CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With the networks set to announce their fall schedules beginning Monday, renewals of current shows have been trickling in. In the past week and a half, two have been greenlit for their final seasons: Fox's "Fringe" and NBC's "30 Rock." Both shows will come back for 13 episodes before saying farewell.
This news makes me happy for both shows, even though I don't watch "Fringe." I was, as you all know, a huge"Chuck" fan, and I was grateful to NBC for giving it a final season to end the way the creators wanted it to.
Although it's by no means a regular thing, this seems to be happening with a little more frequency now, and that's a great thing. Shows are able to go into a season knowing its the last (like "Desperate Housewives," which ends Sunday), or they know enough in advance to be able to plan an adequate send-off (like "House," which wraps on May 21).
Fans are always going to be upset when their favorite shows end, as I was with "Chuck" and will be with "Breaking Bad." (The upcoming season is its last.) However, it lessens the blow when we know it's the end. We don't get caught up in a tense cliffhanger or excited by a shocking revelation only to be bitterly disappointed when the show is axed and there's no resolution. We still might be disappointed by the resolution ("Sopranos," anyone?), but at least it's one that was crafted by the creators, not inflicted by the whims of ratings and scheduling.
TV is the least-stable medium in regard to closure. It is designed to be open-ended. Films and books are sometimes created with multiple parts in mind, or they add extra installments after the fact, but, by and large, they are intended to be self-contained entities. TV shows, though, are created with the intention of being stretched out indefinitely.
Imagine running a race where you don't know the finish line's location. How do you plan your pace when you don't know where you are relative to the end? You can't sprint the whole way, because you'll run out of steam before you're done, but you can't play it too safe or you'll be left in the dust.
That's the challenge TV shows face. They sprint that first season, establishing themselves from the pack to earn a renewal, but after that, they're running blind, aiming for an undefined finish line. Sometimes they'll make it, crossing that line in a respectable manner, but lots of times, they collapse somewhere along the course, gasping and wheezing as they struggle toward the end.
When the finish line is visible, it's a better situation for everyone. Shows know how long they have to tell the story they want, and fans have time to prepare themselves for the goodbye. It will still be sad, but it beats the alternative.
ABC has yet to decide the fate of "Cougar Town," but should the network choose to pass on renewal, it might get a reprieve. According to industry insiders, there's a possibility that TBS will pick up two 15-episode seasons, giving it enough episodes to be sold into syndication.
TBS is owned by Turner Entertainment Networks, which also owns TNT. That network picked up the cop drama "Southland" after NBC didn't renew it after season one. On May 4, TNT renewed the show for a fifth season.
Are you a "Burn Notice" fan? Show your love for the show by helping pick a new title sequence. From now through May 23, visit www.burnnoticefanvote.com to see the selections and pick your favorite. The winner will be revealed when the show returns on June 14.
This week's finales
Series finale: "Desperate Housewives," 9 p.m. Sunday, ABC.