I was watching some episodes of the Second Season of Dark Angel about a week ago when something struck me. While Jessica Alba, Michael Weatherly, and Jensen Ackles (YES! YES! *ahem*) are very good actors, it was still obvious as I watched why this season was its last.
A successful show has to have multiple components that jive and end becoming more when brought together. Also add in a little luck, a decent time slot (so it can be discovered), and hopefully minimal executive meddling.
Components going into the show would be the actors, the special effects crew, the filming crew, the support staff, the creator, the music (one ignored a lot), and the writers. If any one or two of these components have issues or don't mesh well with the others, what is filmed can turn out adequate or sub par, even if the other pieces are outstanding.
Of all these, probably the most critical are the actors and the writers. You can have the best actors in the world, but if the story bites, they won't be able to carry it. Inversely, you can have the greatest story ever, but if the actors can't bring it to life, it will come across as stale and boring.
Yet it seems like fans forget that shows are more than just the faces they see on the screen. That the very success of the series they love so much, is dependent on more than just those they can physically see.
Let's take Dark Angel's second season as an example of what can go wrong. The main character, Max, escapes Manticore and tries to go back to the life she had before the final showdown in season one. Unbeknown to her, she has been infected with a DNA specific virus which will attack Eyes Only when she comes into physical contact with him. She does, and he almost dies. Since they are the love couple of the show, this throws in a nice angsty dynamic for the writers to play with. Introduced into this season are Alec, another bio-engineered warrior like Max, whose morals tend to play on the loose side of life, and Joshua, one of the first successful DNA cross experiments.
While Jessica and Michael do very well with the brooding and downhearted expressions as they search fruitlessly for a cure for the virus, and Alec throws in some spice just by his general quirkiness and sex appeal, the stories that their efforts are put into, do not live up to the talents being evidenced. Several new side characters come across as caricatures rather than people to be taken seriously as threats, and tend to suck away from the show rather than add to it. The Halloween episode looks to have been intended to be comedic, but falls pretty much flat - in a society such as the one they live in, the comedic element takes away rather than adds. Then throw in some convenient hackneyed plots so we get the bio-engineered freak of the week, and no matter how much talent oozes from the main actors, nothing can save this. Which was a total pity, as the world, most of the character, the angst venues, and several plot threads had a lot of potential.
Luckily there are a lot of shows, Sci-fi and other, that do end up getting all the right ingredients together to where they sing to the audience. Firefly was one (doomed by those execs! Stay out of things!!!). The writing was crisp, the actors awesome, and there was a rapport between them and those they worked with on set that came through every episode. Boston Legal is much the same, and they take you from the ludicrous to dead weeping serious. Supernatural has top notch actors, incredibly sneaky and evil writers who beneath a monster of the week venue weave threads for season long plots almost to where you do not see them until the bigger plot hits, very good special effects, and one added thing this show does squeeze out to awesome effect is the music! 80's rock thrown in for effect and topic, giving an added layer of depth to the stories, something you just don't see much of in TV land.