'Bones': Why the Show is So Damn Good
'Bones': Why the Show is So Damn Good
Catherine Cabanela
Catherine Cabanela
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
What's Bones got that other shows ain't got? Nine years and 190 episodes deep, Bones has defied gravity by captivating a viewer base averaging 10 million pairs of eyes for every original episode.

Why haven't the abrupt and sometimes enraging storyline risks or the seemingly insurmountable external obstacles, primarily the ten time slot changes, killed this show off yet? Surely there's gotta be a genie in a bottle somewhere whose subservience has made all this possible, right? How else could this comedy-drama-crime-science-romance do what they do so well and for so long? There is an answer to this riddle, people, but first the facts. #PatiencePays

Hint #1: That genie's name is 'Lightening' and it goes by several sets of initials, some of which are 'DB+ED'

It's a Dog Eat Dog World Out There

Why are we jumping up and down making such a big fuss over Bones' longevity? Read the subheading again and prepare to be more impressed than you already have been with Bones' resilience. 

In the competitive Doberman Pinscher-Eat-Rottweiler arena of primetime television it takes more than a little fairy dust and a suitcase full of cash to survive a full decade. Of the top eight current and longest-running scripted prime time television shows, five are crime procedurals. Bones and Criminal Minds are neck and neck at nine seasons each, NCIS at 11 seasons, CSI at 14, and Law and Order: SVU at 15. 

One could argue that what captivates viewers and ensures longevity is the overt delineation between good and evil depicted in crime shows, for what is more viscerally evil than murder; more triumphant than ensuring the wicked are punished for their crimes? 

Now, one thing that ceaselessly titillates fans about FOX's Bones is the intriguing cases with disgusting remains, novel murder weapons and modi operandi, and huge words for dirt and bones. But Bones isn't strictly a crime procedural. As a matter of fact, it's only about 43% crime procedural. The romance at its center is 42% of its makeup (these stats are my own cocktail napkin calculations, btw). The remaining 15% is pure situational comedy. Could the combination of these three elements be the magic bullet against all manner of threats against prime time success? If it were, it would be easy to duplicate, right? However dramedies very rarely make it past five seasons. With the exception of the drama-mystery-sci-fi The X-Files, relationship-centric dramas usually peter out by the sixth ... unless they're a hospital drama like Gray's Anatomy and ER, or a sudsy and scandally melodrama like Dallas or Beverly Hills 90210


Hint #2: The combination of these three elements has a lot to do with Bones' success, but it's more about how seamlessly and consistently each of the parts are seamlessly woven together. Each has its own moment in the sun and then blends back together without overpowering the others. Whether or not viewers realize it, we pick up on these subtle continuities subconsciously and they make a difference in the quality of our experience. Yes, Bones has been satisfying us in ways that we weren't even aware of. Read on. 

Ten Time Slot Changes ... That's Gotta Hurt.

We've established that there's no one simple reason why Bones has survived as long as it has. There is math involved.

Broadcasters regularly survey their assets and manipulate schedules to their greatest advantage. Heavy hitting shows with strong fan bases can afford to take a hit and are less likely to perish as a result of a time change, so they sometimes have to go where they are needed. Okay. We can buy that. However, a move of even a popular show sacrifices viewership temporarily if not for the duration.

Remember the other crime procedurals mentioned above? Here are some quick facts for you to chew on. According to Wikipedia, these are the stats on the five top dramas in regard to time slot shifting:

  • Criminal Minds (CBS) No changes: Same Wednesday night slot for 9 seasons
  • NCIS (CBS) No changes: Same Tuesday night time slot for 11 years
  • CSI (CBS) Three changes: Two changes with a block of 10 years in the same slot
  • Law & Order: SVU (NBC) Seven changes: Three day changes, four time changes
  • Bones (FOX) 10 changes: Eight day changes, two time changes


Have Bones' ratings taken a hit from all those moves? Certainly, but Bones has survived every move and been renewed for season 10. The ability to view programs across all platforms has evolved to suit the needs of the individual and is very difficult to track. According to NY Daily News America more than twice as many people are delay-viewing their favorite shows and over 36 million viewers now watch from their smartphones. Huffington Post reports that Nielsen is trying, but tracking activity it's such an inexact science. Sounds like a crapshoot, quite frankly. So, how does Bones survive the life of a nomad? 

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Hint #3: Bones fans are fascinated with the consistently compelling cases, the lab hi-jinx, and the intriguing science. They've fallen head over heels in love with the Brennan-Booth chemistry and will follow them everywhere they go. Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz as Brennan and Booth are bright, alluring, passionate, funny, mature, sometimes silly, and oftentimes incredibly sweet. The emotional connection Bones has engendered within their most stalwart and committed fans is a direct result of the chemistry, the bold intimacy, Boreanaz and Deschanel have been generous enough (and masterful enough in their craft) to share with the viewing public. That's not easy, boys and girls. Just ask Maddie Hayes and David Addison of Moonlighting infamy. 

