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What Makes Really Good TV?

Is it possible to mourn the ending of a TV series? I've just finished watching Series IV of Battlestar Galactica on DVD and it was a little sad to finally come to the end of a great story.

There have been only a couple of TV series that I've found to be really good. And I should probably qualify that. I'm not talking about an episodic format, eg. Seinfeld, which was also good, but had no overarching story, just a bunch of episodes. I'm talking about shows where the overall story is the key. Yes, they're still shown in episodes and each episode can operate discretely to some extent, but they form part of a whole. It's a little subtle the difference, but I think it's there.

Shows that I put into the story category are Northern Exposure and Battlestar Galactica, and to a lesser extent The West Wing. Shows such as the The Wire and The Sopranos probably also fall into this category, but I've hardly seen an episode.

What makes them good are: high production values, strong character development, a good story arc and a less quantifiable magic. There always seems to be something extra that some shows just have and others don't. But on the whole it's the story and the characters. Battlestar Galactica had this in spades. An epic saga of humanity on the run and strong, diverse characters, in particular (and perhaps unusually) for women.

Ending a show is always hard too and, I think, very important. Northern Exposure went on too long. It should have stopped when Joel Fleischman returned to New York. After all, this was the whole point of the show. The Jewish, New York doctor, stuck in small-town Alaska and trying to get back. Battlestar Galactica got it about right. Once the journey was complete, there was little point continuing and they didn't, other than to wrap the major storylines and tidy up some loose ends.

Doctor Who is an interesting case. In its latest incarnation there have been the long story arcs and high production values, but these weren't really present prior to 2005. But I've always thought it to be good. Perhaps it just has the magic.

A final note: why would you watch your favourite TV series on TV when you can watch it on DVD? It's so much better. No ads, watch when it suits you, pause, etc. Once you get into a show you should stop watching it on TV and wait for the DVDs.