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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Hart to Heart

I always wanted to be a rebel when I was a kid.

You know, that guy that flipped off the system?

The tough, cool guy who always looked so bad-ass; who got all the chicks and smoked and had wicked tatts and took no shit from anyone.

Only thing was, I could never shut off that voice of reason in my head -- or silence it long enough to reeeeally let myself make the serious life-changing mistakes that old chums with nicknames like 'Ozzy' and 'Vedder' did.

Sure, I did me some dumbasser-y when I was young, no doubt, but yeah... I always had that gut check firmly in place. I could always see the ramifications of my actions down the line. Thus, my fist-fights were always honest, I never jumped nobody and never joined a gang; I never got expelled, went to juvie or got myself locked up.

But damn if I didn't romanticize the hell out of it.

Even now I just can't help but be drawn to different kinds of shows, those that tend to have a darker bent to them: Dexter, Durham County, Sons Of Anarchy, The Wire.

I like it when my heroes are flawed, when they make mistakes -- sometimes catastrophic ones.

I like it when actions have ramifications that don't just go away 'cause the credits roll.

I like shades of gray and double-crosses and bad guys who win because they'll do what men of conscience won't.

In short, I like seeing 'reality' reflected back to me in my stories.

What I've been realizing over the last while is that that puts me distinctly in the minority amongst TV viewers.

Not TV viewers that I know and associate with... but TV viewers on the whole.

I'm sure most of you've read the fantastic transcript from Hart Hanson's Keynote at the "Future Of Story" conference (thanks to todoom for transcribing it!)... a great deal of it was rather eye-opening for me, but this part really hit home:

"... if you cleave to, if you support – as an entertainer – the basic values of your culture and society, you have a much better chance of reaching a mass audience than if you challenge the mores and morals of a society. I hope a huge number of you are going, “Well, that’s what artists do. Artists challenge what we think.” And I would say, that’s right. So I’m not an artist."

Now, long ago I realized that TV is a business and that writing for TV is far more Craft than Art. But somehow this quote just really cemented home a different sort of perspective.

You want a hit show? Give people what they want to see. Reflect their ethics and morals and mores back to them. Tweak it where you can but, essentially, tell them what they want to hear as many different ways as possible.

Sell them the Dream, not the Reality.

'Cause, as the numbers seem to bear, very few watch TV to see the darkest aspects -- let alone the painfully true aspects -- of their life reflected back at them.

Which is... weird to me.

I've never known the happily-married sitcom life: Mom, Dad, Sparky, picket fence and the kids. But I've never known the dark, hard, criminal life of the streets either.

Certainly nothing like anything in The Wire.

And yet it's still this sort of odd dichotomy where writing about either side of the line feels fake -- with the 'shiny, happy people' side feeling moreso than the other.

At least I know people who've done hard time.

Then again, maybe I've been looking at it all wrong. Taking it in from the wrong angle. 'Looking down' on it (as Mr. Hanson says) without really giving it fair thought.

Maybe that's what the Dream is all about: The last stand.

That shining refuge and hope that at the end of the day Good will triumph over Evil; that hard working people will be rewarded and the assholes in life will always get their comeuppance.

I mean, is it wrong to want to come home after a hard day of dealing with jerks and just escape to a simpler world? To turn off the brain and enjoy a story... maybe even surrounded by people you love?

Truth be told, when you put it that way... I can kind of get it.

One of the very few times we'd all sit down and watch TV as a family was when my mom would grab us kids by the collar and sit us down to watch Little House On The Prairie.

At the time I thought it was stupid... but even now, as I look back on it, I can't help but have fond memories of the times we shared there.

Is there a way to serve the dream but keep it real? I'm sure there is.

There's gotta be some way to play it straight and fair but swing for the high note.

There's just gotta.

Can you do that for 20-ish episodes a season for 100 episodes or more?

That... yeah, that'd be the trick.


1 comment:

deborah Nathan said...

It's about mythology - the mythos of a culture. Canada tries to hide its mythology under a multicultural label - hoping nobody will raise the real story of the country and its French/English/Native roots and laws. In the US, they embrace their mythology - right or wrong - it's America. The underdog who will prevail - as evidenced most recently in the Superbowl. A friend of mine said recenlty that the mythos of Canada was the protection of property rather than the protection of the individual. I think he's right. And it makes for a rather difficult mythology to eulogize.