|Under The Dome
Manifest doesn’t have the benefit of a star that has previously lead a show of their own. Josh Dallas had a lengthy run as a main cast member in Once Upon a Time, but he was not considered the lead. There is a lot of television experience among the cast, just not any leads.
This isn’t a significant factor for the success of a show, but actors with a built in fan base from previous shows generally have a higher chance of succeeding with a second show.
Jeff Rake has two 1 season shows from the early 2000s and the recent The Mysteries of Laura under his belt. He is also an experienced producer with several credentials.
Creator power also isn’t a significant factor, but as with actors, successful creators carry some of their fan base with them.
Note: This part of the prediction is based on my own categorization of television shows, which I am still working on and will release in a separate article.
Manifest is an “Event Show”, where a large group of characters have their lives disrupted by an event. The event usually involves science fiction, fantasy or horror elements that give the show the ability to add enhancing elements that wouldn’t be available in a normal drama.
Event shows are serial series.
*Spoiler alert for the series: Lost, The Leftovers, Heroes, and Under the Dome.
The structure concept is taken from the book The Hero Succeeds. The book argues that every pilot should have 6 key scenes outlined above.
Manifest successfully hits each point with Michaela as the main character. The voice that she hears is tied to the plane and will be a main focus of the plot going forward. The voices add an extra problem to Michaela’s already complicated life after the time travelling.
Each main character is also connected to Michaela, directly or indirectly which keeps the story revolving around a few main characters with the chance to expand as the episodes go on.
Manifest only has Mystery and Drama listed as genres despite having sci-fi and fantasy elements. Generally the more genres an Event Show uses, the better it is.
Manifest will likely add Sci-Fi or Fantasy by seasons end because time travel is inherently Sci-fi and will be explored further as the series goes on.
Manifest lacks several story attributes noted in other Event shows. The most surprising is having one someone killed in the show which usually adds emphasis on the danger present from the event. It isn’t noticeably lacking when viewing, but the data suggests these type of attributes are usually present. Manifest takes a more emotional approach to the pilot and doesn’t resort to violence to emphasize its story.
With Event shows, there is inherently going to be a lot of storylines due to the number of characters. Lost had a plane full of passengers, The Leftovers had an entire town, Heroes had various people across the globe and Under the Dome had a quarantined town.
Manifest combines Lost with Under The Dome/The Leftovers using both a plane of passengers affected and a town they reside in. So there is plenty of storylines and Manifest takes advantage starting off several in the pilot episode.
As Lost has shown, it is much better to focus the story line in the pilot on a few key characters and then expand as you go. The Leftovers also does this as it narrows its focus on the members of one family.
The Event is the central story engine of the show and may dictate how many intriguing stories a show can produce. There are three important factors to consider with the event:
1. When does it happen in the pilot?
2. What are the stakes?
3. How long can it stay a mystery?
1. Before the pilot
Lost opens with the aftermath and chaos of a plane crash. We don’t see the crash, just the aftermath. There is no introducing characters before and then showing after, it’s straight into the action with flashbacks used sparingly.
The surviving members of the plane crash must survive the dangerous and mysterious island until they are rescued.
3. 6 seasons
The island was used for over 6 seasons, so there were no shortage of storylines. Using flashbacks, other people coming to the island and having people leave the island helped Lost stretch its storylines out successfully, while still maintaining the mystery. It also relied on sci-fi and fantasy elements to make the stories more intriguing.
1. Teaser of Pilot
Leftover opens with the event happening right in the teaser and giving the audience a sneak peak at the chaos initially created by it. Again, there is no introducing characters before and then showing after. The show dives right into the aftermath of people disappearing.
2. Grieving and Chaos
The Leftover explores the aftermath of a percentage of the world suddenly disappearing. Some characters try to get back to what normal used to be and other characters take the disappearance as a sign of divine intervention. Different groups are formed and the police must find a way to deal with these groups with minimal violence. It’s chaos and the exploration of grief from people who have lost someone to the disappearance and from people who have lost someone due to the new circumstances.
3. 3 seasons
The Leftovers did some time jumping to explore the characters at different points in their life or in alternate realities. The event itself only lent its use as a starting point, and didn’t add much further assistance to potential storylines. The Leftovers relied on its established characters to show how they would react to different surroundings and circumstances.
