Archive for April 22, 2015

Characters Welcome

First and foremost I have to print a retraction from the previous post.  I said that TNT was the network which had the slogan “Character’s Welcome”.  The correct network was USA.

To that note however, because of my propensity for writing more character centric, I thought I’d comment on how our television media has changed into what I would consider a new “Golden Age” of television.

I’ve thought back onto where all this began and I’ve traced it back to one show that really got the ball rolling.  To one man, really, who broke from conventional archetypes to create a new type of character.  Something more than the classic Hero/Antihero standard which we had been working with.  For better or for worse, whether you like him or not, Joss Whedon is this man.  He was a writer for many movies before he wrote the screenplay for Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a feature length movie.  The point was to flip the horror trope of a blonde teen girl running down the alley and being chased.  He wanted a character who would take charge of the situation, to empower while blending horror, humor, suspense and coming of age into one movie.

Being just a script writer, he had no power over the end result and has been purportedly upset over the result.  His response was to develop a TV show to encapsulate his original vision and the WB network signed him on.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered in 1997.  Before this television was primarily sitcoms and formula dramas (think Law and Order).

Buffy  went on for seven years, featuring a spinoff.  The WB network also held other less popular shows like Charmed and Smallville which tried to help corner the market on the teen ratings.

These shows captured the imaginations, but the situations went beyond the everyday occurrences and production values began to rise.  Suddenly a show that had more to do than just police procedure were getting budgets which would make the shows a bit more realistic than the old Hercules special effects debacle.

Then despite the success, the WB went against these shows and other networks took on the character mantle.  They began to understand that television could do more for us than just to give a cheap laugh or thrill.  In 2001 other networks took up the mantle of the “Character”.  As the WB fell into obscurity, USA network began to emerge as the leader of interesting character centric programming.  USA came up with the slogan “Character’s Welcome” and came out with a with a new spin on the police procedural with Monk in 2002 and then a multi-layered drama called Burn Notice in 2008.

You may ask, why had HBO not been mentioned here?  After all they did start out with their original programming in 1997 with OZ and continued on with shows like The Sopranos at the same time.

The most interesting thing with HBO is budget.  They have far more budget to deal with the characters that creators want to create.  For example Deadwood had two very well funded seasons before they started to have to worry about ratings.  The difference is that the people who watch HBO pay for that right.  Because they do HBO creators can be much less discerning about what the audience wants because they’re going to get what is put out.  This is not the case with network television.

Then in 2011 at the pinnacle of the reality TV push (thanks a lot Fox), Netflix announced it would release it’s own shows.  Netflix has put the budget where it matters and the production value has never been higher.  Now all other networks are pushing through their own shows to match these budgets and are working on coming up with new and unique concepts.

Now the question is, will it become a battle of the premium cable networks (of which Netflix is included because you pay for it) or are the remaining networks going to continue with provocative shows?