    1. I liked Younger, too! I've been watching it on Hulu Plus.

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  7. You are so right on Stephanie. I love your analytical mind. The last book I read this winter was like I had just entered a room full of strangers. I had a hard time remembering the characters and what they did. I had to physically write down their name and what they did to help me remember who was who.... I only stuck with the book because it was a gift and the friend paid over $12. US to mail it to me.

    Lately, I rarely watch TV except the news which I mostly watch on my computer. I'm such a dull old girl.
    Hugs,
    JB

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    1. I suppose soap operas were always like that...but somehow you kept up. Even then, most of us connected with one character over all others and that was the storyline we watched every day to see.

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  8. This is too funny - I JUST started re-watching those old 90210 episodes on Hulu Plus (only the first season is available but now I know where to go for the rest, thank you!) and queued up the old Melrose Place episodes. :)

    I also added Cheers and My So-Called Life. Now, if I could only find The Wonder Years.... (Wow, am I old. Sigh.)

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    1. I hate that they put the first season up and nothing else. I don't get that. Why shield all the other seasons from the world? When I was going through, two very essential episodes were missing on YouTube. Two I missed completely were the ones where Donna got drunk at the prom and the "Donna Martin graduates" episode. Both were completely gone. Some of the episodes were only available in a higher speed, so everyone talked like a record that was on a slightly faster speed! The later seasons appear to be up there without problem...I guess nobody cares about those! But I think some YouTube shows are uploaded in a weird way so they can't be detected by the algorithms that take content down if it violates copyright.

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  9. Sometimes too many characters are a hindrance, you need a slow build. Game of Thrones is the worst one for waaaay too many characters.

    What do I watch? Too much lol The Flash, Arrow, Supernatural, Castle, Person of Interest, Daredevil, Agents of Shield, 24, Prison Break, The X-files(last three coming back, so added them)

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    1. I'd love to watch Castle, but it doesn't stream anywhere. If they'd throw it on Netflix or Hulu Plus from episode one, season one, I'd love to watch it!

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  10. yess...it's like the TV version of head hopping. drives me nuts, and I always turn the channel! These days I'm obsessed with ABC comedies--The Middle, The Goldbergs and Modern Family are my go-tos.

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    1. I watched The Goldbergs for a while but I'm not very good at watching shows one week at a time! I just want to watch the whole thing straight through!

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  11. You are so right. That's the problem with many shows now--no defined hero and character soup. That's what happened to the Star War "prequels" too. It's seems Hollywood doesn't get that a concept draws us in, but characters is what makes us stick around.

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    1. True! With the original Star Wars, we were introduced to Luke...we followed his journey. There were other characters and their stories developed over time, but give us someone to attach to first, then bring in all the others!

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  12. i've watched 'survivor' from the very first season. talk about ensemble casts! but the editors have been great about - as you said - introducing us to everyone but with the focus on a couple of stand-outs to get us hooked.

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    1. Same with Big Brother. There's always a hero/villain that emerge. That can change as people get voted off. Before live feeds, I usually didn't know who most of the people were until at least a few people had been evicted!

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  13. I occasionally get lost when there are too many people introduced at once, but I usually keep watching/reading. I figure I'll learn who everyone is eventually.

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    1. I used to do that...but these days I just toss it aside and move on!

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  14. I'm too old for these young and beautiful people. Hubby and I watch the crime shows. Dexter, Nikita, Hawaii Five-O, Justified, and NCIS Los Angeles to name a few. We love Netflix and Amazon Prime. No commercials rocks. I do agree that if it's too complicated you'll lose me too. Keep it simple and I'll probably hang in there.

    Have a fabulous day and weekend. ☺

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    1. I know it's probably not nice to say, but in the 80s and 90s, actors weren't perfect looking. Even the 90210 cast--they were attractive, but Shannen Doherty isn't cookie-cutter beautiful. Today's stars look like they were sent from the "pretty actor factory." I think people who look real are far more relatable than all of these plastic-looking people. Maybe that's it...plastic surgery wasn't as mainstream in the 80s and 90s as it is now?

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  15. I don't think there is a short cut to character development and somehow that point has been missed by a whole lot of screenwriters. You hit the nail on the head: we have to care about the character.

    My favorite reading experiences are when I care so much about the fictional characters' "life" that I worry about them when I have to put the book down, ha ha. And no...I'm not mental.

    Thanks, Stephanie!

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    1. And I think we need a window into that world. Just one. Melrose Place (the original) did introduce us to multiple people...but we bonded most with Allison in that first episode. We were given entrance into that world through her. That's why the "fish out of water" story is so popular...through the eyes of the "new girl/guy," we see this world and we feel like we're entering this world through them.

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  16. I really enjoy ensemble casts, but only when they're done well and not confusing. My favorites are/were Parks and Recreation, Orange is the New Black, and Downton Abbey, because within the large cast, there were 2 or 3 characters that I especially enjoyed and looked forward to their appearances.

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    1. I'm watching Parks and Recreation now. I liked Orange for the first season. The second season...I made it through the first episode and then they started focusing too much on the secondary characters. I didn't really care for most of them...I liked the nice, normal girl who ended up in jail. She was relatable. Just hanging out with jail people made me feel all skeevy!

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  17. I find it hard to get into a show if there are too many characters introduced at the beginning. Simple is better.

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  18. My fave recent show ended recently - Justified. Funny enough, the show started with three main characters (maybe not introduced immediately, but obviously the focus of the first show) and ended with exactly the same characters interacting. Others came and went as necessary, but that core remained the focus. It was so easy to follow and compelling to boot.

