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Rana

I was a big fan of the A-Team as a kid - I can still hum the theme - but, then, I was a kid. As I recall, the show was far less about what the characters did, and more about how they interacted with each other. Star Trek was like that too, as was Gilligan's Island, the Brady Bunch, and so on. Ditto for the vast bulk of cartoons I watched at that age. You didn't watch for the plot - most of those were pretty forgettable - you watched to see your favorite characters on the tv, doing their thing, being themselves.

And the A-Team was nothing but Characters, big, loud, largely mono-dimensional but with a bit of complexity to keep them interesting. They didn't really have back-stories, nor futures, other than those needed to justify their presence on the screen or to occasionally solve a plot dilemma. But they didn't need them - they came out of the box like any other kid's toy or action figure, fully loaded and ready to go as soon as they were unwrapped or you clicked on the tube.

A show like Lost, on the other hand, feels like a big commitment. If you miss an episode or two, you're (heh) lost and have little clue as to what's going on. What's even worse is if you make that commitment and the show gets canceled before the end, something that has happened to us several times. It's easier to just wait for the DVDs to be released; that way, at least, you can see the ending, and watch the thing on your own time. (Another way, I suppose, that the current shows are like movies.)

Jcburns

The thing about the early 1980s was that ALL automobiles were so poorly engineered that they'd flip over whenever you looked at them crosswise. Also, the suspensions were so bad that when (say, in the somewhat earlier Hawaii Five-O) the heroes would pull up dramatically, their Mercury Marquis would rock forward and back for a good 15 seconds into the shot. Thank god we have miracle 21st century cars now. And thank god we've moved beyond entertainments like the A-Team and Hawaii Five-O. Uh, wait.

Gary Farber

"Were all the episodes like that?"

Yes. At least for the first three seasons (the fourth season revamped slightly). If you've seen one episode, you've pretty much seen them all. The formula was as rigid as _Law And _Order_.

It's nailed here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_A-Team#Episode_structure

It's a show I always found highly annoying, because the concept was fine, and it could have made a good show, but instead it was made at a level aimed at 11-year-olds. Not bright 11-year-olds.

Gary Farber

"...and the original Battlestar Galactica never made it to Earth (although, didn’t it finally?)."

In the horrifically unwatchable: http://www.hulu.com/galactica-1980

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galactica_1980

"I was a big fan of the A-Team as a kid - I can still hum the theme...."

Like a number of tv shows, the theme was the best part.

BetterYeti

The change in narrative approach is so pervasive that it is even evident in what is among the lowest form of episodic television, the "zitcoms" on Nick and the Disney Channel.

While each of the episodes are essentially self-contained (shamelessly reusing old sitcom standards like the "stuck-in-a"), they exist in overall arc where earlier episodes "matter" (after a fashion) and affect the future. Recurring characters who evolve, status of characters' relationship, self-referential humor that only makes sense if you've been watching. The arcs don't really move forward in any way, putting aside the fact the character are getting older and, I guess, at some point Hannah Montana will take off her wig.

What's ironic is that these are shows that you'd think would be purpose-built to be fully self-contained. They are run and repeated in a constant loop where arcs shouldn't matter. Pop in any given day and Zach and Cody might be 11 or might be 15. Of course, because the average kid will have seen every episode 2 or 3 times, they already know the relevant "past" in the arc so the episode makes sense. Has this approach become so ingrained because it is now a part of screenwriting 101?

Of course, I only observe this because of my kids friends viewing habits. In their free time, my own children play viola, paint landscapes and master the five forms of kung fu.

Batocchio

Perceptive as always, Lance. Thanks. Additionally, I think on the foreign front, the best (and sometimes the worst) is what survives or travels. In decades past, most of the BBC shows that made it over to PBS were great, but the crappier soaps didn't travel over here. American viewers weren't aware that the Brits made some crap, too. Cable and other viewing options change the dynamic, but not entirely. Cheesy, old American TV can be still be seen the world over, probably because it's cheap. The better stuff travels as well. The Brits loved both The West Wing and Jerry Springer, the former because it was great, and the latter probably because it made Americans look dumb and monstrous. Various audiences have different needs, and as you note, the same person's viewing diet often changes from night to night.

Phil Nugent

The funny thing is, I'm pretty sure I remember a brief stretch there where the show was touted as hip TV, because it wore its commercial cynicism so jauntily (with the very presence of the walking fad Mr. T and the open acknowledgment that the good-looking young white guy, "Face", was a member of the team because he was a good-looking young white guy) that it seemed "ironic" and self-parodying in that distinctive, self-protective post-Reagan way. But it probably was one of the last series to make it to the level of zeitgeist blockbuster, however briefly, while trafficking in standard-issue cookie-cutter cartoon characters trapped in an unchangable situation. Which is probably why it was also one of those odd shows that went from seeming culturally omnipresent to yesterday's news in the space of only a couple of years.

Incidentally, it strikes me as interesting that the show was created, in response to a very specific order from the network, by Stephen J. Cannell, who a few years later created "Wiseguy", which (at least for its first season) was one of the best and most daring of the '80s shows that shook up traditional commercial TV notions of serial narrative (and who, before that, was in charge of "The Rockford Files" at a time when it did more for character development than most dramatic series of its time, including some that had a lot more critical prestige). The secret to survival in network TV is in knowing how to swim with the current when you can't buck it, and some pretty stupid shows were cobbled together by very smart people.

Jonathan Korman

I happen to have that very specific order from the network right here:

"Road Warrior, Magnificent Seven, Dirty Dozen, Mission: Impossible, all rolled into one, and Mr. T drives the car."

Beel

But what about Mr. T, fool! He's still on my tv, selling some kind of game "grenade" thingy that goes with the game, whatever it is. Was he too expensive to get in the movie. Or too cheap? I want him on my GPS, I know that! "Turn Lef Fool."

Gary Farber

"American viewers weren't aware that the Brits made some crap, too"


Until Benny Hill arrived....

Mr. T was reportedly offered a cameo in the new movie and turned it down.

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