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16 July 2005 @ 01:13 pm
TV protagonists  
Can anyone name a television series that doesn't have a single central protagonist and isn't a comedy or a soap?
Oh, and nothing non-fiction either, smarty-pants.

I was just thinking about how it's a fairly impressive feat that the main actors on long-running tv shows appear in every single episode. I mean, obviously those playing title roles like Sarah Michelle Gellar or David Boreanaz must appear in every episode. But then you have shows like The Sopranos or even Star Trek, where there is a clear protagonist.

I just thought of another category without a central protagonist: police dramas. Law and Order and the like.

Can anyone else think of other shows or categories that break the single protagonist mould?
And does it work?
Loki Carbislokicarbis on July 16th, 2005 03:17 am (UTC)
Arguably the various Star Trek spin off shows - although Kirk was the main character of the first series, later incarnations were less single protagonist-oriented - plus Babylon 5 and a few other science fiction shows fit into this format. As does Carnivale, Oz or Deadwood.
Jacobyak_boy on July 16th, 2005 03:27 am (UTC)
Yeah, Star Trek evolved more and more into an ensemble show as time went on.

The first season of Next Gen is still very much in the style of the original, but the show got more sophisticated and more and more became a show of shifting protagonists. I say that because I don't feel it was ever a case of multiple protagonists, you would just have a different protagonist depending on the episode. It might be Data this week and Riker next week.

Science fiction is certainly a genre most willing to play with dramatic conventions.

I have been meaning to see both Oz and Deadwood.
I haven't heard much about Carnivale.
Jacobyak_boy on July 16th, 2005 03:30 am (UTC)
The question of the main actor, however, is still one to address.

Are there any episodes of ST:TNG in which Patrick Stewart does not appear at all?
Mikespunkart on July 16th, 2005 04:56 am (UTC)
I'm pretty sure there are a couple of episodes where the captain is off the ship, if not for the entire episode, for much of it, and anyway, it isn't whether a character appears or not that is important, but who the story focuses on. In single protagonist shows it's very uncommon for the story arcs of 'minor characters' to be explored, except as an almost throwaway comment, or even only as a way of reflecting upon the central characters journey.
Jacobyak_boy on July 16th, 2005 05:09 am (UTC)
it isn't whether a character appears or not that is important, but who the story focuses on

I agree, but I was saying that as a seperate issue, which is actually the original issue I was thinking about:

Sarah Michelle Gellar appeared in all 143 episodes of Buffy. The reason she appeared in all of them is obvious, she played the title character and central protagonist, and that was what led to my thoughts on single versus multiple protagonist shows.

However, the original thought was: gee, that's a lot of episodes to be in of any one show.

And I'm certain that there are many actors who have been in far more, especially in some of the long running soaps.
Jacobyak_boy on July 16th, 2005 05:10 am (UTC)
And again, as I say, that's 143 episodes without a single one in between that she could sit out.
Mike: Changesspunkart on July 16th, 2005 04:51 am (UTC)
Not quite a police show, and distinct enough in it's set up that it's worth a mention: The Professionals. It was very much an ensemble piece where the three central figures (perhaps Cowley less so) reacted to various terrorist threats. Fantastic TV. I miss it a lot. I guess it was a buddy show of sorts, but Cowley was a very central figure.

I would go as far as to say that most shows these days have a spread of central characters (E.R. C.S.I. West Wing, to a certain extent, too) and that shows with a single protagonist are in the minority. Even shows with a central 'main character' include others with their own story arcs - the new Dr Who, for example, which seems more focused on Rose's journey than the Doctor's. It isn't necessarily a new thing - most shows revolving around a family usually share the load around the characters. Bonanza, for instance.

This is part because people like Bocho used the aoap format (many characters, and overlapping ongoing stories) when he created Hill Street Blues. There was an excellent article in Last week's Good Weekend that suggested that despite the glut of reality TV etc, a lot of TV is getting more complex.

Jacobyak_boy on July 16th, 2005 05:01 am (UTC)
Re: Buddies
I think my thoughts on the matter are coloured by the kind of TV I like to watch, which is TV drama as opposed to soap or serial.

I didn't really think of shows like ER, because they are serials.
West Wing I've never seen.

The "family" shows are, again, serials.

However, shows like that are bordering on the soap format anyway.
Shows like All Saints or McLeod's Daughters.

The serial is really the hybrid between the soap and the drama. A serial will have its episode-long story, but it will tie in with the continuing saga of these people's lives.

Soaps, of course, never really resolve anything, and it's just one long continuing strand. Although, it wouldn't be accurate to say that soaps don't have any story structure, or story arcs.
Mikespunkart on July 16th, 2005 05:46 am (UTC)
Re: Buddies
Oh but they do, neighbours, for instance has several story arcs happening at any given time. There is just no story arc that stretches over the course of the entire series. That is by necessity, naturally - I'm sure the producers of neighbours never intend for it to end.

