As if we needed more of a reminder after the superb Lostseason finale, watching the final three episodes of Veronica Mars this past weekend provided more evidence of how much shows can benefit from multi-episode arcs.
In its pre-finale episodes, Veronica was little more than a buoyant Murder, (pause for effect like Pat Summerall would) She Wrote. But its finale, which brought back Season 1 co-villain Kyle Secor, turned a rather ordinary story about exposing a Skull and Bones-like club into riveting emotional wreckage for Veronica and Keith.
More investment in a show yields more rewards. Serialization encourages more investment. From a creative standpoint, it's that simple.
Even a so-called procedural like the outstanding House benefits from our fascination with the characters' development, which mitigates some impatience with the repetition in the storytelling.
The rub is that serialization also deters new viewers from joining a show midway through. It's true for me with Battlestar Galactica and The Wire, two shows that everyone loves but that seem to demand to be watched from the beginning if at all - even if it means I never watch them at all. The deterrance factor can drive ratings down, and in doing so drives down enthusiasm from the networks for the format.
As with many things in television, balance is key. There will be only so many serialized shows that viewers can watch. But while saturation might be a problem, the format itself is not. Serialization is what makes so many television shows today worth watching, and is still a most worthy pursuit.
Television just needs a financial model (incorporating DVDs, DVRs and downloads) that doesn't force quality serials to be mass hits to survive.