Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Writers Behind Television

From the time I could hold my little head upright, television has been a close personal friend of mine.  My mother watched daytime soap operas with religious-like fervor.  Up until I was five, I thought the cast of ‘Guiding Light’ were family members.

I watched Oprah back when she was fat.  Then watched her get skinny.  Then fat again and finally back to the politically correct plump figure she is today.

My father was a fan of ‘M.A.S.H.’ and ‘Cheers’ but that’s where our taste in TV ended.  For some reason game shows have always creeped me out and the Jeopardy theme song still gives me a stomach ache to this day.

But it’s my addiction to teen shows that has grown in magnitude throughout the years.  Sure, it was normal to watch reruns of ‘Saved by the Bell’ after middle school let out.  And ‘Dawson’s’ and ‘Buffy’ were the highlight of my week when I was in a freshman in highschool.  But now, at 28 years old, I watch more teen television that I’d like to admit.  I mean, I chalk it up to ‘research’.  A writer of YA needs to reference modern day television shows, right?  Keep up with the trends in language and fashion? 

Well, we all know that’s only half the reason.

But honestly, now that I’ve been writing for awhile, I have to say I do pay much more attention to how my favorite series are panning out.  What keeps me watching?  Is it the love triangles ?  The characters themselves ?  The mystery ?

For the last few months I’ve been keeping a closer eye on the plot points, dialogue, and characterization in the shows I watch.  Gone are the days when I could look at actors as though they’re real people and I’m simply glimpsing into their personal dilemmas.

Because, behind it all, there is a writer.  Or more often writerS- people who brainstorm, write the lines and character mannerisms that make us laugh and cry along with the actors who interpret them.  People who think up the devastating twists and turns.

As I caught up on last week’s Vampire Diaries, I realized that the actors aren’t quite doing it for me lately.  For some reason Damon is doing the crazy eye thing in every scene whether he’s compelling someone or not.  And it doesn’t help that the show’s stylists traded in his tussled dark hair with highlights for A-typical vampire flat black mop top and powdered his skin till he looks like he’s suffering from a medical condition.
           Damon Before- 'hubba hubba'
Damon After- 'eh..'       
Elana’s character is going flat in the personality department (or flatter in any case.  Not like she was really a bottle of spunk to begin with). -- I mean, I know your life is constantly in danger hunny, but can’t you have a sense of humor?  Smile once in awhile!  Geez!  And someone needs to call her stylist and tell them to stop stealing clothes from 1999.  Use some imagination for crying out loud!  Your viewership is through the roof!
2010 vs.  1999
                                             
As you can see, the character/actor part of the show is starting to get on my nerves, so why do I keep watching?

The plot.  The mystery.  The way every episode ends with a cliffhanger.  Just because the interpretation isn’t up to par doesn’t mean the writers behind the show don’t know what they’re doing and wheras I might not have recognized this three years ago-- today it makes all the difference.

What shows do you watch and have you ever thought about the writers behind them?  Have you ever looked up a writer of your favorite show to see if they have authored books?

33 comments:

Tracy said...

You and I must have been twins growing up, because those were my shows too!! I wanted to marry Pacey Witter someday (still do, actually).

I'm in LOVE with the Vampire Diaries! I can't say that I have too many of the issues you described with the characters (except Bonnie, her witchy cockiness was getting on my last nerve). But I know exactly what you mean about dissecting what the writers do with the plots and the story line, figuring out what it is that keeps me on the edge of my seat. . . and quite aggrivated when we have to wait until April for a new episode. *growl*

Since Kevin Williamson was/is the main writer on both VD and Dawson's Creek it's no wonder I'm just as hooked now as I was back then!

Gina said...

How funny... My second to last post whined about Smallville and its decline after season five. Why is it inevitable for shows to start sucking?!

Angela Felsted said...

I too am addicted to Vampire Diaries. Although, it took me a few episodes originally before it caught my attention. Mostly because of the Elena never smiling thing. That drove me crazy!

And I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one driven nuts by that eye thing Damon does in like, every scene. Elijah was my new Damon for a while, even if he was seriously evil.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I used to watch Vampire Dairies but then they moved the time and I have no idea when it's on (yep, I'm look lazy to look). I don't watch much tv. I'm usually busy (writing or reading) or it clashes with the kids Wii time (which is on so I can write). But I am going to movies more (generally teen movies) and calling it research. There's a bunch of movies coming up that I want to see. Strickly for research of course. ;)

Aubrie said...

Watching LOST has really helped me understand how to develop characters and string along a plot!

I watched Saved by the Bell, too!