Anyway, Most shows _are_ serials these days. As I said, the soap format has heavily influenced the format of other styles of shows. The idea of a story arc stretching over the entirety of a single season, for instance, is relatively new too. It certainly didn't happen in the original Star Trek or even Next Gen.
Jacobyak_boy on July 16th, 2005 06:06 am (UTC)
Re: Buddies
Well, my definition of a serial is a show where the interest is mainly on the inter-character relationships.

There are three main causes of conflict in a story; let's call them internal (self), social (friends/lovers) and external (strangers).

Obviously no one show has only one and not the other two, but generally a show's focus is mainly on one of these.


Internal - The Sopranos
Social - Neighbours
External - Law and Order

Soaps and serials are shows that focus on the social, and by extension have long, continuing story threads, simply because the inter-personal relationships have to be in a constant state of flux to keep conflict levels high. Relationship problems don't resolve in a single episode.

Yes, many shows are taking on the social element a lot more. A show like Buffy, for instance, had a huge amount of social conflict, often centered around romantic entaglements. However, on Buffy, the "story engine", what kept the show moving, was external conflict.

So, whilst most shows have aspects of the serial to them, I disagree that most shows actually are serials. If anything, shows are a patchwork of different elements.
Mikespunkart on July 16th, 2005 09:16 am (UTC)
Well, that's certainly an odd an odd defintions you've got there! :/

I'm not arguing the merits of one over the other, just saying that the soap format has been co-opted into other shows, and is merely one of the many reasons shows are less focused on one protagonist ( which I thought was what we were discussing).

Jacobyak_boy on July 16th, 2005 09:29 am (UTC)
Re: Umm
Well, a serial is really the nice name for a soap.

When I say serial I am talking about shows like McLeod's Daughters.
So, the show is more about who is in love with whom, and who wants revengo on whom and so on.
The events in the single episode are almost secondary to the ongoing relationship story.

Anyway, yes, I did get offf the track of the single protagonist discussion, but I guess my point is the more you focus on inter-personal relationships, the more characters need to feature for the show to work.

If a show is all about who is shagging whom, etcetera, then you need to be playing with a number of different threads to keep it interesting. Which is why soaps have so many major characters.

When the show is about fighting external forces or wrestling with internal demons, you can afford to focus on one character.

And, as far as the external forces model goes, even if it is an ensemble cast, ove could make the argument that, if they work together as a team, it is almost like the different characters are all one and the same protagonist.

What I'm talking about is on a show like The A-Team or Mission:Impossible, you have a team all working together to fight a common enemy/achieve a common goal. So the story becomes about the team - the team is the protagonist.

Pardon my rambling.
Outlier Manlukeii on July 16th, 2005 05:59 am (UTC)
Deadwood - not entirely fictional, but you wouldn't call it non-fiction.
Babylon 5
The A-Team
21 Jump Street
Press Gang
Baywatch (although this might count as a soap)
Beverly Hills 90210 (also arguably a soap)
Degrassi (Junior) High
The Dukes of Hazzard - though this is the buddy format
Northern Exposure
Jacob: dangerousyak_boy on July 16th, 2005 06:12 am (UTC)
I think we have nailed a few categories that tend to have multiple protagonists:

Babylon 5 (Sci-fi)
21 Jump Street (Cop Show)
Press Gang (Serial? I don't really know it)
Baywatch (Soap/Serial)
Beverly Hills 90210 (Soap/Serial)
Degrassi (Junior) High (Soap/Serial)
Northern Exposure (Serial)

I think you may have hit on another category with The A-Team and The Dukes of Hazzard: action shows.

Also in that category would be Mission: Impossible, Charlie's Angels and so on.

I'd say these kinds of shows are almost an extension of cop shows, however.
Outlier Manlukeii on July 16th, 2005 08:27 am (UTC)
Surely you should be saying that Cop shows are a specific type of action show.
Jacob: hayak_boy on July 16th, 2005 08:39 am (UTC)
Um, yeah...

Although it depends on the show, a lot of cop shows have little or no action in them.

But, you're right.
travisjhalltravisjhall on July 17th, 2005 06:36 am (UTC)

As you have identified, there are ensemble shows, in which there are multiple central characters. In some ensemble shows, all the ensemble characters appear in all of the episodes. In some, they don't. IIRC, B5 had, as an example, an episode or two when Sheridan was missing, and even though he was the most central character the show had, he wasn't on screen.

Gailkowari on July 17th, 2005 10:27 pm (UTC)
Lost? It has central characters, some more central than others, but the main group is about 10-12 strong, and each ep is about a character in that group.

Sci-Fi generally has the "adventuring group" aspect to it. Ie, its not one character, but a leader of a main group, and the group can continue the plot without said leader if necessary.
escarpeescarpe on October 14th, 2005 01:47 pm (UTC)
Blake's 7.
Yes his name is in the title but after season 2 he wasn't even around (unless you count giving Avon bad dreams, and everyone they meet going "oh yeah your Blake's crew")
It's an ensemble cast and no it's not a comedy even if they are dressed up like Space pirate bondage masters*.

*I'm copywriting this Idea as I think it could be a great series even if people compare it to Blake's 7.