It’s a golden age for television and as I say that the mind wanders to think of Game Of Thrones and True Detective. But to be really fair to the numerous people who thrive and strive on small screen there is equally exciting and overtly creative shows coming from all directions. Television is more cut-throat than ever, where shows as exciting as Firefly (Joss Whedon), Alphas, Almost Human (Producer J. J Abrams)gets cancelled based on the obnoxious Nielsen Media Research. That being said Netflix has come as ray of hope for all the people doped on TV (and doom for the networks) with their original series which are so top-notch in terms of everything that it’s baffling. Shows like Orange is the new Black, House of Cards . What we have on television is equally or more superior than anything that goes on movies in terms of plots and stories. The obvious terrific ones I have mentioned above and then there are stuff like The Newsroom, Boardwalk Empire, Ray Donovan, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men, Silicon Valley, Person Of Interest, Louie, Justified, Veep, Deadwood. All of them unique in the true sense not just in genres but also in terms of tone and feel, yet I feel that I have barely scratched the surface here. I have not mentioned some more obvious ones which I will, when I do my top 5 television shows post.
What makes all these series so great is that it’s fresh and not just fresh in terms of treatment but in respect of stories, characters, plots and everything else you can possibly think off. To survive in these bloodbath of series which you soak in at your disposable with one click of remote has maybe been one of the reason for its rise in superiority and give it all attitude. Every episode ending feels like you’re waiting for sequel to come out and just to think what the writers must be going through to come out with a ripsnorter every week. And to create a spectacle week in and week out is something which must be the stuff suicides are made off.
Aaron Sorkin said “Like I said in television when you have only 8 or 9 days to turn it around you just necessarily have to speed up that process.”
Writing for television is a tedious yet enjoyable process. Vince Gillian in his interview mentioned
“I prefer TV writing to Features. However, the only problem with TV is that the schedule is so tight and deadlines are so important that it might kill you depending on your emotional investment and I am not even exaggerating.
The creator after penning down the pilot and basically laying down the bouncing castle for his team of writers to jump on, serves as a great template to take it to directions that even they are not sure it will go to. The classic example for which is Breaking Bad. When season 1 had started out Vince Gilligan’s original ending to season 1 was killing of Aaron”Jeese Pinkman”Paul . In his own words “it was throwing a kitchen’s sink just to make the audience come back to watch his show”. Every episode of TV writing is basically creating a new film with enough stuff to fill the tummy of a viewer yet ending it in a way that he ends up wanting more, and to do that every week and season after season seems truly exhausting yet somehow these tele-visioniers pull it off with utmost ease or so it seems.
Aaron Sorkin “We write 80 to 85 episodes most series. Every episode won’t be number 1 there will be episode which will be at number 85. Your job as a writer is to make sure it is one hell of a 85th episode
TV writing is more daring in a true sense not just on the huge collage of contents and drastic lengths that some of the shows go to, but also in terms of narration which is so board and interesting merged together with meticulous detail on most aspects. The TV unlike movies (which is so dependent on set pieces) is more rooted to stories coming full circle, everything is interconnected and how little event in season 2 will come back in a big way to bite you in season 4, it’s unpredictability which makes it a satisfying watch.They are always pushing themselves in terms of sex, violence, drama, suspense, mystery anything and everything they could do without getting sued or you ever getting the feeling that they are doing it out of desperation, it just fits.
Vince Gilligan “ I intentionally slowed down my story to make sure that I can milk out every little drama that I can extract”
TV V/s Movies
TV is getting expressly expensive. It can give a inferiority complex even to a big budget movie. $18 Million was spent on pilot of Broadwalk Empire and don’t even get me started on how much each of the Game of Thrones episode cost. Where TV scores though is contrary to movies, budget is not used as a tool to gloss up a lackluster script. A great script forces a network to give them a big budget. It is quite a shame that they don’t release series like Boardwalk Empire, True Detective, Game of Thrones , Breaking Bad in theater just thinking about how magnum the scale is for these series it is disappointing that you have to watch it down on your shrinked up TV’s.
Some of the prolific people from Hollywood have dwelled in to television. Martin Scorsese directed the pilot of Boardwalk Empire. David Fincher directed pilot and several episodes of House Of Cards. Rian”Looper”Johnson directed 3 episodes for Breaking Bad. I will refrain myself from pointing out the obvious about True Detective. The Bridge is closing and fast between movies and TV. And to be really frank TV is neck deep when it comes to original and varied contents and there is huge ocean of it. Whereas movies today is about adaptation superheroes and remakes. TV has dwelled in to everything and I mean everything. And it is the reason why big names have entered TV as it lets them scratch a itch which movies won’t. They can push the envelope, bend it & throw it.
When to Stop
It’s such a thin ice in TV that every move is taken with utter care. A Pilot is aired after which looking at the response that is generated entire contract for the season is signed. At the end of the season it depends on the studio whether they will bring it back for the second season or they get cancelled. As difficult as it is to get the TV series from the floor to the sky high reputation and viewing. The daunting task comes of keeping it there. Most of TV series are an arc it rises and rises reaches the pinnacle and then it starts to dip.
Vince Gilligan said “you don’t want to be that guest in the party who will never leave”
Series like The X-Files as great as it was the later seasons were heavily responsible for the shows arc being created. Or Lost the show which raised your expectations sky high only to sneak up and push you from behind. Breaking Bad is a perfect example for reaching the pinnacle and ending it there. Despite achieving success much later than most successful shows they didn’t stretch beyond the point of breaking. It took all the accolades and ended with audiences wanting more yet heavily satisfied and content.
How do they Keep it fresh
The way to keep it interesting and fresh has evolved for a longest time. There is only so much you can do, before it gets too much. And that’s where the best are cut above the rest. Breaking Bad kept the seasons interesting by making it bigger every season not just in terms of budget but in terms of stake and loss and deep shit Walter White was getting in to. Especially with introduction of Gus Fring on the similar stakes game Supernatural faltered as they stretched from finding their mother’s killer in Season 3 raised the stakes to saving the world in Season 5 and since then have caught in the loop of saving the world and saving each other only to a point when it had gotten funny and not at the funny moments.
Vince Gilligan – People want what they want for as long as they want it, then tastes change and something else works
Game of Thrones of course famously started killing off the characters saga which raised the curiosity and shock which they were looking for. A lot of the hook are the development of characters and keeping the audience involved in their journey. But a character too can only be developed so much and my reference here is for Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. lovable, goofy and obnoxious as he is there is nothing new to offer from the writers as it enters season 8 and it has started to become a bit of a drag, add to that the reason of The Big Bang Theory rise was science gags and jokes along with movie references sprinkled in. But, the writers seem to have taken the easier route every since season 5 where jokes are getting progressively lesser on what made it popular and dependent on relationships and one liners.
So in a nutshell it is very important to get the balance right to make sure that you keep your show fresh. There is no one method to it. The balance is crucial and as a creator to know where your show can go and when you are caught in a creative loop.
Way More to Come
All said and done the TV reign won’t be ending anytime soon. With Better Call Saul a Spin-Off of Breaking Bad starting soon and hopefully Battle Creek created by Vince Gilligan and David”House’Shore. Sense8 which is to be Created by The Wachowski and many many more. It is just the most exciting times and hoping to be blown away from this so called “Idiot” box.