How do you make mystery TV mysterious?

It can’t be easy making mysterious TV mysterious any more.  Sure, if it’s not popular you’ve got a chance, but as soon as it is popular you’re screwed.  In the old days, the folk in the house would talk about the plot and maybe they’d work out some of what was going on, but they wouldn’t know anything until the following week.  Perhaps someone in the house would work out Some Great Secret but you didn’t have any way of confirming it.

Maybe they chatted about it to a friend or two at work.  Perhaps students got together in bars and mused over cheap alcohol.  But eventually you had to watch and find out.  You had no contact with the writers.

Later, maybe magazines ran stories, and you could garner some information from those to share among your small circle of friends and you could enjoy yourselves discussing the possibilities.

These days, thousands of fans, maybe tens of thousands gather on forums and they pour over every aspect of the show.  The dialog, the scenes (frame by bloody frame if necessary), and they look for connections.  Connections within the show, within the other shows of the same writers and directors and producers.  They look for patterns and they talk and talk and discuss and theorise.

Writers are normal people.  They’re not super heroes with super writing powers.  They invent stuff and they research stuff and they bring to the front stuff they watched and remembered and enjoyed and twist the tale and deliver excitement.  But they’re normal folk.  So when you bring together 10,000 more normal folk they’re going to have some shared experience, some knowledge, some idea of what is going on, and when they brainstorm – well you should fear their collective awareness.

They will find every hole, they will spot every plot, they will dig deeper than you can imagine, they will invent stuff you love but never thought of yourself.

How on earth are writers ever going to deliver something interesting at the end of a mystery TV series these days?  Is there no hope?

Is Fringe doomed, lost in the shadow of the thousands of fans predicting every episode and digging beneath every mystery?  Did Lost lose it’s way when the fans described every possible explanation for the island there could be?  Do we need to use the approach from Push where our hero works out what to do and then has his mind wiped so no one, not even he, can guess where things will lead?

Will we end up with soap opera style TV series in which there is no long running mystery because how can any mystery survive the glare?  Will we have to live on a diet of 1 hour mysteries with no long running story line (and how long will they survive when we’re all wired in and talking to our 10,000 friends while the episode is on air).

I wonder how mystery TV writers with ambitions of long plot arcs will survive in the glare of the Internet and how fans will come to lament the loss of the mystery and the inevitable let down when the predictions from 10,000 fans come true in the final episodes.

2 thoughts on “How do you make mystery TV mysterious?”

  1. The answer could be in what Terry Practhett said about Docotor Who plots this month (; essentially that they don’t telegraph anything and the solution to a problem is pulled out of no where. There’s no way of guessing it as it has very little (if anything) to do with what has already happened.

    Obviosuly it won’t make the audience happy because they can’t guess the ending, but at least they can’t guess the ending.

    1. Yeh, but I’m sure with television that’ll just encourage people to stop watching. The satisfaction from mystery is from seeing the end, and then realising you could have worked it out if only you’d put the clues together. Without that – it’s not mystery, it’s just soap opera.

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