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Rebels with Cause

Power tends to corrupt, and lack of power inspires rebellion.

Jan 14, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 17 • By ELI LEHRER
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Producers sometimes broke the rules, but stories were generally awfully simple. As the networks’ dominance dimmed, and cheap-to-produce reality programming combined with digital video recorders made reruns far less lucrative, plots grew more finessed across the board. This made police and medical procedurals, which still predominate, better by any standard—i.e., characters can actually grow in ways they couldn’t before—but has proven even more dramatically fulfilling when it comes to high-concept science--fiction and political shows with central mysteries and sprawling plot arcs. 

While Abrams’s Lost and Fox Network’s 24 were commercial and critical successes, dozens of well-acted, decently reviewed, big-budget shows—V, FlashForward, and this past year’s Last Resort, to name threeended up with plot twists that cost them viewers and, eventually, a place on the air. Revolution, however, seems to have hit on the right formula: Every episode has a clear beginning, middle, and end, but also reveals some carefully selected piece of the show’s mythology, and manages to answer a few big questions. This gives extra value in syndication while still offering the storytelling viewers demand. This sounds obvious, but it’s hard to pull off in practice, and Revolution does it better than anyone else has to date.

So far it seems to be working. Revolution isn’t a perfect program, but it’s doing well among the key audiences advertisers like; it’s different, fresh, and, yes, a bit revolutionary.

Eli Lehrer is president of R Street.

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