What Comes Next?

Alan asks an interesting question: “Where will the people who like blogging the tube go when The Wire shuts down?”

The most obvious and immediate answer, as he suggests, is Lost. But I have my doubts about whether Abrams and co. will be able to keep that show afloat for another 48 hours (it already saw a ratings dip in the third season). Beyond that, there’s Battlestar Galactica, which will be wrapping up its 4th and final this year, provided the WGA strike doesn’t kill it.

Most likely, however, is that no show will see a similar level of attention. Alan suggests that much of the buzz surrounding the show’s final season is “an attempt to sustain the afterglow of the last season of The Sopranos, which so many people blogged their way through.” That may be true to some extent, and it’s certainly the case that the last season of The Sopranos helped expand the market for TV blogging (and the number of regular TV bloggers).

Clearly, it showed that the two mediums belong together. Traditional newspaper reviewing has never been all that successful at writing about television. Reviewers are given a few episodes of a show before a season begins and expected to extrapolate, based on just a few, early hours, on the show’s potential for success. But in the age of lengthy, arc-driven serials, one-time coverage of a story’s beginning doesn’t cut it. It’s the equivalent of a movie reviewer writing a review after seeing only the film’s first act. (Admittedly, this is easier than it sounds; rare is the movie that eventually reverses whatever opinion I hold of it at the 45 minute mark. But though you can often tell whether a film will be any good, it won’t leave you with much to actually say about it — which explains some of the weaknesses in television criticism.)

Even more to the point, regular blogging can cover the water-cooler buzz surrounding a show during a season. Part of the fun of being a TV fan these days is the anticipation, the guessing games, the questions and the chatter. No newspaper can really afford to devote enough column inches to the sort of obsession and minutiae that has become de rigueur for television fandom.

But I’d also caution that The Wire truly is a special case. I am biased, of course, by my awe for the show (yes, really – awe is the only way to describe it). But the series’ depth, detail, and scope are particularly attuned to the sensibility of journalists – hardly surprising, considering that it’s the creation of longtime daily newspaperman.

It’s a bit sudden, yes, but that’s partly because it’s taken a long time to catch on. I first started watching when Season 3 went on the air after Salon bestowed it with their “Buffy” award. That was the snowball, I think, that turned into the avalanche of coverage we see now; it’s been building ever since, and journalists in particular have been tuning in – and finding a show that seems tailor made for their fixations and ways of thinking. The show hasn’t received the massive amounts of coverage it has simply because it’s great, or because writers discovered they enjoy writing about the TV shows they’re watching; that coverage is also due in large part to the show’s particular appeal to the nation’s typing, writing, blogging class.