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Home » Archives » June 2006 » Bobbing for Bad Apples
[Previous entry: "Sometimes you don't need to use the f-word"] [Next entry: "That's right. It steals tongues"]

06/18/2006: Bobbing for Bad Apples

I have received a most interesting letter from Joe in San Jose. After telling a charming story about how he discovered the Buffy program, he asks why The Da Vinci Code sucks. Well, I seem to be the person who has neither read nor seen it, so I don't have an opinion. Sorry, Joe. Loved the charming story!

I'm not done with that letter yet, though. It has aligned with some email correspondence I had today, to combine into a thought. In the email, an aspiring writer friend was talking about how she has had a very good experience with television. She watches the shows her friends recommend to her, and then she discovers she loves them. She is left with a view of television as a landscape cluttered with humor, intelligence and quality.

That's when I had my thought. Here is my thought, and it is mine: It's important to watch not just the good, but the bad. I suggested that she watch a bad show at once.

I shouldn't be envied because I managed to avoid the evident pain of The Da Vinci Code, but censured for not wanting to go watch it to figure out something about screenwriting from seeing what failed. (And I suspect I should read the book too, to learn how to create a page-turny runaway best seller.)

If you want to learn how to sew a garment, it might be good to look at a poorly-made one, so you can see the exposed seams and figure out how it goes together, and also so you can see what mistakes to avoid. Watch a little bad TV. Watch for the mistakes, and observe the effects they have.

One common mistake is insufficient motivation. A character does a thing and you wonder why. There's usually some sort of lip service made to why they did it, and since everyone else on the show is buying it, it can just slip past you. I mean, they clearly did it, so there's no point asking if they *would*, right? They *did* it! See how you have to kind of force yourself to see these things? Anyway, once you start looking for it, you see it a lot. And you get better about making sure your own characters are doing things for reasons.

Look for weak act breaks, stereotyped guest characters, lame comebacks and familiar put-downs, stories that resolve too neatly, stories that peter out, logical jumps that don't make sense, inconsistent attitudes across scenes, stilted language and old jokes. Notice the effect they have on the show as a whole. Maybe noodle around with how to fix or avoid them.

Try reading some of the excellent recaps on Television Without Pity, too. They have a brutal way of cutting to the heart of a script-writing mistake that can be very helpful to those of you wanting to get into the habit of watching critically. And, on occasion, a bit painful to those of us already on the other side of the process. But, seriously, it's good stuff.

Mostly, when you watch, watch quality. But now and then, dip your toes into the other end of the pool. There are lessons swimming around in there.

Lunch: spaghetti with cheese sauce, a family recipe. Fantastic. Like fondue on your pasta.


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June 2006

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