    One thing I have noticed on ensemble reality shows - say, Project Runway - is that I enjoy the first episodes, but I don't find myself truly invested until there are a smaller number of people left (at which point I get a little too invested - see, e.g., the season of American Idol where Melinda was eliminated and about which I am still not happy). I can't keep track of any more than a few people, and don't even bother until I get down to a few people.

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  19. I often feel the same way about ensemble shows. We do need heroes. I've been watching shows via netflix for a while, so I'm a little behind: Psych, Daredevil, Chuck, Blacklist, and Gilmore Girls are all on our current list of shows to watch in our house. All of them have a big focus on one to three characters. My favorite ensemble show is Leverage - which varies the focus from episode to episode but still revolves around one main character most of the time.

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  20. i have them on dvd ... i loved both Melrose Place & Beverly Hills 90210 in the beginning ... but they did totally go to pot in their later years. i was not shocked that they ended once again. i did watch the 2nd of each addition ...but was not surprised they did flop too. i do wonder why some shows have such a following & others not so much??! makes you wonder??! i loved Ally McBeal, the dancing baby, such great shows on Netflix. they rock!! happy weekend. ( :

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  21. Not really a television watcher here. I was relieved to hear that other people have difficulties with novels with a zillion characters (usually related) though. They too often have similar names as well.

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  22. Good point about the main character. I was a big fan of "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," and "The Americans," to name a few. I watch too much TV actually when I should be writing. It's time to start chopping down the list...

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  23. I totally agree about the need for someone to root for and follow in a series. I'm the same way in books and TV. And if I really don't like the person or actions of the main character then I have a hard time with the book/show. You'd think more producers would figure that out, lol!

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  24. I haven't tried watching either one of the new series, but I LOVED the 1990 and 92 BH 90210 and Melrose Place. I think you're right, however, that both continued past their sell-by date. The British do this right and end a series earlier rather than later.

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  25. I wasn't a Melrose fan, but I did watch 90210. I can't believe they made (or are making?) a new one. A lot of shows I enjoyed did tend to go on too long. Have a lovely weekend!

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  26. I watched the originals of both of those shows back when they were on and loved them. I tried watching the remakes and didn't even make it 20 minutes before finding something else to watch.

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  27. A writer in my group has a similar situation in the novel she's workshopping with us. Too many characters in the first chapter. Perhaps this is the way she overcomes that.

    As for the TV shows I watch--you don't want that list. Really. I promise. But I'll mention a couple that are still on right now: iZombie, Orphan Black, and Younger. Good shows.

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  28. So true Stephanie! I can't stay focused when I'm introduced to more than one or two people at a time. Let me get to know you first, and if I like you, I'll stick around to meet your other friends. Otherwise, why waste my time? WHO CARES?! lol

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  29. Yes, too many characters confuse me, and I never can remember who they all are. I was guilty of that same thing in one of my stories, and the editor told me so. I made changes.
    As for TV, I don't watch a lot. Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Dr. Oz, and NCIS are all I can think of. :)

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  30. I don't watch TV, but will watch streaming older shows on Amazon if I become hooked on something. I don't like busy beginnings. I need to sink into the main characters first.

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  31. I love Pretty Little Liars, which doesn't have one main character. It follows four key girls, but they are all very different, which made keeping them straight very easy from the start. Plus, it's a thriller, which I love.

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  32. I never watched these shows. I watch General Hospital and have since I was a kid. I love Dancing With The Stars, Grimm, Forever which I think they cancelled-bummer.

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  33. I don't watch much TV, but I loved the old 90210. I even loved it at the end, though it wasn't as strong as it once had been.

    I thought you were going to say the trouble is when beloved characters leave, because I've struggled with that. After Brenda left 90210, it was never quite the same for me.

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  34. I blush to admit, I didn't realize either 90210 or Melrose had done remakes.
    I agree on the too many characters in a novel, especially at the beginning, it gets toooo confusing. Hope you're having the best weekend ever. Hugs

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  35. I've watched a few series of Lost and the first series of Game of Thrones both of which have huge numbers of cast members and I ended up having to read up online to figure out who everyone was. In the cast of Game of Thrones I had to watch the series twice and read the books to get them all straight in my head!

    My husband and I don't have TV or broadband at home so we have to get shows on DVD, so we binge watch them and I think that helps. They're always shows which have been around for a while and might even have ended so I can get caught up with who's who online and we quickly get to know all the characters.

    Cait @ Click's Clan

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  36. I haven't watched either of the remakes but I was a huge fan of the original shows -- along with Ally McBeal and Gilmore Girls!

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  37. I watched Melrose and 90210 back in the day. I was a huge fan of 90210 and still catch some of the reruns. I haven't seen the remake of Melrose- but I did watch the whole series remake of 90210. I think you are right about the central character. Because I could connect with Annie- I got into the show and loved seeing old 90210 characters show up from time to time. :)

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  38. I've never watched those but your pont is valid. It's like watching twenty minutes of a soap opera and hoping to see the connections or a person you can root for.

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  39. I was never so big on 90210 or Melrose but my sister was a huge fan. As such, I have watched more than a few. I haven't seen either of the new series, though.

    Your larger point is a good one. Many stories from too much information in the beginning, particularly too many characters.

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  40. I liked the old Melrose Place. Yes, we need to root for someone and that would make us watch a show or read a book. Or a book series.

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  41. I liked both incarnations of 90210. I never could get into either Melrose Place. Too soapy for me.

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