Matthew Rush said...

Great TV writing is hard to find, but a real joy to watch once you do.

Martin Rose said...

I blame my sister for getting me hooked on Supernatural. And some of the best episodes have been their hilarious interactions between the "author" of the pulp novels called "Supernatural" in which the writer meets his "characters" face to face . . . I'm not even sure if you can classify it as "teen" since the characters themselves are in their late twenties/early thirties, but it works for me, being in the same age bracket myself.

mshatch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mshatch said...

I don't watch nearly as much tv as I used to but I did love Buffy and I currently watch Fringe, which not only has a great paranormal story line but awesome characterization, humor and one time a nod to David Lynch's Twin Peaks that had me laughing for a good five minutes. Obviously those writers are getting it right.

Carolyn V said...

I don't watch much tv because I'm so busy. But I have heard so much about Vampire Diaries, I'll have to check it out!

W.B. said...

I love watching Vampire Diaries. The episodes just draw you right into the story, and the way they end in a cliffhanger keeps you begging for more.

I've watched every single episode of Saved by the Bell. I always wished that high school was really like that. :D

Laura Marcella said...

I don't really watch television. I know, right, am I an alien or something? Hmm, I don't have any superpowers that I know of, so I don't think so! I just prefer reading books! In high school I liked "Friends" (it's still my all-time favorite show) and now I like watching "Desperate Housewives."

Nicole Zoltack said...

I LOVE TVD! Not that it's perfect, no show ever is. But the cliffhangers and the mystery is just so gripping!

I do find myself watching TV shows and movies differently than I did before I started to write seriously. I look for what works, what doesn't, the dialogue, the interaction between the characters.

Patti said...

I have a secret obsession with TVD and I watch it online where no one in my house can judge me. It's a killer having teenage boys.

I have found myself critiquing dialogue. In fact, I did it the other day and my husband told me to stop it.

Jen Daiker said...

Looks like we watched a lot of the same shows growing up!!! I haven't read nor have I watched the Vampire Diaries at all but I just recently purchased the first season so I due hope that they make it better, I would hate to lose interest after just snagging a set!!!

Raquel Byrnes said...

Joss is Boss! I loved Buffy and Angel and Firefly...I'm such a geek.

I'm a Fringe fan, but I think its more Pacey than the stories.

I wanted to look up th writers of the Lost Series just ask them what in the world was going on.

Diana said...

I don't watch much TV anymore. My kids own me, little buggers. I used to watch the teen shows when I was your age too (holy s$%#, I never thought I'd use that phrase) I liked Dawson's Creek (I love me some Pacey) and Buffy. Then I got a little older and went on to Felicity and Alias. All those shows have great dialogue and tons of conflict.

roxy said...

Our family had Monk parties on Friday night when it was on. The writing was very funny and I loved the characters. I listen to dialogue and watch for plot twists all the time. Sort of takes some of the fun out of television viewing, but at least I feel like I'm learning to write better.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Well, I was watching Two and a Half Men...

I like Castle, The Middle, and Glee. (Yes, I'm a Gleek.) All of these are fairly episodic. No cliffhangers at the end, so I don't feel like I missed anything if I skip a week.

Sarah said...

I watch almost no television, but I do watch Vampire Diaries. There are some funny lines. And Damon is pretty--though the crazy eye thing has been getting to me lately, too! Still, I know what you mean about "research", but it's hard when you cut your tv-viewing teeth on Buffy--the wit requirements are high.

Old Kitty said...

I kneel at the altar of the writing team behind Cheers and Frasier! Friends too! To be able to come up with 30 minutes of a whole story with well rounded characters I cared about so much I had to return every week to see them progress AND with laugh out loud moments is a true skill! The recent and very successful team behind the Dr Who renaissance and also the new Sherlock Holmes - talk about breathing amazing life to old favourites! Recently my TV favourite was "Life on Mars" - the first series only! Crazily but tightly plotted - I was riveted to all 8 episodes. I can only hope that the writers/team of writers behind these fab shows were given enough creative freedom plus backing to produce these great shows! I don't know about looking up the writers to see if they've written any books BUT knowing their names will guarantee me watching any new shows they write!
Great post!!!! Thank you!! Take care
x

Colene Murphy said...

Oooh...those were good old shows!! I haven't been able to watch VD religiously enough to bother trying. I missed most everything by the time I was able to watch it it was too late and I was confused. But I have been wanting to watch them start to finish! Well... did... That girl never did seem like an awesome chick. She annoyed me the only times I ever saw it. And now they go and ruin the sexy ones!! Oh hmmph.

