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Sunday, January 4, 2015

First in a Series

We couldn’t afford to pay for premium cable television, so Gretta and I missed viewing The Sopranos when it originally ran on HBO from 1999 to 2007. To help Gretta, my beloved wife, recover from open heart surgery after her third heart attack in 2007, I brought home from the Rockford Public Library, where I worked daily at the main reference desk, copious books and DVDs, including the entire series of The Sopranos. Gretta, who grew up in Berwyn and Cicero, claimed she knew neighbors exactly like Tony Soprano and his fictitious family. Since Gretta’s father’s house and Sam Giancana’s house, where Sam the Cigar was shot in the head at close range in 1997, were less than eight blocks apart, I believed her.

Gretta and I watched the first five seasons on DVD between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. We had to wait a whole year for the library to acquire both parts of the sixth season. After we finished laughing at the Sopranos, we watched the entire series of The Equalizer, then Hunter, then the Wild Wild West (all mutual favorites). We made it a family tradition to watch another complete television series every winter after 2007, a non-stop marathon of old tv shows between Christmas and New Year’s.  When Gretta died in 2012, I kept the tradition alive by watching the first two seasons of The Game of Thrones.

            This year, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I watched all five seasons of The Dead Zone, one of my many wonderful Christmas presents from Elizabeth. I also reread the novel by Stephen King.

            I wasn’t surprised to discover my daughter developed the same tradition independently. Tammy told me yesterday that she bought an entire season of The Andy Griffith Show on DVD. I gave her the first season of The Big Bang Theory a few years ago as a present. She told me recently she was bidding on e-bay for the complete first season of The Monkeys, and she had just finished watching reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Danny Thomas’ nostalgic Make Room For Daddy.

            The reason I mention this is the eye-opening epiphany I had recently when one of my publishers, Crossroad Press, offered bundles of e-books, featuring first novels in various series, for a song. I couldn’t help but notice that Amazon also offers first novels in series for a steal (often 99 cents or sometimes free), and I certainly couldn’t afford to pass up any of these deals. I now find myself purchasing the second, third, fourth, and even fifth novels in some of those series at regular price.

            What is it about series characters that we find so attractive? Why will we spend money on acquiring all of a series instead of buying stand-alone books or movies?

            As Rod Serling might say, “I submit to you the reason lies beyond human understanding, somewhere in that nebulous region of the human psyche known only as The Twilight Zone.” Or maybe it’s buried in Stephen King’s The Dead Zone.

            I submit to you that the reason is simply a feeling of family evoked by series characters, a feeling we may have lost in real life. We feel it most strongly over the holidays. We feel a need to return home and be in the company of those people we have loved in the past. If we can’t do it in the real world, then we do so in fictional worlds.

            What all successful series have in common is this sense of family. Think about the incestuous Game of Thrones for a moment. Doesn’t the interaction of the various characters remind you of the interactions of your own family?

            Or how about John Smith and his extended family?

            Or Mary Tyler Moore and Mr. Grant and Maury and Rhoda?

            Or how about the characters in One Life to Live or General Hospital or The Days of Our Lives?

…To Be Continued….

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