1. Middle of Pilot
The eclipse happens in the middle of the pilot of Heroes. It’s not entirely clear what the eclipse represents. It’s supposed to be the moment the characters receive powers, but a few of the characters have powers before that. The creator Tim Kring called it an event that unites everyone around the globe (even though not everyone can experience the eclipse around the world), which renders it somewhat useless in the narrative.
2. Saving the World
The stakes are set with a futuristic painting of New York exploding. Heroes wraps the stakes up by the end of the season and the writing and story went downhill from there as the show started relying on the characters popularity to carry the show.
3. 4 seasons
Superpowers are a useful storytelling tool and if used properly can create great stories. The problem with superpowers is some characters can become overpowered and then have to act stupid in order to advance the story and avoid solving everything in one episode. Heroes first season was great because everyone was still learning about superpowers and after that, you pretty much had to get creative. Heroes first season was critically acclaimed and very popular. The second season was one of the worst seasons of any show and the quality of it is usually attributed to the writers strike. It bounced back for some entertaining but not overall great 3rd and 4th season where fans where invested more in the characters and not the story. It also had a forgettable 1 season miniseries comeback where Heroes newcomer Zack Levy mastered the art of crying.
Under the Dome
1. End of Act 1
The dome descending on the town happens at the end of Act 1. This allows the show to introduce all the characters and some of their motivations before the event occurs.
2. Getting rid of the dome.
The stakes are clear with the dome trapping the town and cutting them off from society.
3. 3 seasons
Under the Dome only lasted three seasons and it used two seasons before characters finally escaped the Dome. The two seasons set up mysteries that the third season attempted to pay off.
When does it happen in the pilot?
As we can see from the four comparison shows, the best time for the event to take place is right at the beginning. We don’t need to see a before glimpse of everyone because part of the drama is imagining these characters before the event. Manifest could have probably scrapped the first airport scene because it establishes nothing that the audience won’t find out later.
What are the stakes?
As we can see from the comparison shows, the common theme is surviving and grieving. Manifest is similar to Leftovers more than the other shows, because everyone tries to go back to living normal but cannot due to this event. It will be interesting to see if Manifest also uses alternate realities or time jumping to explore characters in different scenarios and circumstances.
How long can it stay a mystery?
The Leftovers and Under the Dome, both revolving around a town, only lasted 3 seasons.
Lost, revolving around survivors of a passenger plane on an island, lasted 6 seasons.
Manifest is a combination of passengers of a plane trying to get back to normal in their city after the event. It is entirely dependent on how long the writers want to drag out the mystery of the time travel and the voices. It is likely some questions will be answered by the end of the season which leaves the next season open for opportunity depending on how the season ends.
I predict it will follow the path similar to The Leftovers and use time jumping to explore the characters. Or it could follow another set of characters entirely if the story stays strong but the characters fall flat. It has a lot of options and it will be interesting to see what path the show takes.
Manifest’s main themes regarding the event are dealing with the aftermath of the time travel and depression and grief from all the time that has passed between the passengers and their families. These themes line up well with the more successful shows Lost and The Leftovers, which makes sense given that it is a sort of hybrid of the two shows.
Manifest has a lot of tools at its disposal to generate stories. It has all the passengers from the plane. It has the mystery of time travel and the voices the passengers hear.
It also has the opportunity of using the law enforcement and medical field as a way of exploring other characters. These occupations allow new characters to enter the lives of the main characters without forcefully introducing characters to generate more storylines.
There is plenty of areas to work with, so there should be no shortage of storylines available.
Overall the story power has mixed results.
Manifests premise offers a lot of exploration and the added storyline of the voices will be an interesting perspective that will likely tie in with the time traveling.
Manifest needs to slowly peel back the mystery as it offers suspenseful storytelling that doesn’t rely just on melodrama. Characters moved on since the plane disappeared and those type of storylines such as Grace’s secret lover and Michaela’s old boyfriend getting married can only stay interesting for so long.
The biggest strength of Manifest’s story and the biggest strength of Event Shows overall is the ability to use the big three genres (Sci-fi, Fantasy, Horror) to explore areas and storylines other drama shows don’t have access to due to those shows realistic nature.
