Over the weekend, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and AMC came to an agreement to keep the critically acclaimed show on the sometimes critically despised network for 16 final episodes. Setting an end date for Breaking Bad lets Gilligan and his writers craft the conclusion of Walter White's story exactly how they want, without the worry of contract negotiations and the fear of running out of ideas.
This isn't a new. In Britain, lots of shows have one or two seasons (see: The Office, Coupling, Life on Mars) and if they are really successful at the end of their run, they get offered a followup episode (The Office Christmas Show) or even a spinoff (Ashes to Ashes). (In America, Lost took advantage of this idea of an end-date, as well as Matthew Weiner and Mad Men.) More shows should announce an end date, and here's why:
1.) Better Writing.
No one wants to string an audience along (The producers of The Killing not withstanding). Instead of watering down episodes with filler plots that go nowhere (see: 24 season 6) and throwaway episodes (see: Jack's tattoos episode on Lost), writers can focus on a concise story that doesn't water down their original idea. Prison Break didn't end with a Prison Break, for instance.
2.) Bigger Stars.
Tell Al Pacino that you have this amazing idea for a one-season television that would only take him five months to shoot (and that he'd get points on the DVD sales) and the chances are good he'll bite. (Dude does anything, but still -- you see the point.) By limiting the commitment to a television series, more stars might want to star on a television series. As things currently stand, people like Jason Segel are forced ("forced" with much money) to star on a television series for half the year, and then squeeze in movies during the off-season. Hard to imagine he -- and the many others like him -- don't resent that commitment ever-so-slightly.
3.) Next stop, the Big Screen.
If the show is a success in its small doses, it can be parlayed into a movie or a sequel. Isn't that what this is all about, anyway? Don't most show runners want to use television as a stepping stone for feature films? JJ Abrams did it with Alias, Judd Apatow did it with Freaks & Geeks and Michael Patrick King did it with Sex and the City.
4.) Higher Ratings.
News of Breaking Bad ending after this season made many of us do one thing: Put seasons 1-3 in our Netflix queue. Now that the world knows there is an expiration date on a show, more people will want to see how it ends. Television executives should take this one step further and tell the public that their upcoming high-concept show will be a one season series that the network upfronts; do that, and you turn a "could be good or could be bad" show into an event fans (and advertisers) would be excited for.
What do Chapelle's Show and My So Called Life have in common? They are legendary! In TV land it is better to burn out than to fade away; no one will soon forget Samuel Jackson Beer or Jared Leto's hair. They are television's version of Jimi Hendrix and James Dean. They died well before their time, but left a lasting memory. When The Office is struggling through season eight in a few weeks, think of how things could have been if the show was a little more like Charlie Murphy.