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Story time

A while ago, I was reading about the entertainment biz. Someone was commenting how many movies were being made from TV shows, and wondering why so many of them flopped. The answer was one that was both profoundly simple and profoundly accurate that it stuck with me.

Movies, they said, are about the most important part of a person's life. Everything up to the beginning of the movie are preparation for the events captured on film, and their life after the credits roll will always be affected by what happened in that time.

TV shows, however, are about a whole section of a person's life. Events of various degrees will import, but there will not likely be a single climax to the events. This is because in TV land, there's almost always a next episode to be considered. (The final episode of "Angel" being an outstanding exception. See also "St. Elsewhere" and "Newhart.")

Over the years, this thought has wormed its way in and around my brain. I've started referring to the two types of storytelling as "serial" and "singular," and found it's very easy to divide genres into the two. For example, novels, graphic novels, and music tends towards the singular. Comic books and blogging is serial.

It's an important distinction to make. As a blogger, the temptation to try to write a "blockbuster" piece is tremendous. To write the Grand Unified Theory of postings -- one piece that sums up everything the author has to say, and wrap it all up in a big bow, then release it to wide acclaim -- is an unacknowledged fantasy of most bloggers.

But then the comic book editor or TV network exec voice in your head says the inevitable: "That was great. What you got next?"

Because that, in the end, is the big question. What's next?

The important lesson here is that life, itself, is serial. Life, like entertainment, builds on itself and continues. The "dramatic structure" -- exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement -- is an artificial construct and is a wonderful way to depict what we want, not the way things are.

And always remember one thing: if your life has reached its highest peak, its climax, its turning point, then there isn't a hell of a lot to look forward to for the rest. There's not much reason to stay past the credits in a movie, but there's always next week on TV.


Comments (8)

The problem I've seen with ... (Below threshold)

The problem I've seen with TV shows over time, is a degradation of the persona that is set up for a character. To keep a show interesting and probably partial due to multiple writers, they eventually have actors repeatedly do things that are out of character for the persona that was originally established. While people in real life will sometime do things out of character, especially under extreme circumstances, they don't change to the extent that writers have TV characters change.

Interesting idea. This make... (Below threshold)

Interesting idea. This makes Joss Whedon's movie of "Serenity" even more of an accomplishment.

I thought the reason TV-sho... (Below threshold)
Eric Forhan:

I thought the reason TV-shows-made-into-movies were so cruddy might be the same as why videogame-inspired or remakes are so often terrible: The creativity just isn't there from the beginning.

Also, by the time a TV show comes to the theater, it's probably already run its course--or darn near. Serenity was unique in that it came after only a half-season of the original show had aired But even that was a box-office failure (though DVD success).

In regards to bloggers, two... (Below threshold)

In regards to bloggers, two words - Bill Whittle.

Both serial and blockbuster singular.

Oyster - I thought of Whitt... (Below threshold)

Oyster - I thought of Whittle immediately. He is a singular poster, with serial successes. Which explains his infrequent posts (and his God-like stature among bloggers).

Great analogy Jay!

Great posting Jay.... (Below threshold)
Matt:

Great posting Jay.

However, is it possible that "This is as good as it gets?"

I too thought of Bill Whitt... (Below threshold)
Greg:

I too thought of Bill Whittle while reading this and to bring this back to the TV vs Movie analogy I find myself reading "serial" blogs pretty much whenever I feel like it or have some time to waste but if I want to read one of Bill's new articles I schedule a time for myself when I can read the whole thing and devote my entire attention to it.

Too many tv producers keep ... (Below threshold)
hermie:

Too many tv producers keep trying to milk whatever they can out of their shows, thus the reason for abrupt and unexplainable changes in characters or characters' behaviors. To keep the shows 'fresh' they actually ruin the reasons we turned the shows on in the first place.




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