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- All Videos In Release Order
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- Seven Seasons
- story shamans podcast
The Shield, The O.C. kinda…, Game of Thrones kinda…
A while back, we defined “seasons” as a particular chunk of story with particular attributes. Much like an “act” in a movie. We then took you through all the different attributes of each season.
The seasons are defined by these attributes, it’s what makes a particular season different from the rest. This is an important distinction to understand when “variations” come into play.
Here at Story Shamans we make a clear distinction between a show’s “season”, based on structural content, and a show’s “year” based on the schedule in which it was released to an audience.
Ideally, your “seasons” and your “years” would line up perfectly.
Like we see with:
- The Shield
- The West Wing
- The Wire
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Sons of Anarchy
But, a “year” of a show and a “season” of a show won’t always be the same thing.
When this happens, it’s called a “variation.”
These variations come in many forms:
- Continued Season
- Season Jump
- Mislabeled Season
- Mash-up Season
When a season of content keeps on going into the next year.
The content should shift from one year to the next, moving the story forward from one season to the next. But with the “continued season” variation – it doesn’t.
It just keeps the same season content, across two (or more) years.
Dexter did this with its last year. Their season 8 is really just season 7 continued. Their season 7 started in year 7, and continued on through to year 8. It was just a big two parter.
One Tree Hill did the same thing for its fourth year. Year 4 wasn’t season 4, it was season 3 continued. Everybody is still in high school, playing out the events of their senior year, dragging out that first era.
When you jump to the next season, mid year.
Maybe you’re in season 4 and it turns out you’re getting cancelled. You don’t want to end your story on all the weirdness and shake up of season 4. So half-way through the year, you jump to season 5 content, to close out the era and the show.
This is exactly what The O.C. did. Year 4 starts out with our main characters living their post-high school lives. Scattered and grieving the loss of Marissa. That’s “change of circumstances,” “disbandments,” and “beginning of new era.” All season 4 stuff.
Then at the midpoint of the year, they resolve all of this stuff and jump straight into season 5 content:
Ryan’s Dad Frank comes to town to patch things up with his son – “family” and “salvation.” Ryan finds emotional solace in his new relationship with Taylor – more “salvation.” Sandy and Kirsten are going to have another baby – more “family.” Julie is dating both Bullit and Frank and has to choose between them. Will she marry for money or love? – “impossible decision.”
The show clearly transitions from season 4, straight into season 5. All in one year.
Prison Break did the exact same thing in their fourth year. Halfway through, they resolve the season 4 content, and move full-on into season 5 content.
Imagine your favorite show is truckin’ along.
- Year 1 = season 1
- Year 2 = season 2
- Year 3 = season 3
- Year 4 = season 4
- Year 5 = season 5
And then suddenly, the coming episodes are being advertised as “season 6 part 1,” and then “season 6 part 2” after that.
This variation is just a quirk of labeling.
It typically has nothing to do with the actual content and “seasons” of the show.
We see this happen with:
- The Sopranos
- Rescue Me
- Mad Men
- Breaking Bad
- Teen Wolf
- The Walking Dead
For The Sopranos, their seasons matched their years, all the way up until the end – when suddenly they had “season 6 part 1” and “season 6 part 2.” That’s what the marketing team called them anyway. But really, content-wise, it was just season 6 and season 7.
With Entourage, their season 3 was supposedly broken up into “season 3 part 1” and “season 3 part 2.” But structurally, it was really just season 3 and season 4.
These distinctions are usually business decisions, not creative ones.
With the “season jump” variation, we saw clear examples of shows blowing through two seasons worth of content, over the span of one year. And they did it sequentially. Year 4 of The O.C. first spent time on season 4 material, then moved on to season 5 material.
The “mash-up” is different. Instead of doing two seasons sequentially…
You’re doing two seasons simultaneously.
We see this in:
- Veronica Mars
- Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
At the beginning of their third year, we see elements of both season 3 and season 4. Veronica is working a new case, chasing down a serial rapist. That’s “power,” “sexual violence,” – exactly what you would expect in a season 3. But she’s also starting college. That’s “shake up,” “even trade of characters,” – exactly what you would expect in a season 4. It’s both seasons, at the same time. Structurally, you would expect one more year of high school playing out season 3 elements. But they’re jumping the gun and incorporating season 4 ideas as well. This is a classic “mash-up.”
When looking at different shows, you’re going to see all kinds of variations. And quite often, you’ll see more than one type of variation during a show’s run.
Veronica Mars had a crazy third year.
Year 3 started as a mash-up of seasons 3, and 4. Then it jumped fully into season 4 territory. Then briefly jumped to season 5, right at the end there. That’s 3 seasons, all in one year.
