Way back when I moaned about the ending of 24 season 2. The gist being that for a programme that fed us cliffhangers every week, ending on one was a bit of a gyp. Oddly 24’s sister show in US popularity and ubiquity, torture and thematic content (and start dates of 2001) is Alias, which did exactly the same thing at the end of its second series. Having wrapped up much of its convoluted plot, it ended the series with the lead suddenly waking up, and being informed that it is two years later.

I am not really that interested in this device, it is clear that 24 felt it had not really worked and instead ended season 3 on a dramatic note, rather than a plot point. But what was interesting about both series was how they dealt with their cliffhanging season endings. Both worked like bastards to restore the status quo. The first two episodes of Alias Season Three twist like a maggot on a hook to reinstate the “one clever action sequence an episode” formula. 24 just jumped three years on, and President Palmer was not dead and Jack was the head of CTU. That made no difference: after all its not as if Jack ever listened to anyone in authority. And exactly the same sort of conundrums exist in Alias season three. Its still more spy hokum (who spend their time investigating groups like “The Convenant” and never real actual terrorists).

My grander point? As exciting or interesting as good network US TV is, at its heart it is remarkably formula driven. The viewers and advertisers know this, and rely on this so they can plan for the future. But consider this, the episodes which people really like are usually the ones which break the formula. But even breaking it means you have to go back to the rules straight away. The success of a show may well exist not so much in breaking the rules, but making sure everyone knows what the rules are so you can break them quicker.