Zack Addy Says Goodbye to Hollywood, Vinny Delectable Bleeds Out

When Zack Addy was carted off to the looney bin for being the Gormogon's assistant the fan uproar was deafening. The Bones fairies (the collective of Bones writers, directors, producers, actors) took the opportunity to introduce a line-up of interesting and diverse rotating characters as Brennan's interns. These characters, especially in season 9, bring with them fresh nuances of personality and intellectual brilliance that add depth and texture to the show through their interactions with the core players. This can best be seen when a squintern challenges Brennan. It forces her to consider other perspectives and value contributions that neither Booth nor the rest of the team can. Elsewhere, Bones used the gunshot-to-the-heart loss of Vincent Nigel-Murray as catalyst to bring Booth and Brennan together romantically after six years of furtive glances and ill-timed confessions of love. 

Hint #4: Bones uses everything as an opportunity for creativity. Emily Deschanel's pregnancy is a good example of this: they used it to move the plot forward substantially, albeit a little bit awkwardly with such a great gap in time, but we all survived it and stuck around for more. Loyalty, love and mutual respect are key ingredients of Bones' all around success; on screen and off, behind the camera and in front of it, and even between us and the Bones fairies as mentioned above. Despite our full awareness of it on this side of the screen, this makes a huge difference in the final outcome of each delivery. 

Note: It should be acknowledged that no one can plan to engender the depth of connection Bones has created with its viewing public. It happens, every once in a blue moon, to a group of artists who are fortunate to land in the right place at the right time and with the right people. Bones has been extraordinarily blessed in this regard. That's why we call it Lightening-in-a-bottle; because it is nearly impossible to attain, so when it happens it's by wonderful happenstance. 


'She Who Shall Not Be Named' Almost Killed Us and We Wanted to Kill Booth

Following Brennan's rejection of Booth's romantic intentions (Snap!) and then nine months of seperation, the appearance in D.C. of Booth's paramour from Afghanistan was met with steely antagonism from fans. Was this to be the end of B+B=Forever? Then, BOOM, Brennan had an epiphany and wanted Booth for herself, but was turned away (oh, shit). Then, Booth proposed to the blonde Q-Tip, causing fans to throw their hands up in the air and swear they were done with Bones for good. First Zack, then Vincent, then She Who Shall Not Be Named all tried our patience, and then Booth started acting all crazy. It was just too much! But of course even the most chaffed irritated fans just had to know what happened next, so many crawled back and even more new people discovered and binge-watched the show.

Hint #5: Like it or not, the woman who stole Brennan's sunglasses made Brennan face her feelings (see, nothing is wasted). Without the intensity of sentiment that woman's existence brought, who knows how long it would have taken for Brennan to have that Come-to-Jesus epiphany so intently that she was compelled to take a huge (irrational) risk and tell Booth all about it. See, Hart Hanson had this all planned. He knew what he was doing and he was committed to the longview. Fans panicked anyway ... but look where we are now. 

An Immaculate Conception and A Wedding To Surpass All Weddings

It's long been believed that once the primary couple in a sexually charged romantic drama consummates their relationship the excitement fades and their relationship is no longer interesting. Bones proves that that claptrap is exactly that: a brown paper bag full of hot poo. 

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Yes, the time jump from "I'm pregnant. You're the father," to a full-blown pregnancy and plans to buy and share their own Might Hut was awkward in parts, but that made it seem even more realistic. Yes, season 7 was full of crazy glances between Brennan and Booth as they clumsily adjusted to the complications of their enormous life changes. Through it all, however, B&B kept the vibe alive by hashing out their differences (sometimes quite painfully for both them and for us), facing their life together, and recommitting to their partnership on every level in a very healthy ways.

But, wait. Where was that fantastically anticipated moment when the two finally come together in a mutual decision to gamble on love and go for a different outcome? Did we miss it? Last thing we saw was Booth comforting Brennan over Vincent's death. So where was the hot bedroom scene? The Bones fairies owed that to the fans, didn't they? Fans wanted in on the intimacy between these two, dammit.

Hint #6: Could it be possible that fans got the passion and the sex, but just didn't realize it because it wasn't when or how they thought it would or should be. Anything's possible with those sneaky Bones fairies! 


So, Did FOX's Bones Sneak All The Good Stuff By Us Without Us Realizing It?

Bingo, baby. At least, that's one way to look at it, and it's a pretty damn good one. I submit this question: How could the Bones fairies possibly beat the heart-crushing romance of Booth's passionately and exquisitely delivered speech in "The Parts in the Sum of the Whole?" An excerpt to bring you back to that moment:

Booth: "Look, I want to give this a shot ... just give it a chance. That's all I'm asking.
Let's go for a different outcome here, all right? Just hear me out, all right? You know when you talk to older couples who, you know, have been in love for 30, 40, 50 years? It's always the guy who says "I knew". I knew! Right from the beginning. I'm that guy. Bones, I'm that guy!"

Brennan (gut-wrenchingly tearful): "I don't have your kind of open heart. I can't change. I don't know how."

