I watch a lot of telly. I mean, a lot.
I love television. I’ve always loved telly. One of my earliest memories is driving home from my Grandparent’s house and crying hysterically because I misheard my parents discussing getting rid of a sofa. I thought they were talking about selling our television. They had to pull over my dad’s blue Volvo to calm me down.
And then there was the time they caught me playing with matches and I was sent to bed early. That night I missed an episode of Fame. Now, remember – this was in the days before videos and BBC3 repeats. If you missed a show, it stayed missed. I sat at the top of our stairs sobbing as I heard Coco singing about how she was going to live forever.
I still feel that there is a hole in my soul where that lost episode of Fame should be, but I never played with matches again.
Etched on my heart is a list of the shows that should be filed under “Reasons Lisa Became A Writer”. That list includes Cracker, Cagney & Lacey, Press Gang, Party of Five, Band of Gold, Sharpe, Rockliffe’s Babies, Bread, The Cannon and Ball Show… I could go on. And on and on.
Etched on my spleen is another list. It’s a list of TV shows that made me feel betrayed, disappointed, heartsick and incandescent with rage. This is my shit list of shows that were so poorly written, ill-conceived, indifferently directed and populated with half-arsed actors that they came close to causing me rage-induced internal haemorrhaging.
The latter list is not only longer but also far more important than the former.
Let me explain.
There have been quite a few additions to the shit list of late. I won’t name names; that’s not fair to the talentless hacks and boss-eyed commissioners that had such contempt for their audience that they churned them out. In fact, there is rarely month when I don’t add something to the list. Barely a week goes by when I don’t find myself throwing my hands up in despair and shouting at the television.
The thing is, nobody sets out to write bad TV. No writer sits down and thinks “that’ll do”. There are a myriad of reasons why bad telly ends up on screen. Constraints of time and budget. Crappy, conflicting notes from production companies and broadcasters.
And… whisper it… some people are just not as talented as they should be. They’re doing the best writing they can and it’s just not very good. They might have had a great initial idea and a lack the skills to bring it to life. Or it might have been a terrible idea and nobody had the intelligence or experience to see that. And there it is; the reason why the shit list is so important. People make mistakes and we can learn from them.
TV writers should always watch shit TV. If its ratings are plunging and the reviews are scathing then you should have that show on series link. But don’t just sit there and rage. Analyse. Ask yourself questions. Why is it making you angry? Why is it boring? Why does it seem so implausible? Does it lack internal logic? Or is it too slow? Is the dialogue stilted and unreal? Are the characters unlikeable? And most importantly, what would you do to make it better?
Play imaginary show-runner with yourself. Visualise being called in by the production company to save the show. You can get rid of any character, axe any storyline, change the setting, introduce any story.
Can you stop the show from ending up on the shit list?
Play this game and maybe when you get your chance you won’t make the mistakes that other writers have. But play fair; don’t dismiss a show because you don’t like the genre or the lead actor. And remember that some shows are not for you. The BBC has a responsibility to provide drama that everyone can enjoy – just not all in the same programme. I’m sure there are some sick individuals out there who don’t like New Tricks. Not many, judging by our ratings. But some people just don’t like cop shows or Dennis Waterman singing. Fine, but you should still be able to analyse the components that make up the show; dialogue, structure, story, characters.
So, the next time you think a show is a dead loss – do an autopsy.