It’s Emmy night. I am planted in front of the TV with some Cheez-Its, waiting to see how my favorites fare this evening. I love TV. As a parent and someone in the education biz, I should probably not love it as much as I do. But I do.
As a kid I liked TV for the same reason any kid likes it — it’s entertaining and doesn’t ask much of the viewer. And you can eat Count Chocula out of the box while being entertained. That’s a powerful combination.
Then I got older, and started to appreciate what was behind the show. In particular, the writing. The acting can be pretty spectacular, too, but I barely squeaked a C in drama class and I don’t really get the nuts and bolts of the profession. To me, the most amazing thing actors do is remember their lines. I can’t remember where I put my shoes, but Kevin Spacey can spout out a soliloquy like nobody’s business on House of Cards (watch that show, by the way – it’s fantastic).
Which brings me back to the writing. The writing gives Kevin Spacey the words and the tone, and he adds his magic to it. Without a good script, he can add all the magic he wants and it still won’t go anywhere (ahem, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace).
What really solidified my appreciation for good scripting was a grad class I took as part of my master’s program. The class was screenwriting, which I knew hardly anything about. On the first day the enthusiastic adjunct professor beamed at us, and declared that she knew “there was a movie script inside of us, burning to be set free onto the page.” The only thing burning inside of me was the desire to finish my MS before I ran out of room for tuition on my credit card. I have to give her credit – by the end of the semester she had indeed coaxed a very rudimentary romantic comedy from me.
I also learned a few details that made me appreciate my beloved TV (and movies) even more. Each page of script represents roughly one minute on screen. When you take out time for commercials, that leaves about 20 pages of script to cover the A plot, the B plot, and inject some comedic zingers or dramatic twists, making sure each main character has something meaningful to say or do. This is NOT easy. The script has to be so tight that not a word is wasted. (Random aside – the professor gave us scripts for the movies American Beauty and Witness as two examples of “near perfect” screenplays. If you watch either of these again, pay special attention to the plot and pacing – it’s impressive.)
This year’s harvest of TV writing is something the pilgrims would envy. Right now I’m admiring and totally enjoying the writing on three shows: House of Cards, New Girl, and The Mindy Project. Orphan Black is pretty awesome, too, but the writing is elevated by the fantastic lead actress, who plays seven roles on the show. Seven. And she does it very well.
I’m turning to you, readers – what show has awesome writing that’s not on my list? My DVR is waiting for your recommendations!