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Just Saw [Insert Movie Title Here]...

...or how my MFA in screenwriting ruined any chance of enjoying a movie like a normal person. If I apply what I've learned to existing films, would it have made a better film?

SPOILER WARNING: Please be advised, I plan to discuss plot points in detail so if you haven't seen the movie and don't want the surprise ruined, stop here.

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Location: California, United States

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Heroes (on NBC)

I've been handicapping the new shows this fall searching for something fresh to spec. I'll make an admission here: I love television. I've been a TV addict all my life. My first grade teacher said I sounded like a TV announcer when I spoke (that's how she knew I wasn't retarded and just needed eyeglasses).

A lot of hay is being made about how serialized dramas aren't doing too well this year. The New York Times (October 29) ran a huge article about how audiences aren't willing to make a commitment to these shows for various reasons. That, in a nutshell, to watch these shows requires a huge commitment to keep up with the interweaving plots and an emotional investment in the characters.

So what did "Heroes" get right?

The pilot for "Heroes" was a "premise" pilot. What a premise pilot is (to me) is a pilot that is heavy on exposition required to introduce us to the characters and their world. What's typically missing from a premise pilot is a strong story to carry the episode. Among the other pilots this fall season I consider premise pilots are "Studio 60," "The Nine," "Jericho" and "Six Degrees."

What made "Heroes" different from these shows is "Heroes" had a lot more action. Consider the cheerleader, Claire Bennett. We're introduced to her as she tries to commit suicide (again) which reveals she has the ability to heal herself. Then she rescues a fireman from a burning train, fishes her class ring out of a running garbage disposal, and asks her parents who her real parents are.

Compare to Jordan McDeere on "Studio 60." She makes a faux pax at a dinner and hires a new showrunning team (which doesn't give us any more information than the TV Guide blurb). The WGA Awards dinner scene where we meet Matt and Danny for the first time is 100% exposition: the characters reveal information they already know for our benefit. We know Harriet Hayes is a great comic actress only because everyone says so. She hasn't done anything herself to define her character.

In "Smith" we spend a good five minutes learning that one of the team members is a cold blooded killer (and quite petty too) by watching him kill two surfers in cold blood with a high powered rifle. Since this type of character isn't a huge surprise in the crime/caper genre, could they have spent some of this time on something else more interesting?

In "Heroes," the characters don't know the extent of their powers, what to do with it or why. When they find out, we'll find out. In "The Nine," the characters presumably know everything that happened during the bank robbery and the series is built on teasing that information out of them little by little. But since they already know the events of the robbery, there's no suspense. As they face their dilemmas, you can't put yourself in their shoes and empathize because you don't have all the information they have.

We're also given the tease that the characters in "Heroes" are destined to meet each other. Well, so are the characters in "Six Degrees." However, since "Six Degrees" is themed on the randomness of life, what we have to look forward to is a series of "meet cute" scenes where they will declaim what we the audience would already know. In "Heroes," our characters will have to figure out a way to find each other.

Finally, "Heroes" has a sense of humor. When I first saw Hiro I said to myself, "Uh-oh, not another Asian stereotype." But in the case of "Heroes," Hiro adds a lightness and mischievousness that's missing from "Jericho" which is about as bleak, hopeless and dark as a show can be. Hiro is the best thing in show (especially now that we have a hint how he's going to change and get all badass) because he's the only one who's really having fun with his special power, not burdened and tortured like everyone else.

Change is always possible. Last year, I remember the first few episodes of "E-Ring" watching Benjamin Bratt coordinate missions from his desk at the Pentagon. Then about three or four episodes in, he started going on the missions. I'm guessing that someone realized Bratt is more interesting out in the field than behind a desk and made the requisite adjustment to the show's template.

But some shows, like "Smith" aren't fixable. Nina Tassler, CBS Entertainment president said in The New York Times (October 23):

The problem with ''Smith,'' Ms. Tassler said, is that CBS executives did not believe it was going to get any better.

''We have a unique vantage point at the network,'' she said. ''I've seen cuts and read scripts for the next four to five episodes, so I could see where we're headed creatively. And we weren't 100 percent happy with what we were looking at.''

Specifically, she said, the show's scripts were becoming harder to follow. ''You have to have clarity in the story-telling,'' she said. ''Confusion kills. I think it was particularly challenged in that area.''

Personally, I would love to know what it was specifically that she saw that made her give up hope.

A lot of people subscribe to the "build it and they will come" philosophy. That if you tell a story well, you'll attract an audience. But sometimes a well-produced show can't find a mass audience (just ask the producers of "Arrested Development"). However, in this case, it's too easy to say the audience is unwilling to make a commitment because they have so many options. But it seems to me that some of the fall shows aren't completely built yet and some tinkering would be prudent to give the characters the arc they deserve.


Blogger Fun Joel said...

Take this for what it is -- the opinions of a guy who barely watches TV -- but my opinion as to why Heroes' pilot had more action than the Studio 60 one (which I think was killer and really got the ball rolling well for that show) is due to the types of shows each are. Heroes, by its very nature, is an action show, and Studio 60 is at its core a character drama. We don't really EXPECT to see much happening in Studio 60, because it would be odd if it did. The show is about the characters and their dialogue (They are writers, primarily, so words matter to them as well).

Nice to meet you last night as well, brother.


November 12, 2006 5:50 PM  
Blogger Vince DC said...

Haven't been checking the blogs lately or keeping mine up to date.

Hope you're doing good, Issac.

Just wanted to say the I preferred the other profile pic much better -- the one with the fag sticking out of your mouth.

Just had more mystery and that writer's angst look to it. But this ones cool too.

Take care.

December 03, 2006 3:36 PM  

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