Ashley & I have recently re-started watching Twin Peaks, that quirky, venerable TV series that enjoyed a bright, brilliant life before burning out quickly after a season-and-a-half in the early 1990s. The up and down quality of the program is noticeable, especially during the second season (where we have picked it up at). While the death of Laura Palmer made for good water cooler talk, other mysteries, such as possible alien abductions, Agent Cooper being investigated by the FBI, David Duchovny as a cross-dresser, and a hostile business take-over, are not quite as enthralling. Audiences thought so, too, which is why the series was cancelled in 1991.
Twin Peaks was definitely ahead of its time. While its style -- that of a continuing, serialized mystery series -- was certainly unique and embraced (for a hot minute), the television landscape still wasn't quite ready for it. Fast forward a little over a decade, and we enter the LOST era of tv broadcasting. Nowadays, folks seem much more willing to stick with a continuing mystery series, and for a very long time. LOST graced the airwaves for 6 years. Of course, some were unhappy with its resolution, so perhaps people will be wary of this type of series in future. Also, it helps for a continuing mystery series to make sure that it advances the plot sufficiently each episode. The Walking Dead has run into this problem during its second season, where nothing of note occurred for several episodes.
Are continuing mystery series passing fads? Are they, like fashion, cool one minute (or year), but out of style the next? I'm sure an argument can be made either way. Their popularity seems to have crested once again, and now most folks don't seem as inclined to wait-out a plot development that could take several episodes, or even years, to resolve itself. An audience's willingness to be patient with a plot -- and the nature of such a plot -- has always been at the heart of success, or failure, for shows that depend upon continuing mysteries as part & parcel of their structured storytelling. For those on the air now, beware the pitfalls of those that have gone before.