Good-bye “Psych,” Good Luck Castle

Family favorite Psych has no new episodes having lasted about two years past its expiration date. The show starred a psychic detective who was a detective, but not a psychic and his partner Gus, a rare character who spoke Evangelical dialectic. The show gained tension from the romance between Jules and Sean (the not psychic) and humor from the boy-man antics of Sean and Gus. As the characters aged, the antics looked less funny and more sad and any reasonable woman would have dumped Sean for commitment problems. Still the last episode was satisfying and we will miss chuckling with the morally challenged characters, if not their moral challenges.

In the same season Castle has resolved most original story lines. The main character, the writer Castle, and the his romantic interest, Beckett, are marrying. Beckett has solved the crime, the murder of her mother, that motivated most of her career and formed the story arc for many seasons. Yet, yet, yet, the show is coming back next season.

My fear is that Castle will the be a series with a season of woe where the writers died before the show. Dick Van Dyke famously ended before suffering this fate, but the Andy Griffith show went color and crumpled.

With Star Wars VII looming and Star Trek rebooted, some series gain a second life years after their death. But for every successful reboot, there is the Lone Ranger and ten other failed attempts to recapture the magic.

Watching the original Star Trek suffer the indignity of  a third season is sad, but working in  an organization with the wit of Spock’s Brain is a disaster. Can we use the death of a television show to provide the warning signs that we are at organization in peril?

Probably not, but this is the way my mind works and so I will give it a try anyway.

A dying show like a dying organization has lost its original reason for existing and never gets a new one.

Look a mystery novelist in a real police force! Look romantic tension between the tough cop and the writer! Look the tough cop has a mysterious backstory!

Now that Castle has outlasted all these devices, the temptation will be to keep writing stories relying only on actor’s charm and nostalgia in the audience. The show needs a radical reboot, even if it shifts focus entirely, if it cannot then it should end.

Some organizations face a change in mission by accomplishing their goal. If you set out to cure a disease and do, then you need a new mission. Some organizations face change in demographics: a school that is designed to educate Shakers had better broaden its mission or face extinction. Outside forces come from outside and change the mission: Kodak could not keep making little yellow boxes of film.

Religious organizations in particular often have such broad goals that they never worry about “solving” their problem (everyone will never be saved), but may find their focus must change. This is hard, because our “distinctive” as a religious organization is often confused with the truth of the Gospel. But what if the focus of the times changes?

A dying show like a dying organization hires people to solve problems main characters should solve.

If a show was centered around cute kids (Brady Bunch) that grow up, then the show introduces new cute kids to come around the grownup characters, instead of cutting the old and allowing for new. This the organization that needs change and so hires a “change agent” instead of hiring people in normal position in the organization who can produce change.

When the cutting edge has a personal name (“Bob”), then the organization is in trouble.

A dying show like a dying corporation is trapped by its own backstory. 

Star Trek invented the transporter to solve the cost of getting the crew “down” to a new planet, but created a perpetual problem: how can the characters be at risk when they could just beam out? The writers began to use ever more far fetched methods or repetitive means   to get rid of the transporter. The universe, it turned out, is full of planets where transporters fail due to a mysterious substance.

A corporation may have the same problem. “We did this and do not do that” is a good guide, but it can also kill. When Walt Disney dies, he is dead. One cannot just do what Walt would have done in 1963 in 1973 or the organization faces death, since a genius like Walt would not be the same man in 1973 as he was in 1963.

You work for a group with this problem when you hear: “We are X, we do not do y.” When there is a corporate culture, that can be a good thing, but not when that culture traps the organization away from the outside culture death happens.

If the transporter is getting in the way, get rid of it.

A dying show like a dying school reacts to other shows instead of telling its story or doubles down on yesterday’s success.

A show without ideas tries to imitate the hot shows, forgetting that once it was the hot show. If kids like the Monkees, Star Trek will hire the Monkee wanna-be Chekov. That worked out alright, but it was a sign of decay. A dying show will also ride the “breakout character” (Spock!) to death. Every episode has the catch phrase or character exploited to the maximum.

The writers begin to write for the most rabid fans. The company acts for the stockholders or the complainers.

In the same way, a dying school will obsess about the competition while doubling down on what worked yesterday. It will “rinse and repeat” even if rinsing and repeating merely wastes shampoo.

You know your show is done when it has meetings to save the show that lead to more meetings to save the show, but no action. Your school is doomed, when a working group produces a binder that starts a further series of binders on the problem in the first binder.

A dying show like a dying business confuses slow decline from the heights with acceptable performance. 

When a show is “hot,” it spawns imitators and can do no wrong. Ratings rocket. Once the top has been hit and a slow decline begins, the temptation is complacency. “We are,” said the executive, “still one of the most popular shows in America. Don’t panic.

The rot is revealed in the last comment: “don’t panic.” Panic is bad and leads to gimmicks (“”Let’s go to Hawaii!”) and the corporate equivalent (“Sale!”), but panic is not the only options. The show or organizations should act to reboot, but the reboot will require getting rid of old goods. Can Castle survive the loss of Fillion? If it cannot, then the aging actor may soon no longer be capable of carrying his old role and needs a new role to play.

A bad business doubles down reasoning: what worked yesterday will work again soon! It worries more about “extreme” actions than about stagnation or decline. It will set up numerous projects and programs to save the organization or business only to marginalize those projects or programs when they begin to threaten corporate culture.

On Castle some of the side characters need to step up if the show is to survive and it might be that Castle himself and Beckett will move more to a supporting role. Or perhaps we can see Castle as stay at home dad and Becket as working mother: roles more appropriate to their ages.

Nothing lasts forever, but shows like Gunsmoke or the Simpsons demonstrate the possibility of longevity with renewal. Disney sold herself to Pixar and found new life. What should your organization, business, or school do?

 


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