When Will Storytelling Matter More Than Money?


The season 2 finale of the hit Fox show, Lethal Weapon, aired recently. It placed lead reckless cop Martin Riggs in a pickle. With Riggs’ relocation to Texas in his future and a gunshot wound to the chest to stop it. The finale’s storytelling built from two seasons of law-breaking family turmoil and a rollercoaster relationship with his partner-turned-captain on the force Roger Murtaugh.

Which held some of the series’ most raw and real performances from the show’s lead actors, Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford, leaving me in tears and begging for answers.

Much to our surprise, the supposed answers came much sooner than expected. Crawford (Riggs) has been fired by Fox for multiple instances of disobedience on set, initially putting the show in danger of cancellation.

Warner Bros. opted to renew the series in the wake of Crawford’s firing. Bringing actor Sean William Scott on board as a new lead opposite Wayans. The situation begs a question that needs answering in the entertainment industry today:

At what point will storytelling matter more than money?

We will not comment on the actions of Crawford, the cast of Lethal Weapon, FOX or Warner Bros. We do not align ourselves one way or the other in this matter in terms of actions taken. That is not the focus or point of this article.

Where Did It Begin?

Lethal Weapon, a successful reboot of the movie franchise of the same name, has been met with its success because of its superb casting and excellent and witty writing. Met with situations similar to these, the majority of TV shows and movies who have pressed on despite the loss of key characters or actors have been met with subpar results.

CBS’s hit sitcom Two and a Half Men saw an upset in ratings when the lead of the show, Charlie Sheen, was slotted out of the show following a trip to rehab and less-than-kind comments made about the show’s creator Chuck Lorre. With Charlie’s same-name character dead on the sitcom, actor Ashton Kutcher took the lead alongside Sheen’s former co-star John Cryer for the show’s final two seasons to diminished viewership.

The Office and The X-Files Had It Too!

The beloved import The Office, led by a memorable cast of Steve Carrell, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer and many more, ran for nine seasons on NBC.

For seven of these seasons, Carrell successfully led the charge as paper company Dunder Mifflin’s regional manager Michael Scott. However, the last two were handed over to James Spader’s Robert California after Carrell’s contract expired. These seasons were met with heavy criticism and significantly lower viewership numbers for the season’s premieres and finales than previous years.

Even sci-fi classic The X-Files saw a decline in its eighth and ninth seasons when a lawsuit between lead David Duchovny and 20th Century Fox caused tension with the show. It led to Duchovny’s diminished role during its final two seasons.

The hit show saw some of the lowest ratings of its original run when new character John Doggett slotted in and closed with a series finale viewership of 13 million. A hefty achievement by today’s standards.

However, the lowest season finale ranking the show had seen by 1990s-2000s standards.

Some Didn’t Fall After They Rose, Though…

Playing devil’s advocate, some shows have managed to rise from the ashes of their lost brethren with nary a scar. ABC’s long-running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy — despite numerous upsets from beloved characters’ departures (McDreamy, anyone?) — has maintained relatively steady ratings.

With only a slow decline over several seasons demonstrating the decrease of live viewership and subsequent increase of DVR views and streaming. Some shows have even built cast turnover into their premises.

BBC’s hit sci-fi Doctor Who thrives off of the main character’s “regenerations” into another form (i.e. change of lead actor/actress). While others, like True Detective and American Horror Story, make each season its own open-and-close story. This allows for new characters, cast, and stories to thrive under the same umbrella.

Storytelling — Substance VS. Money

There are shows that worked and didn’t work when circumstances changed since the beginning of the film industry. These recent examples highlight an unnerving trend with modern-day storytelling:

Substance is taking a backseat to bankability.

With media having such a hefty influence on the development and evolution of society, the top priority of today’s media companies should be to bring to fruition untold stories. Stories that can impact culture and influence positive change in its consumers.

It is understandable a business needs to be profitable to be sustainable. The current state of affairs in various parts of our culture deserves reflection in the form of impactful, diverse, and inspiring content. Not the last-ditch efforts of an industry too slow in adapting to its consumers’ changing desires.

We need substance. We need stories, not unimaginative money grabs.

When will the media industry step up and deliver?

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