WritingNut said...

OHhh man.. I loved SO many of those shows... I have the entire Saved by the Bell series on DVD... I haven't seen any of the Vampire Diaries this season, but I did LOVE Damon in the past...

Hehe.. my mom used to watch the soap operas religiously too! Although for me, it was Days of Our Lives :)

Ms. Tale-to-tell said...

I've been thinking about the t.v-writing connection lately, too.

I actually never was much for teen shows growing up. Watched some TGIF, thought Cory and his buddy Shawn on 'Boy Meets World' were cute, but never was really consistent in my watchings of that or any other show. Okay, Okay--except when the fam was watching Seventh Heaven' which was out of proximity than actual desire. Desire=Nil.

But lately, yes I've been digging the teen shows. I've been known to stay up late and watch them successively from Netflix, actually. My latest has been the ABC show, 'Greek'.

I've been really impressed with their characterization and casting and also their pacing of each season. Plus they seem to know how to throw some awesome stuff out of left field to keep things fun and interesting and not in a bland, shallow or melodramatic way like might be expected from a show all about the Fraternity/Sorority life.

I think there is a lot to be learned from well written shows, the same as can be learned from well penned novels!

India Drummond said...

Oddly, I start to feel slightly uncomfortable when I find myself getting "hooked" on a show or caring too much about what happens to the characters.

But it is interesting to analyse how these writers keep us caring about the characters enough to keep coming back for more! And soaps can do it for decades!

Tamara Narayan said...

I'm a fan of House, but don't envy the writer's task of researching all those rare disorders. This season (number seven) seems to be weaker than previous ones.

When my older daughter was an infant, I lived in front of the TV and loved the dialogue of Gilmore Girls reruns.

Angelina Rain said...

Whenever I have a difficult time writing something, I watch House MD. I love that show. The characters are all unique in their own way, the plot is always intriguing, and the writing is usually so intense you are glued to your seat until the episode is over. I try to incorporate that intensity into my own writing.

Hart Johnson said...

*giggles* I was a latchkey kid, so I grew up glued to a television. I'm definitely older than you though, and totally missed to 'for teen' show era. I give huge kudos to Buffy and also Veronica Mars for making high school into fabulous all-ages viewing, but mostly high school antics bug me. I hate it when everyone lines up into stereotypes. Haven't watched the Vampire Diaries.

One thing though... I've been watching soaps for years and the same actors stay on and the writers come and go. i think writers are the key to fabulous versus flopping. Actors have a huge range of what they can do (yes, some ranges are much higher than others, but still, a range) but the material will make or break the scene. [long term shows though, have a problem books don't--they never know when the END is, so the story arcs can be a little wonky as they learn this or that person is leaving, or the season is the last.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I feel that way about Dr. Who. Love, love, love the writing. I still love all the characters too, even though I lost David Tennant. :-)

Erin Kane Spock said...

I have gone to movies I would not have otherwise gone to based on the author that wrote it (Total Recall) but never thought about TV. And why not? No idea. I put a lot of thought into the authors of the books I read, their motivation, etc. But not TV. Food for thought.
Good post.

LTM said...

wow. supercool b/c I'm going to be out of town next week, and I just pre-wrote my Thurs post about 30 Rock and L O S T.

but I also watch the VDs (*snort*), and I have to say Elana + Stephan are the most BORING part of the show.

I too pay attention to everything WAY more than I used to.

So... are you also watching iCarly like me? ;o) <3

Nicole L Rivera said...

Okay, so I know I'm late on the uptake here but *gasp*, I love the eye thing Dameon does. But, after the first two seasons the Elena-constantly-in-danger thing is wearing. I don't really watch it anymore. I opt (and this is a confessional moment) for Jersey Shore. Right now my fav show in Teen Mom and when I want to watch a sitcom I turn to Friends (of which I just checked out the first two seasons). They just don't make shows like Dawson's creek anymore. :_(

HowLynnTime said...

Lol I have about had it with the Damon character being dumped on all the time - but he never wins the unwavering Madam Frowny Face.

Stephan isn't so pure and deserving - Damon isn't evil like in the books - and somewhere - they have missed the boat by not playing the Damon card. It should bother that girl a little - she should be barely able to keep her hands off Damon - and she wants to play buddies - yawn.

I do think about the authors - and the fact that when you write books you get to guide - tv shows are a whole other animal and the people who start them are often pulled off, fired, or quit - and the show jumps the shark - remember DALLAS and the "dream season" - It was the 'New Coke' marketing plan.

I feel like VampD may have just found it's dream season....sad.

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