Has two traits:
- Even Trade, for your roster of characters
In season 2, our previous separation/negative/deviation season, we had a change in our roster of characters with “new blood.” That meant we were bringing in new people – explicitly adding to the story’s roster of characters.
For an “even trade” in characters, this means…
We’re gonna lose some, and gain some, in equal measure.
What does this look like? Let’s take a peek:
In season 4 of Friday Night Lights they traded show regulars:
That’s 4 for 4. That’s a straight even trade.
Glee did the same thing. After season 3, most of the glee club graduated. And while we kept up with some of them, like Rachel, Kurt, and Santana – others fell by the wayside, only making the occasional appearance, like:
With a lot of the group having graduated, the club needs new members. So in come:
Generally speaking, that’s an even trade. Out with the old and in with the new, as life goes on.
An even trade of this size works best on large ensemble shows. The smaller the cast, the smaller the trade.
What this means, is a little difficult to pin down. But basically:
The quality of your show has to go up. The show has to get better.
You’re giving your story a “promotion” in the eyes of the audience. The show was good before, but now it’s really killin’ it.
Why? Why do we need to specifically make the show so much better than before? Well, it’s been 3 full seasons now. Most shows don’t last even that long.
If your show is going to go for a second era, then you’ve got to show your audience that there’s more story to tell. You’ve got to open up the story to bigger and better things. You’ve gotta show them that the best is yet to come.
Let’s take a look at a story that really nailed the promotion:
For the first three seasons, LOST was doing fantastic things with the stranded-on-an-island idea. But to “promote” the story, they moved past the mysterious island angle and opened up the story to bigger and better things. We’re shown that in the future, some of the survivors get off the island. Things get weirder, more complex, as mystery upon mystery teases itself into the future. More intricate mythology, and deeper, wider reaching questions, about not just the island, but: Why these people? Why go back to the island?
This is what we mean when we say “promotion.”
They even took it one step further in promoting not just the story content of the show, but the format as well. Season 4 ditches the flashback format from the previous era, and instead utilizes the flashforward format in the new era. That’s a definite promotion. Good work, LOST.
A more subtle example would be something like Dexter.
Season 4 pushed the quality of the show to new heights. The first three seasons were quite good, but season four really hit its stride and arguably achieved the series’ high point: Rita’s death.
Now, we understand this “promotion” idea can be fairly subjective. Especially when one of its main components is:
“Hey, make it ‘better.'”
But keep in mind, the general idea of the promotion is to open the show up to greater possibilities. Breathe new life into the overall story by leaving behind what’s already been explored – search out new vistas. Specifically new, cooler, more interesting vistas. Season 4 should feel like the meaningful culmination of everything that’s come before.
It’s like reinventing the show in a way. By season 4, you need to communicate to your audience that not only is there more story to tell, but better story to tell.
But what if you don’t promote. What’s the harm? Well, then you’ve got what we call a:
If the quality of your show was solid all through seasons 1, 2, and 3. And then you stick to the same general level of quality in season 4, then you’ve “slumped.” The show can’t stay the same level of quality. Because even if they don’t consciously realize it, the audience unconsciously needs things to get significantly better after the first era’s over.
Promoting isn’t an option, it’s a necessity for the longevity of your story.
If season 4 doesn’t take the story to new heights, then it’s no longer building with forward momentum, it’s sliding backward into inferiority. The best days of the story will be behind you and your audience will feel it. They will lose interest and stop watching. They’ll be thinking:
“The show peaked, what’s the point?”
It makes sense right? The first chunk is over, and they want the next chunk to be that much cooler. They want it to be an improvement upon the foundation set by the first era. If it’s just more of the same, they’re going to lose interest.
A lot of shows have suffered a slump in their season 4, and then never really recovered from the lost momentum:
- Grey’s Anatomy
- Rescue Me
They all had more seasons, sure. But the quality of the show never really recovered. Nobody really loved the show as much as they did previously.
They all coasted too much in season 4. These season 4’s weren’t necessarily worse than seasons 1, 2, or 3. But not explicitly better either. As a result, you’ve got no “promotion,” but a “slump” instead.
You can recover from a slump, but it’s an uphill battle.
Arguably The Sopranos did it. Season 4 was not great. It was too much of the same from the past 3 seasons. The circumstances weren’t very different, no real shake-up, nothing bigger, badder, more interesting, higher stakes. It was just continuing on from season 3, still playing out things that probably should have been wrapped up last season. As a consequence: it’s a slump.
Not a huge one. But a noticeable one.
Season 4 was arguably their weakest season, when it needed to be one of their strongest. But, season 5 got things moving again. It’s arguably one of their strongest. It picked the quality back up, and things worked out in the end.
What if your season 4 isn’t the same level of quality, but noticeably worse?
What if you’ve “run out of ideas” and season 4 is worse than any part of the season 1, 2, 3 era? That’s a true slump that’s very difficult to recover from. A noticeably bad season 4 is a show breaker.
So when putting together your season 4, make sure to swap out an even number of characters for new ones. And go out of your way to up the quality of your show. Open it up to new ideas, grand new story threads, and a general sense of everything getting more meaningful and even better than ever before.