April 3rd, 2011

Loz Colourful

Thinky thoughts about television...

One of my favourite writers once said that drama isn't a democracy. I think that could be true enough had he not been talking about television drama.

Television drama is about the most consensus-driven form of creative output out there. You have the needs and wishes of network executives, advertising sponsors, producers, directors, and actors to cater to. Sometimes the writers hold more or less sway and can fit either before or after the producers. Sometimes they have little sway at all.

The thing that I find annoying is that, in this consensus-driven output, the needs and wants of the audience seem to rarely be a concern.

I'll admit it, I don't necessarily think every audience member knows exactly what's good for a show. (A good example of this is the effect test audiences had on I Am Legend --- the originally intended conclusion actually made narrative sense, but wasn't 'wow' or upbeat enough for test audiences, apparently.) Sometimes rampant wish-fulfillment is not the making of a good story. But relatively frequently fans might voice concerns over elements, characterisations, or plotlines that they think detract from a television series and all too often it's clear they're summarily ignored. Once upon a time that may have been easy enough to accomplish. These days, in these amazing days of instant communication, not so much.

Why? Do the people who work in tv really think audiences are so stupid they could never make valid points? Do they lack objectivity? Is it mere stubborness? If a great portion of your audience is railing against your Wesley, why in the hell would you still write episodes all about that character?

I occasionally feel like television writers (and execs, and producers) follow an incomplete formula without thinking about the specific quantities necessary to create a product. And then don't listen to the person off to the side who's saying they've seen potassium hit water before and it's not pretty, simply because that person's not wearing a lab coat.

Maybe, sometimes, it would be better if television drama were considered the democracy it so clearly is. After all, isn't the whole point of fiction the communication of a message? And for that to happen, doesn't there need to be an audience?