TV Shows & Grand Argument Stories

I’m trying to see if there are successful TV shows that don’t break their seasons into Grand Argument Stories.

Here are the approaches I can think of:

Mrs. Maisel: Pilot is a GAS & Season 1 is a GAS.
Game of Thrones: Season 1 is a GAS (that of Ned Stark), the show was certainly trying to be a GAS
ER: Individual characters had either 6 week or season-long GAS. I think the seasons had their own OS, but can’t totally point at one.
Star Trek:TNG: Individual Episodes probably have GAS (at least sometimes), but the show has no grand design
Breaking Bad: currently I feel like this is one GAS and that the seasons do not have individual Grand Argument stories, but individual seasons clearly have shape. I don’t remember the details enough to know for sure.


ETA: What is a show that has a clear, long-running story or set of stories, that doesn’t end its season with a complete story? I’m looking for a strategy: how do shows end their seasons when there is at least one story that will continue the next season?


I almost wonder if Breaking Bad has a GAS that covers the whole series as well. It’s a pretty well constructed story of the rise and fall of Walter White broken up into 5 seasons.

In regards to the seasons themselves - I would be surprised if season 1 had a complete form due to its abrupt ending caused by the writers’ strike. I gather that would have affected season 2 as well.

The X-Files had some individual Dramatica-analyzes GAS episodes but if there is a series or season GAS I couldn’t tell you what it was, even though it was supposed to be aiming for something.

True Blood had a lot of different threads and substories but I couldn’t tell you were one ended and another began. As as a result, it’s the kind of show that’s really fun for a few seasons and then goes completely off the rails.

Dexter if I remember correctly had one clear story (probably a GAS) per season, but there also was a bigger story that carried through from season to season. Also got worse toward the end.

There are also a few of anthology type shows that have complete GAS’s (or try) per season and then restart with different characters, but are unified by a particular theme or setting – American Horror Story, True Detective, Broadchurch, The Sinner.

FWIW I’d love to analyze Season 1 of The Sinner sometime for other reasons – I thought it has two tightly interconnected complete stories, one that’s present day and one that’s flashback. But I could be wrong.

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I’ve never seen a good pilot that didn’t have a storyform or at least give us the first signpost of one (Good Girls comes to mind).

I can’t think of lot of successful fiction shows without storyforms. But, lots of reality TV, Docs, and animation does it. It probably tastes more work in today’s day and age to pull off a fictional propagandize TV show. I suppose any show where they “jump the shark” (Happy Days ref) would be a good place to start on searching for them. I believe they are usually a product of the showrunner “moving on” or getting overloaded (Ryan Murphy shows come to mind…but, people would watch Glee for the Music when it struggled toward the end)

Assuming you just mean straight fiction with no other hook (music, nostalgia, info, voyeurism), I guess it depends on the era and whether it was planned or done as an after thought. It also depends on how procedural vs serialized you need to go.

A lot of animation like Transformers/Headmasters don’t have complete stories except for their movies. And, even then, whether the movies have one or not often didn’t mean success at the box office as Transformers is only uplifted in cult post box office bomb.

I’ve noticed most procedural network TV does the “case of the week” and uses the premier and finale episodes as a way to tie in the season StoryForm. Grey’s Anatomy does this all the time after Season 4. It’s almost like they divide it between two writer teams. One for the big start/end episodes and the other for the typical procedurals.

My favorite shows work in a loop. Below are a few off the top of my head that use the StoryForm and some loop after a planned ending. My favorite shows have a planned ending from the beginning with a set number of seasons.

Here are some non-traditional uses with StoryForms:

Battlestar Galactica - planned 4 seasons and movies used as season bridges. (Reimagined Adaptation)

Neon Genesis Evangelion - planned 1 season (freak of the week, fan service and serialized). Additional movies used to retell from different perspectives. (Rare Anime adapted to manga post animation — most anime is adapted from manga).

Have you seen JJ Abram’s Felicity from way back when? They did something really intriguing when they had to end early only to discover they had 5 more episodes. So, they made it into an interesting “what if” loop ending.

