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 Life Skills for Fanboys:  Success Kills

 written by Tony DiGerolamo, Copyright 2014

To further my goal of helping fellow fanboys, I have included an index of links of previous columns with their topics.  Don’t take it personal, I’m just trying to help.  Previous columns are indexed at the end.

Starting with True Blood

So my access to HBO hasn’t been all that consistent over the last five years or so.  In that time, I got into True Blood, but then kind of lost interest and access to HBO at the same time.  I felt the initial offering of vampires, mixed with a Southern flair was interesting, especially the part about vampires being known to the humans.  But after a while, even in the first two seasons I watched, the show’s tricks got tired for me.  The “dangerous” world wasn’t so dangerous with certain characters surviving again and again, pay-offs were continually delayed to maintain the status quo and everything seemed to be orchestrated around season finales.

It happened with another show I had initially loved: The Sopranos.  When the Sopranos first started, it was billed as kind of a quirky, Mafia comedy.  Early episodes were stand alone stories, some that could’ve still been good even without the Mafia elements.  (Like when Tony took Meadow to interview for college and then spots an old rival in the Witness Protection Program.)  But as the series progressed certain characters overwhelmed the series and what was once quirky and funny became so serious and kind of dreary.  By the end of it, I wasn’t it even watching.  And when I saw the last episode, I was glad that I had bailed.

Movie Franchises Too

It seems to happen more with TV shows (The X-Files being another example of a series that started so strong, but by the end seemed to be falling apart.), but I’ve see it happen to movies.  Beverly Hills Cop, to me, is a classic example.  The first movie is great.  Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley is funny, exciting and the plot makes sense.  Slowly, as the sequels start piling up, Axel supplants the supporting characters.  It goes from being a world with Axel in it to a world that almost completely revolves around Axel.

Star Wars, another franchise:  The first three movies are pretty much classic, especially the second one.  And while the third movie isn’t the greatest, it definitely has a lot of charm in the pay-offs thanks to the first two.  But the three prequels?  Jeez.  I probably couldn’t say anything that Red Letter Media hasn’t already done.  I mean, what happened to all these movies and TV shows?  They seemed to start so strong, but then turned a corner and then crashed and burned.

A Victim of Success

These projects all seem to be victims of their amazing success.  While it’s great that all your favorite actors and creators get more money and become famous, as a wise man once said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  The problem, as I see it, are the people that control the money.

The studios, the execs, the suits—  Whatever you want to call them—  A lot of these projects, when they started, were treated with a light touch.  Hell, growing phenoms often get very close to being canceled (The X-Files, Star Trek) or actually do get canceled (Firefly, Almost Human).  That’s usually when the shows are at their best.  Then, when shows get renewed and they finally “hit” (get popular, explode, become a phenom, etc), that’s when a lot of money starts coming in.

I think it’s at that point things can start to get weird or they can simply get better.  In my view, the first Spiderman franchise peaked with the second movie.  But the Iron Man/Avengers franchise got better.  Captain America: Winter Soldier was actually better than the first Captain America.  And as much as I wanted to see X-men: Days of Future Past go down in flames, it was a good movie.

But the money guys call the shots.  In the case of the Avengers, they built a smart franchise with the Marvel blueprint.  In the case of the X-men, they nearly blew it with X-men 3.  Rumor has it the exec that greenlit the first X-men movie was gone and his replacement wanted to see the franchise sink.  The first movie was too far along, but he slashed the budget for the second one.  It still did well, but by the third movie he lured away Bryan Singer on another project replacing him with (in my opinion) a less experienced ship captain, let’s say.  Ordering him to sail into a storm made it no surprise the ship sank, but thanks to time-travel in the new movie, it’s all back on track.

Even a Terrible TV Show or Movie Makes Money

Hollywood spends a ton of money on these shows and movies and even when the final product is a giant, stinking pile of turd, they’re going to squeeze every last dime out of it.  How could they not?  It’s business and in business, the object of the game is to make money.

Unfortunately, the object of creating good stories is telling great stories.  If that means one of the favorite characters has to die or go through a major life change—  Then that’s what needs to happen.  Characters like Boba Fett, Lobo, Wolverine and Darryl from the Walking Dead are all side characters that became wildly popular.  But their popularity begins to infect the story and they overwhelm it.  But from a story stand point, they weren’t meant to have that much screen time.  But from a business stand point, you need the most popular characters front and center to sell tickets and/or commercial time.

The Answer?  There is No Answer

I have absolutely no answer for this conundrum.  I used to think that creators should make the call.  But creators, like execs, are only human.  Sometimes they make the wrong call. Artists tend to be volatile people and they sometimes get mad, take their ball and go home.

Of course, execs can sometimes make the “right” call.  The Avengers franchise is pretty enjoyable.  They may stand on the talent giants and call themselves tall, but when they make the right call, it can be good.

Then I thought, the fans should decide, but my many years of self-publishing and creating tells me, no.  God no.  In a sense, fans have already made the call on the shows and movies that were ruined by popularity.  It was the execs and the creators that needed to stand against the tide and not listen to fans.  It’s not that fans are stupid, but fans can’t help themselves.  Cool side characters cease to become cool when they become the focus.  Marrying Superman, having Batman get revenge or any number of concluding storylines fans should never see, should never be seen for a reason.

If Batman got revenge, why would he need to be Batman anymore?  If Superman marries his dream girl, his romantic back and forth with Lois Lane is over.  If Spiderman reveals his identity, it changes the entire dynamic of his world and the geek Peter Parker that becomes confident with a mask on, can just become confident.

The Exceptions

A Game of Thrones is one of the great exceptions, which is probably why the series is so amazing.  So many great characters just keep dying, week after week.  (Season 4 has just been unbelievable if you haven’t seen it yet.)  A series like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Dave Sim’s Cerebus has really good endings, in part, because those endings were planned.  I guess that’s what all these projects need for greatness.

Rather than watch your favorite characters get retooled, recast, reimagined and put back on the screen until you’re sick of them, rather than seeing every last drop rung out off a franchise, it should just end.  Then the staff can take a bow and move onto the next thing.

Maybe the way to avoid letting success poison you is to exit gracefully before it does.

And on that note, I’m going to end it this column.

Previous Columns
Obesity at Cons
The Art of Conversation
The Line Between Fans and Pros
Geek Elitism
Convention Panels
Convention Volunteers
Food Gifts
Women and Cons
Get Your Room Party Together
Stop Bringing Your Kids to Cons
The Face of Geek Needs Work
Fixing the Face of Geek
Franchise Worship
Presenting Your Project
The New Image?
Stop Trying to Make Geek Cool
 Rethinking the Comic Book Con
Zombie Stories Should Still Be About People
Geek Stereotypes and the Big Bang Theory
Con Locations
Traveling to Cons on the Cheap
Con Economics
Comics, Sexism and Trolling
Searching for the Words
How to Fix Comics?  Stop Reading Them
Shopping at the Con
The Hollywood Double Edged Sword
Beware the Geek Scams