Robert Maxwell wrote:
There's no reason they couldn't have come up with more story material to properly fill twenty hours of television. All the padding and delay to the serial narrative was simply lazy writing.
Coming up with story material is one thing. Obviously, they came up with 20 hours' worth of story.
The hard part is turning those ideas into scripts. I've seen a pretty clear pattern where shows tend to be a lot better when they have short seasons (in the 13 episode range), and tend to take a drop in quality if they have to fill out ~20 episodes instead.
The most acclaimed shows on TV these days tend to have short seasons. I don't think that is a coincidence.
And this makes me wonder why writers don't plan that kind of stuff out. Instead of stretching a 13-episode story arc across 20 episodes, why not tell it in 13 and then come up with another
story arc for the back half of the season? Treat the narrative like two separate seasons instead of one long season that you need to fill out.
Er, because you've just massively increased the writers' workload without any pay increase.
I think people forget that this is a job you get paid for, not something you are doing for fun. That's also why hardly anyone is planning out shows seasons in advance. JMS' Babylon 5
is notable for being the rare exception to that. But the vast, vast majority of shows are only planned out at a very skeletal level when they start, if at all. The showrunner might know how they want to end it, but may have no idea how to get from A to B.
When you begin, you also don't necessarily know if you are going to get 13 episodes, or 20, or 26. Hell, you might get canceled after two! It's very hard to plan in that kind of unpredictable environment. I try to be appreciative of the work that must go into that sort of adaptability.
Let none of that excuse the SGU writers, though. I would think they knew they were getting at least one 20-episode season, and they could've done a much better job, but this was also their first big foray into serialized storytelling, so they were bound to have some missteps. I think that was the real problem: taking people who'd spent over 10 years writing highly episodic, "fluffy" television, and putting them at the reins of a serialized drama. It could
have worked, but the odds were against them.
I think it says something that some of the show's strongest episodes were ones involving SG-1 characters. The writers just never seemed very comfortable with their new cast, and liked to go back to the old one a bit too often.