Media Production Mentoring

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On Pandas and Writing for TV

My wife just got Pandaria, so I'm probably not going to see her for a few weeks.

Lost in the Mists of Pandaria

I, on the other hand, was much more productive in finishing the first season of Revenge. As the "shocking" twist came in the last few seconds, the world of television writing snapped into focus: There's a reason great shows die slow deaths.

We start with a killer story. In this case, a beautiful, young, independently wealthy, brilliant, and accomplished girl seeks out... er... revenge. The writing is snappy, the episodes rocket forward as she takes out her betrayers one at a time. And then, somewhere around episode seven, I sensed the shift as the story began to fall.

This is, near as I can tell, when ABC noticed that they had a hit show on their hands... second only to their similarly ill-fated Lost. Around this time someone at the studio said something to a writer about expanding the show into more seasons. And instantly the guilty stopped falling.

In the place of ruined lives, the story screeches to a halt while we investigate just how horrible we can make things for people. Each episode makes your skin crawl with the intoxicating nastiness that spills onto the screen. But we've lost the plot. Revenge, to be sure, but no longer against perpetrators of a crime... but a mafia-esque family I haven't seen since Godfather.

Indeed, the final episode of season one felt like a bad joke. Things twisted and turned in ways that felt forced and cheap. And I realized that my wife had made the better choice.

See, Blizzard Entertainment learned something about entertainment that ABC has yet to do: Sometimes we need to reel in our stories. Over the past few expansions, Blizzard has been forced to come up with ever bigger and badder bad guys for our hordes and alliances to fight. It's kind of like telling your audience that, I don't know, your mom's still out there. <cough> Chuck.

At some point you should just go back to your roots. Create something new and enjoyable. Change the scenery. Add pandas.

It's tempting to string out a series for seven seasons because it's popular. It's good business sense. It can even be good for fans, especially those who didn't start watching until that season...

But it's bad for your story.

Revenge was a fantastic, one season tale that has now been stretched to at least two. And, like Bilbo Baggins and so many of the "shorts" I see, it's like butter scraped over too much bread.

Don't you make the same mistake. Keep your short, movie, or series only as long as it needs to be. Give into the temptation to stretch it out a little longer, and you'll end up with a monster I wish I could have seen it's original form.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Debi Davis said...

I love Revenge, and am looking forward to the next season. However, you make a great point, and although I wasn't able to put my finger on it as nicely as you have, I sensed the story line getting a little thin. (Love your metaphor - butter spread on too much bread!)

I'm fascinated with the talent shown by some TV writers (e.g., Justified) and often wonder how they manage to keep churning it out.

So, while the story line is starting to ramble a bit, I watch Revenge with bated breath, and continue to admire the writers who can work under the pressure of not knowing where the finish line is.

Luke Holzmann said...

Debi, I enjoyed the show, and I respect the writers. Indeed, the underlying thrust of this post is about how economic decisions to string things out longer can hinder a great story. Keep to your story, and it will be stronger for it.

Thanks for sharing!