Wednesday, May 25, 2011

'Getting it' when others don't (low ratings).

One of the things that puzzles me is when tv viewers rave about a show that is supposedly awesome but in reality usually isn't.

Like, for example, Arrested Development, an ├╝berpromoted series that even managed to win an Emmy but was eventually canceled because nobody ever watched it. A show that had huge amount of hype, but in the end very little substance.

Fans who supposedly 'got it' say that it's the best comedy series of all time. So many references and inside jokes and stuff...

But when it came to the show's ratings nobody watched. And when nobody watched despite the network giving the show a hard push, that was a bad sign. The show must have had some serious problems.

Indeed, Arrested Development had plenty of those. Among those that can be 'objectively' quantified were things like the shoddy camerawork, quick editing and misleading 'in the next episode' "jokes".

Or how about the fact that about half of every episode consisted of Ron Howard's voice-over. I mean, honestly, can you narrate a 21 minute show to death and still expect the general audience, masses, to watch?

That was a terrible, terrible mistake. No wonder people didn't 'get' it. In the end Arrested Development just wasn't that good.

The thing is that when some people say that they 'get' certain shows that aren't watched by many, in reality it likely means that they're simply forgetting and ignoring the (fatal) flaws that keep the general audience from watching.

That's the most likely reason that shows like Firefly and Pushing Daisies got axed early. There were just way too many mistakes. But some people reaaaally 'got' these shows.

Let's face it, when a show is genuinely awesome, like X-Files, there really isn't much to get. It's simple, it works and people will come.

[Of course just because a show is a hit, doesn't mean that it's any good. But low ratings almost always tell the truth about the quality of the show.]

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Common spec script mistakes.

'Oh no, what am I supposed to do? I'm so confused'.

Yes, that's Homer Simpson apparently being completely clueless about his job. Poor Homer. But what does this picture have to do with spec scripts, and to be more precise, spec script mistakes?

I would answer to that question by saying that looking at this picture and thinking about it is a good way to start writing a spec script.

In this picture Homer is in trouble - a good start for storytelling. Having problems, being in trouble that is.

Sounds almost too simple, but unfortunately it really isn't. Because when you read spec scripts, you'll notice (or at least you should notice) that most of the time the characters aren't in trouble and there aren't any real problems to solve.

The problem is that without problems stories cannot exist. Yet people write spec scripts that lack this ingredient. No wonder those scripts aren't usually any good.

Another thing that you can learn from the picture is that knowing the character is more important than knowing what the character actually does.

By that I mean that you don't need to have a great grasp of nuclear physics in order to write an episode of The Simpsons in which for example Homer is working at the nuclear plant.

Sounds simple but that's only how it sounds. Not needing to know something doesn't stop writers from giving us these unnecessary chunks of information.

For example, if someone writes a spec for ER, the script too easily tends to consist of medical jargon that isn't essential to the episode.

The same goes for lawyer shows. Writers give us endless dialogue about sections and paragraphs and stuff that nobody wants or needs to know.

They forget the characters and the big ideas that drive the episodes. They forget their Homers.

Third, if you look at the picture and think about it, you might figure out that despite being clueless and in trouble, Homer is going to be alright at the end of the episode.

By that I mean that despite all of those usual warnings about not writing a script without a proper plan - also called an outline - I'm saying that you can't really plan everything.

The only outline I personally have ever used is that I need to have strong enough premise and that I have material for the second half too.

So may I suggest that you forget that detailed outline those other writers are talking about. Just keep in mind that you have a problem that is big enough to give you a story, don't forget your Homer Simpsons and remember that you're a Homer too.

You can do it, just be smart about the basics.  Writing scripts isn't rocket science.