Holy zygomatic, Batman. That was intense. How could any profession of love be better than that? I don't know, but perhaps it can be equalled as in their scene in "The Doctor in the Photo:"

Brennan: "The helicopter pilot. He offered himself to (the doctor in the photo), but she never gave him a chance. That was her regret. I got the signal, Booth. I don't want to have any regrets." 

Booth (in disbelief that he actually has to say no): "I'm with someone, Bones, and she's not a consolation prize. I love her. You know, the last thing I want to do is hurt you, but those are the facts."

Brennan (bursting into tears): "I understand. I missed my chance."

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Oh. My. God. Someone hand me a tissue. Whew. Wow. There it was, folks. Intense, romantic, mind-blowing, heart-crushing. All that stuff. So, we got our revelations. We did, or at least you could look at it that way.  

Hint #7: Fans keep coming back because what we seek and hope and love are all there right in front of us in this show. It grabs us, pull us in, make us want all that is good and beautiful for these people. Fans love these characters and are wildly protective of them ... which is why they are so vocal when something goes differently than they expect it to. Bones likes to poke the hornet's nest. Sometimes I think it's a request for affirmation that we're still out here caring about them ...  or maybe they're just sitting at craft services cackling gleefully over our impassioned responses to their plot twists. Yeah, that's more likely. 

Sex is Natural. Sex is Good. Not Everybody Does It, but Everybody Should. That is How Christines are Made, After All.

Thank you, George Michael, you've got our number. Bones fans positively threw tantrums over the Bones-less coitus interruptus. It was like ... What. The. Hell. At least we could have seen a big three minute epic kiss ... you know ...  that passionate moment of wild abandon right before Brennan and Booth rip each other's clothes off and set the sheets on fire ... sigh.

But wait, if you think back to "The Parts in the Sum of the Whole" perhaps you will realize that we did get that toe-curling, time-stopping, life-altering delicious first kiss. It wasn't the kiss that lead to defying the laws of physics and becoming one, but it was undoubtedly a first kiss and it was smokin' hawt. We also got the mistletoe kiss that ended all mistletoe kisses in "The Santa in the Slush." Now, that was a show-stopper too. A whole flotilla worth, as Caroline so aptly put it.

Okay, fine. But what about the actual deed? Maybe there's a reasonable explanation for that as well. Think for a moment about the fact that these actors are real people and you can only do so much to make things happen until you draw a line and say, that's enough. 

When season six was winding down, Emily was heavy with child. What woman wants to get half naked (or even partially) in front of 10 million people when she feels like she swallowed an elephant and fears she might look like one? Not I, and I'm guessing not you. So ... in the end they skipped that part. And you know what? We got over it. We did. And we still keep coming back for more Bones. Besides, we did get some steamy bedroom action in "The End in the Beginning," remember?

If you still think the romance has dwindled, then go flip through our slide show of all the romantic things Booth has said to Brennan--most of them are from the last two seasons and rumor has it they will make you want to revisit the entire franchise all over from the beginning!

Whiplashy Plot Twists and Horrifying Finales

The final possible threats to maintaining a solid fan base are those calculated risks Bones has taken in the form of time jumps (Afghanistan and between Seasons 6 and 7), Brennan and Booth finally getting together, then--wham bam, thank you, maam--having a baby, and finally getting married. Then we've had these hysteria-inducing, mind-boggling finales that scare the bajeezuz out of us all inspiring us to throw all manner of objects at our screens and chew our fingernails tdown to nubs. To see a rundown of the shocking final episodes, check out our finale article here. Every single finale leaves us reeling for weeks wondering what the hell happened and how are they going to survive this crisis and will Bones survive such a daring shake-up. The finale on Monday promises to be the mother of all finales, and I'll say nothing more about that, but I'm excited and petrified all at the same time.

The Beauty in the Bones

What Bones does to their fans--who remember are so forcefully affected because of how attached they (we) are to the Bones universe and its inhabitants--is torturous. It frustrates us, moves us, enrages us, excites us and entertains us ... and we may not always admit it, but most of us love it, and that's why we keep coming back! Don't think the Bones fairies don't know it. They do, or they wouldn't keep doing it .And you know what? In the final analysis, it all works out and usually in away much better than any of us could have dreamed.

Have you figured out why Bones has survived this long? The hints say it all. The secret to Bones' success is a magical combination of good people with a great deal of creativity and grace. It's the well-balanced menu of intriguing cases, science, humor and romance. It's the amazing chemistry between Deschanel and Boreanaz (in wonderful abundance) which transfers fantastically to the screen. It's their ability to turn any situation into an opportunity for something better than we could have imagined. It's their astounding and subtle way of giving us an abundance of what we want (even though it may not be when or how we expect it) and it's their ability to keep their eyes on the longview, the endgame. That takes incredible perspective and discipline. And that's what makes Bones such a damn good lightening-in-a-bottle primetime show. #ThatIsAll.

(Images courtesy of FOX)


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