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Living Loz
Thinky thoughts about television... 
3rd-Apr-2011 11:30 pm
Loz Colourful
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?
3rd-Apr-2011 03:36 pm (UTC)
This is one I always struggle with, because I've seen too many examples of audience pressure influencing writers and the storyline/characters suffering as a result. Best recent example - Josh/Donna in The West Wing; it was forced and the actors obviously hated it. I always think that the creators of a TV show should stick with their original vision as much as possible, but should if they have the opportunity tailor storylines to reflect the way the actors are playing their roles.

Having said that, your point is absolutely valid - especially when you consider that TV viewers usually have a clear instinct of what works and what doesn't. It's not necessary to be able to drive a car to know when someone is doing it badly, after all, or to be able to play a symphony to recognise a bum note; a lot of these things work on a subconscious level and we can just tell when things are right or wrong without necessarily having any technical knowledge to back it up.

I think it's time there was a lot more respect from programme-makers towards their consumers generally; we are not all passively receptive types who will accept any twaddle they care to feed us. Nor, alas, are we always (especially en masse) blessed with great judgement; the fact that a majority of female viewers think Character A should get together with Character B does not necessarily mean that it is so; large numbers of people can be wrong about all sorts of things, and I would be quite happy if programme-makers were a little more inclined to stir things up and confront expectations ... to challenge the perceptions of their audience, in fact. But maybe controversy doesn't sell as much advertising time as predictable blandness or something.

NB: sometimes audiences do have a positive effect - like bringing back Rupert Everett for the classic tag to My Best Friend's Wedding. Who could argue with that?

Sorry for the tl;dr, you caught me in an idle moment ...
5th-Apr-2011 08:57 am (UTC)
I think it's about balance, really. There are some instances where fan input would be superfluous and needlessly damaging, because what they want isn't going to be good for the actual story --- but there are equally times when they can say something's not working, or that adding in a bit more of 'this' would improve a show. Sometimes writers don't have an original vision and are making it up as they go along. In those times, I wish they paid more attention to their audiences.

I am a Big Fan of following certain conventions. If it's done well, it isn't bland. I strongly dislike this notion of, "oh, but we have to SHOCK the audience" that some writers have as a mindset, because so often those shock moments exist merely to shock. To me, that's not good storytelling. Narratives have conventions and patterns for a reason. Light subversion of those makes me happy in my heart. The occasional unexpected twist. But constant DUN DUN DUNNNNN annoys me.
4th-Apr-2011 12:53 am (UTC)
Aww, poor Wesley. In that case I think it was more of a case of the vocal, older fans not liking him while a lot of the younger fans really did and still do.
5th-Apr-2011 08:59 am (UTC)
I was using the trope name, not necessarily Wesley himself. I seem to recall that as a nine year old I was rather smitten with him.

The older fans did dislike him for a reason, though. He could have been handled so much better.
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