Firefly is an interesting one where they had to end it with a movie after the cult following revived it post cancellation.

Remember Quantum Leap where the last episode just tries to make sense of all the “jump of the weeks”

The Affair…still need to see the rest of this. But, you get multiple storyforms in parallel.

Voyager, Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5?

Haha. I see a pattern there.


A lot of TV shows begin well and go off the rails…

I stopped watching Homeland In season 4 or 5 because the story disappeared without Brody. And, I don’t remember hating the ending to Weeds despite the decline. The endings for Lost and Breaking Bed felt tacked on, but the movie for BB was a good GAS. Private Practice had a Deus Ex Machina wrap up in more than one season. I don’t think Gotham has a StoryForm for the first 5 or 6 episodes I suffered through. One Tree Hill ended abruptly. Heroes lost it’s writing team and never recovered.

I’ll let you know if I think of more.

It almost certainly does. It has a clear MC: Steadfast, IC: Change, which I always take as a clue to a GAS.

Do you know I was a writer on The X-Files? I can assure you there was no GAS in any season.

I wonder if True Blood (never seen it) is like ER in that it had specific story arcs for characters, but nothing for the show itself.

I would put all of these shows outside of what I’m considering. Voyager for instance has no “season” in that it just has 22 episodes but nothing tying them together. True Detective is the opposite: each season is completely disconnected to the others.

So, yes, but not what I’m looking for.

This has helped me clarify my own question (I hope).

What is a show that has a clear, long-running story or set of stories, that doesn’t end its season with a complete story?

Game of Thrones doesn’t end all stories with a GAS, only the one with Ned Stark.
Breaking Bad clearly has “chapters” but I don’t think their seasons are GAS.
ER has many-week GAS, but I can’t remember how their seasons end.
Attack on Titan has one long story that just builds, and builds. Same with A-Jin: Demi-Human. (They should both have MCs, but stumble.)

I’m looking for a strategy: how do shows end their seasons when there is at least one story that will continue the next season?

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A published fantasy writer told us once that a trait of fantasy genre is to have a problem at the end, I.e. everything working out ok … except for one of the character’s that had a ‘slight’ (haha) problem, at the end, of having gotten a little red lizard body (let’s say). That seemed to be needed to be addressed in the next book in the series, from my take on it.

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It depends on what is given…

Do you want to plan this from pilot, clean up mid season due to shortening or lengthening of episode count, impose a storyform when there wasn’t one to end it, or just plant a new problem for the next season so you can storyform that?


Usually you impose an event that involves all the characters, like a wedding or a funeral or a terrorist attack or some major separation, that ties up the OS for a GAS or the Tale equivalent and leaves the Change Character personal problems in inequity for the storyform.

Serialized Movie Success Example using PCRO:

In Spider-verse, the “Potential” for the Peter/Gwen romance is setup for for the first signpost of their storyform while completing the storyform for the movie.

Serialized Movie Failure Example:

Spider-man 2 throws in new bad guys in the prologue to give more story possibilities for the future that never got realized due to no GAS.

Or, are you just asking how to retcon?


24 And Desperate Houswives retconned using a time jump between seasons. Desperate Houswives is a GAS, but 24 probably doesn’t always count as a complete story.


Grey’s Anatomy kills off a character, move or transfers them to end a season without a full GAS or does it at the next premiere.

Private Practice and Grey’s anatomy use a big event (Weddings, Funerals, Car Crashes, Terrorist Attack in the hospital) as I mentioned above. How about Scandal and How to get away with Murder? —I doubt those two shows have a GAS for every season past season one and they use all the same Shonda tricks for killing off characters and retconning a season when politics outside the show take over.

Here’s some more TV Show examples:

Anyway, call me if this doesn’t do it and I can help if I know the specifics.

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Oh, I forgot about that!

I think this sounds accurate. It’s one of those shows whose main character (Sookie) and main relationship (Sookie/Bill) is a lot less interesting than what’s going on with all the subplots and minor characters.

