What does one do when they have nothing to write about and are responsible for the publishing of a weekly column about primetime TV? What does one do when the summer has wound down to its mum phase–where sun-streaked reality TV has lost its gold, and you live fix to fix on reruns you try to convince yourself you’ve never seen?
What does one do?
Well hey, don’t look at me, that’s why I’m asking. This query has been giving me a good case of cortical rumblings for quite a few weeks now. After the first week, the rumblings stopped being about me and my lack of TV inspiration, and fell more to the writers of our favourite TV shows and what they do when they’re faced with the same proverbial brick brain barrier.
Let’s just pretend for a second that I was Mr. J.J. Abrams, kinda unshaven, kinda wealthy, and managing two very buzz-friendly shows on very large networks. And let’s just say for the life of me I couldn’t think of what to do next with those Lost freaks on that island in the middle of nowhere that we’re still trying to figure out. What would I do? I’d whip my supporting writing staff into shape and have them dole out the best season they could fathom. Unfortunately, however, whipping isn’t considered standard treatment of Hollywood scribes (err, I think), so I’d probably do what any other self-respecting, multi-kazillion dollar earning writer would do when stumped–I’d start from scratch. New characters, new back story, new world.
I’m sure many of you have already recognized this theme among TV’s top pens. When one show hits its peak, creators and execs always seem to have another, by the same writer–just a bit different, waiting up their sleeves for next season. Coincidence? Of course not. Much of this has to do with the profitability of marketing an already established scribe of the moment, who without fail will bring in a loyal audience based on his/her previous rapport. Another bit of it has to do with inventing a canonical base for storytelling. A head writer will bring his humor, his voice and his experiences to every character he creates, even if the roles vary superficially. Stringing together these seemingly individual voices creates a gumball of say, ‘Abramness’ that fans can’t wait to chew up.
Every great writer who has graced our TV screens has indulged in these very themes. It’s the reason why Aaron Spelling’s name can be attached to almost every melodrama you can think of, and the reason why Ally McBeal and The Practice blur when you think back. My personal TV God, a.k.a. Joss Whedon did the same, creating Buffy and Angel to sate his supernatural side, and then Firefly when he got tired of the other two.
The only downside to this mass spread of one scribe is the downturn of quality that often belabors the left-behind shows–especially if they’re still on air. Many fans can quite virulently attest to the quality change in the Whedonverse once it was semi-sans Whedon, and to the quick convolution of a previously concise Alias once Abrams got ‘Lost’.
It seems then, much to chagrin of network execs, TV numbers aren’t the greatest reflection of quality. What should a writer do when they’re stumped? Stick to it. Got me to the end of this column, didn’t it?