What do some soap operas, a raunchy animated sitcom, and a children’s action show have in common?
The saddest moment in television, whether it is a binge watching-fest or watching a show week by week, has to be the ending. No more episodes left to watch and no more stories for the characters you’ve developed such a close bond with.
This brings up a question that has been plaguing me for some time: Is it possible to have a show that could last forever? On the surface, an idea like that sounds wonderful! Endless stories! Never saying goodbye to my favorite characters! However…putting in more thought, it’s a very difficult thing to pull off. Television has a countless number of factors that put this idea at risk. Can a show remain popular over an extended period of time? Do the creators, cast and crew want to work on the same show for the rest of their lives? And most importantly, will the show feel forced if it’s focused on longevity?
To answer this query, I want to take a look at some long-time running shows that are currently airing. If we can analyze their formula and determine how they’ve remained on air for so long, then perhaps we can figure out how to make our immortal television show. For this list, I’m looking at the top five longest lasting U.S. television programs that are scripted and have some semblance of a narrative, whether it be episodic or overarching. With that in mind, let’s take a look.
1. General Hospital; 2. Days of our Lives; 3. The Young and the Restless
Okay, I’m getting the boring ones out of the way first, and just a disclaimer: I know little to nothing about soap operas…so this should be interesting. These three soap operas have collectively aired and produced over 37,000 EPISODES?!?!?! That is insane! How do they do it? Well, soap operas have the intention of running for as long as possible. Because episodes air every single day, there’s plenty of space for drama, twists and turns, and cliffhangers. If I were to sum up a soap opera’s greatest strength, it would have to be its adaptability. A cast member wants to leave? BOOM! You go through an accident that causes your face and voice to magically change. A cast member wants to come back? Look out! Here comes their evil twin.
So will these shows potentially keep on going? …it’s tough to say. They’re doing okay as of now, however, there are only four soap operas currently airing. That’s half of the soap operas that were around ten years ago. Now I’m no expert in soap operas, but if I had to come up with a reason why these shows are slowly declining…my guess would have to be there’s too much content. Committing to a soap opera means committing to five hours every week. Free time is a hard luxury to find these days; we have to choose how we spend our time wisely. For example, I can watch five different hour-long shows that air once a week for the price of one soap opera. Whew, I’m finally done with that. I promise, no more soap opera talk on my blog…I hope. On to the next!
4. The Simpsons (28 Seasons)
Everyone knows these guys! The Simpsons is the longest running American sitcom and animated television program about a middle-class American family with a ton of satire to boot. It’s easy to see why this show has been going on for so long. Well written comedy that pokes fun at what’s going on in the day-to-day world, so as long as weird things keep happening in the world, there’s still plenty of material for the writers to work with.
So could this show last forever? The ratings have been falling recently, but the show’s iconic status will most likely guarantee it’s place on television. There is one other factor to consider: the voice actors. All of these characters have very distinct and unique voices. Because the show is so iconic, if something were to happen to those voice actors or if they wanted to leave to pursue other projects, it could be VERY noticeable depending on the replacement, which could lead to a bit of backlash from the fans. Again, this is just a theory, but it’s interesting to note the importance of actors when it comes to the longevity of a television. What’s next?
5. Power Rangers (24 Seasons)
WHHHAAAAATTTTT???!?!?!!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! MY FAVORITE CHILDHOOD OBSESSION IS NUMBER FIVE? Time to come clean: I LOVE Power Rangers. It has been a staple of my life since I was a kid and I’ve watched every season. For this post, I’ll try to look at it without my nostalgia goggles, I promise.
Every season follows a similar formula with a few changes here and there. An evil villain threatens the earth so a group of young individuals are chosen to become the Power Rangers, a spandex wearing superhero team. In terms of its longevity, around six to seven years into the show, it was decided that every season would follow a new team of Power Rangers and villains, but still existing in the same universe. This allows for the cast to change every so often and a fresh start for new viewers to watch while still having a connection to the old seasons.
So can Xander watch Power Rangers forever? God, I hope so. But…there are a couple negatives. Because the cast keeps changing and new characters and story elements are introduced, every season is vastly different from the others. So while some seasons can be great (I’m looking at you In Space, Time Force, and RPM) there are still plenty that can be not so great (I’m looking at you Turbo, Operation Overdrive, and Megaforce). Not to mention that this is a show for a younger demographic. Some kids may get confused when they’re watching a season one day, and the next it’s an entirely different show with different people. Another negative is that the show relies solely on its Japanese counterpart Super Sentai. In a nutshell, every season of Power Rangers is adapted from the show Super Sentai, utilizing the majority of the show’s costumes, props and even footage. If Super Sentai were to ever stop making their show, then Power Rangers would be in trouble.
With these five shows as our longest running contenders, I have a feeling that while they may continue to have nice long runs, they all have a potential for expiration dates down the line.
So what does it take to have a show that can last forever? I can narrow it down to three key aspects.
- A Willingness to Adapt: a long running television show can’t keep telling the same story over and over again. It needs to be able to evolve naturally with its audience.
- Easily changeable Cast/Creators: a long running show can’t rely solely on certain individuals to keep its story going. If the story can permit it, there should be way to circle out some old talent for fresh faces if necessary.
- Effortlessness: a show can’t feel forced. If the story feels like it can continue, then it should continue. If it feels like the show can’t move forward, then it shouldn’t be milked to its last final drop.
So is there any show in my opinion that could last forever? One comes to mind…however, we’ll have to go across the pond to find it.
Doctor Who (36 Seasons)
Now this is the show that was designed for longevity. Doctor Who follows the adventures of an alien known as a Time Lord called the Doctor, as he travels throughout all of Time and Space in a police box called the TARDIS, protecting the innocent and fighting off alien threats. The show checks off all of the boxes in the three keys for television longevity.
A Willingness to Adapt
Because the characters can travel in time and space, they have endless options as to where they can go and what stories to tell. Any point of history can be explored as well as any point in the future. Not to mention the ability to create a plethora of aliens to interact with the characters, all with unique powers and capabilities that can keep the show fresh.
Easily Changeable Cast and Crew
The most impressive feat for this show is that it has always followed the main character, the Doctor, even way back when the show began back in 1963. How did they do this? They wrote in an easy way to change the actor playing the doctor. Time Lords have the ability to avoid death at a cost. They must regenerate into a new body. They retain all of their memories, but every aspect of their appearance and personality is altered. Not only is this an easy way to keep circulating the actor, but it’s also very interesting from a narrative standpoint. A man who has to struggle with changing into an entirely different person is something that’s rarely explored in most stories.
The Doctor is not only a complex character but also just a very enjoyable person to watch no matter whom he turns into. A man who can defeat an army without a single weapon. A man as old as time itself but still views the world with the giddiness of a child. Couple that with endless number of creative settings and aliens to be encountered, there is no limit to the stories you can tell and how you can tell those stories.
But hey, what do I know? I’m just some guy on the Internet.
So what do you all think? What are some shows that you feel could last forever? Do you have any thoughts on the shows I’ve mentioned above? Leave a comment and get this conversation rolling. Until next time, this is Xander signing off.