I think the same could be said of Westworld. In that case, I would summarize the dramatic strategy as “now the we’ve seen the MC Change, what is she going to do (in the second season) with this newfound perspective?” Unfortunately, while the second season has some great moments, I don’t think it fully pulls it off.


The Netflix sitcom-drama No Good Nick is a single GAS split over its 2 seasons. Season 1 ends on a small cliffhanger.

However, I think I read that it was initially intended to be just one season, but they later decided to split into two parts. So not sure if this fits your criteria.

FYI, I can’t say enough good things about this show, highly recommended to watch with the family. I think it has the best treatment of the particular OS Issue vs. Counterpoint that I’ve ever seen. Plus the RS kept hitting me so hard I was like “no…mustn’t cry during a sitcom…” many times over.


Counterpart with JK Simmons & Olivia Williams.

It’s an espionage thriller / drama on amazon prime video, and it’s easily the best show that hasn’t been nominated for any major awards.

I interpret the end of season 1 as the midpoint and the end of season 2 as the conclusion.

Spoilers are hidden:


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The end of season 1 feels somewhat like a ending because the MC changes and the relationship story has an “outcome” for lack of a better term. But the plot ends season 1 on a cliffhanger (ugh–great show, but ugh).

Also, you could argue there’s a “global” OS which has a midpoint in the season 1 finale along with a “season 1” OS which is probably just the prerequisites but could be interpreted to be a season 1 standalone story goal. My hunch is it just ends on the midpoint because I felt zero sense of any plot ending at all with the season 1 finale.

I could be mistaken and there could be a season 1 GAS because the MC, IC, and RS TL’s are pretty clearly ended with season 1 and also ended differently with season 2. So, perhaps there was an OS ending with season 1 but I didn’t like it / refused to believe it was the ending (like Infinity War part 1).

Aside: I wish there were a website that categorizes seasons/series that have:

  1. no ending at all (e.g. Lost–let’s not mince words)
  2. seasons that end on a cliffhanger within a series that has an actual ending (e.g. Counterpart)–so you can wait to start watching until there is a verified ending & not waste your time on a lost or be stuck in “wait for next season” purgatory
  3. seasons that end properly (e.g. season 1 of Daredevil, The Righteous Gemstones)
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Interesting. Awesome. I will check this out. I’ve heard great things about the show already.

Does the change stick? Or it is back in play for the second season?

I watched Your Lie in April, which is great but the MC changes at the midpoint and it sucks all the air out of the show. When you know Dramatica, you see exactly why they had to approach the final ten episodes the way they did, and why it couldn’t work.

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Spoilers for Counterpart (a show you should all see). I’ll try to be adequately vague & structural.


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I believe the MC who changes in season 1 flips back over the course of season 2 to his “start of the show” baseline. You could interpret this to be a taste of change overall, esp since the IC doesn’t clearly change at the end of s1 but does by the end of s2.

I make no claims that my analyses are accurate! I’m not what you call a professional. :smiley:

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Mr. Robot? When I saw the next to the last episode of the series, I thought what a perfect tie up, and more my perky upbeat mood taste, so I let it be at that. It seemed gas to me w/o analysis, and the last episode (that I never cared to see other than some scenes/images impossible to ignore) sounded like thrown into storyforming chaos. Just saying.

Person of Interest had the GAS over the entire series. I didn’t really notice them splitting the seasons up, which makes me think they may have written the entire series at once. Interviews with a few of the characters seem to suggest that as well (most notably Taraji P. Henson’s interview about her character arc)

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They didn’t write it all at once. That’s not how long-form TV works.

I’ve been watching the comedy reruns of Coach with the husband, lately. We have just discovered the series. They might have a handle on what you are looking for, both in single episode and at season ends/starts. Of course, there are a lot of other-foot-droppings at some end scenes for laughs without knowing how they resolve that one, but it doesn’t seem to harm the desire to see the next episode. It seems to be mixed with what you described as what you wanted, but that’s not a TV professional eye on this, just a common viewer’s,

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I don’t know Coach but does it actually have arcs? I mean, is there a legitimate story that runs more than the length of a season?

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