Manifest already has time travel and is hinting at divine intervention, so it’s potential to explore these areas will be the biggest reason it succeeds or fails.
The theme is spot on in dealing with the grief of having lost time and their place in the world and trying to deal with the aftermath the best they can.
The story engine has plenty of material to work with using the numerous passengers for new storylines, the government involvement, and the occupations of the Saanvi (health care) and Michaela (Cop) as other ways to introduce new characters.
There are a lot of storylines in the pilot episode compared to the other shows. Despite having a large cast, Lost narrowed its focus down to four storylines while saving the rest for future episodes.
There wasn’t much action compared to the other shows, with Manifest instead opting for an emotional punch.
Main Character Occupation
One of the main characters is either in the medical field or in the law enforcement/military field. Manifest actually focuses on both law enforcement with Michaela as a cop and the medical profession with Saanvi involved in cancer treatment.
Medical, law enforcement and law are preferred professions to use for characters because it allows the characters to intervene and interact with all sorts of characters that other professions may limit. That’s why these occupations have many shows based solely around the profession.
Manifest is using both the law enforcement field and medical field which gives it plenty of access to new characters. Only one is necessary in an Event Show but manifest manages to establish and utilize two.
Nothing concrete in terms of evidence of success or failure for Event Shows, but I thought it would be interesting to point out.
Manifest has all the character types found in other Event Shows except the Single Parent.
The brother and sister combination as the show’s leads is unique to Manifest but it works to provide connections to other important characters. Similar to Lost, not all characters were given proper introductions, but with the emphasis on the passengers and mystery around the plane, it is likely more characters will be slowly introduced.
With event shows, diversity is very important and Manifest does a masterful job of including a diverse cast of main characters.
Overall manifest has great character power.
Manifest displays the usual diversity you would see in Event Shows that affect a lot of people. It has set up many characters to shift focus on but maintained a core group of characters that are connected through Michaela and Ben.
The two leads are a young white brother and sister which checks off a lot of character boxes in the character criteria. Michaela is the obvious main character receiving most of the screen time and an assortment of storylines revolving around her.
Manifest also has a foothold in both the medical profession and the law enforcement profession, two popular depicted occupations because it requires people (patients, criminals, victims) to come to the main characters instead of forcing the main characters into random people’s lives. This opens a lot of potential story opportunities on top of the 100+ passengers.
With a low star power, a low creator power, a medium story power and a high character power, I think manifest will be renewed for a second season.
Although star and creator power are low, they aren’t as heavily weighted as story and character power.
Manifest has the character power and the story potential to turn into a hit. It needs to embrace the genre elements that go hand in hand with Event Shows if it is to succeed. Some personal drama is good, but it shouldn’t be the main driving force of the show.
Much like Heroes, I think the first season will be well planned and have a satisfying conclusion with all storylines coming together. However the second season is where it will become clear if the show can capitalize on its success and continue on with the story in an a new interesting direction. It depends on how much mystery is revealed and if there is anything to continue with or if it’s the characters popularity that carries the show. There is also the element of the voices storyline and saving the abducted girls that seemed more episodic in nature instead of serialized. How the voices are used and what the voices mean will be a pivotal plot point in the show and will either turn viewers away (using the voices to help Michaela solve crimes) or draw viewers in (using the voices to set up a pay off related to the time travel).
These shows tend to start diving more into the fantasy and sci-fi aspects much later on, so it will be interesting to see how the mystery unfolds and what the aftermath of that is.
If Manifest makes it to a critical second season, it’s story telling quality and character quality will determine its popularity and reception. Once the second season is complete, it’s likely to get a 3rd and 4th. If it isn’t on the level of Lost popularity it will likely end up with the following stats at the end of its run:
If I’m wrong:
NBC is clearly hoping to capture the same success as Lost although with a different spin which already includes time travel. The success of the series, as with most of this show type, rests on the writers embracing the fantasy and science fiction nature as well as creating memorable characters. If Manifest focuses too much on interpersonal drama and not using the elements, it will not last long. The mystery of the time travel, what it means and how much story they can derive from that will determine how long the show lasts. If the characters aren’t popular and if there is no sci-fi/fantasy elements, the show won’t last past a second season.