Alias had a couple of variations as well.
Over the course of the show they had…
- A “jump” variation: Year 2 = season 2, then season 3.
- A “mash-up” variation: Year 5 was simultaneously seasons 6 and 7.
Take a look at the new Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009).
It’s nuts. Once you think you’ve got a firm grasp on the seven seasons, go ahead and watch Battlestar Galactica‘s 4 year run and see if you can piece together just how many seasons they cover.
I’ll give you a hint: It’s all 7.
There are all kinds of combinations and permutations of the seven seasons and how they work across the years a show is on the air. It works best when each year corresponds to each season of a story. But some times, as a matter of necessity, variations are needed.
Has 3 areas of concern:
Time for that…
Season 4 deals with its deviation theme via:
How can one shake things up?
Two main ways:
- Changing the Circumstances
- Upping the Ante
It’s exactly what it sounds like.
The first era, seasons 1, 2, and 3, had a shared circumstance. In season 4, you need to change that circumstance – shake it up.
This is what we see on The O.C.
Season 4 sees our main characters having graduated from high school, and now living their post-high-school-lives. Summer’s across the country at college. Seth is waiting to hear from RISD for his late admission. And Ryan’s working and living in a bar, knee-deep in a depressive spiral. Season 4 also plays out how everyone is dealing with Marissa’s death, which occurred at the end of season 3. This isn’t just the new “post-high-school” circumstance, it’s the new “post-Marissa” circumstance.
There’s a bunch of ways to shake things up. Let’s look at a seemingly similar, but very different, way to do it:
The Vampire Diaries is essentially a high school show. But they didn’t want to leave the high school setting behind quite yet, so they changed the circumstance in a different way. In season 4, our main character Elena becomes a vampire. She spent the first three seasons as a human. She also spent the first three seasons romantically involved with Stefan. Come season 4 – she’s no longer human, and her romance with Damon is in full swing. Leaving high school seems like an obvious choice to shake things up, but by digging a little deeper, The Vampire Diaries was able to significantly shake things up, while still keeping their practical setting.
By this, we mean to make the stakes of the story that much more dire, that much bigger, that much harder and more intense. From a character point of view, they’ve gotta invest more, they’ve gotta have more to lose.
This means different things for different stories.
In Grey’s Anatomy season 4, our characters went from being surgical interns, to full-blown residents – in charge of their own interns. They moved up a level, and now things are that much harder and challenging.
When a story is based around careers, it’s very straight forward to up the ante in this way. But what about a different kind of story?
Supernatural season 4 ups the ante by introducing angels to the story. For the first era, it was humans fighting demons and monsters. By introducing angels to the story you have greatly expanded the mythos – significantly upping the ante. Especially considering that these angels have tasked the Winchesters with preventing the escape of the devil himself. This is huge for a couple of monster hunters. The stakes just jumped up a couple of levels as they go from two brothers hunting down urban legends, to straight up super heroes trying to save the world.
However you do it, whichever way is best for your story – you have to shake things up. This is usually done by changing the circumstances and upping the ante.
Season 3 has 3 areas of concern:
Let’s take a look at the:
In season 3, the positive theme is expressed as:
The most common forms of “creation” you see in season 3’s are:
By “newborns” we mean anything that is being created for the first time. It could be a child, a business, a program, a piece of art. Whatever it is, it’s brand new.
We see a clear example of a newborn on Angel. In season 3, Angel’s son Connor is born. Vampires aren’t typically capable of having babies – yet this little guy comes into the world anyway.
A less obvious example of this newborn idea would be what we see in the third season of The O.C. Sandy spends the season doing his best to get his hospital project off the ground. It would be a new hospital built from the ground up. Ultimately, it doesn’t happen. But he spends all season doing his best – trying to birth it into the world.
By “resurrections” we mean bringing something back from the dead, literally or metaphorically. It could be literal, like a person – in a sci-fi or fantasy story. Or metaphorical, like a failed business coming back to life, or an old romance rekindled.
In the third season of The Vampire Diaries we see several members of the Original Vampire Family, literally brought back from the dead. Brothers Kol and Finn are awakened from a state of suspended death. Their father Mikael is also brought back from a suspended death-like state. And their mother Esther’s ghost is brought back from “The Other Side.” All four of these characters have literally been brought back from the dead. Literally resurrected.
We can see a more real-world example in a show like Parenthood.
In season 3, brothers Adam and Crosby go into business together and start their own record label. They buy the building and re-open the well-known, but long defunct, “Luncheonette Recording Studio.” They resurrect it.
Whether creating something entirely new, or bringing something back to life again, season 3’s positive theme is all about “creation.”