How Being a Writer Has Ruined TV for Me

Saturday, January 18, 2020


I’m going to start this post off by saying that I know I probably shouldn’t be watching as much TV as I do. Darn you, multiple streaming services that give me access to all my favorite procedural and true crime shows at the click of a button! But sometimes, at the end of a long day or week, you just want to veg out and take a break from all the stress and massaging your temples that writing and editing and trying to be creative can bring.

However, writers are likely more observant than most people. So, what should be a relaxing and passive exercise can be even more stimulating for the following reasons.

You are probably more apt to notice continuity errors in the show. I remember watching the TV series “Parenthood” when it first came out. The main character, Adam Braverman, owned a shoe factory. It was the family business and most episodes featured him interacting there with employees and customers. But when the second season started, he all of a sudden had a jerk boss that had never been there before. I realize this character was added to show tension, but to me I felt like there should have been some explanation, like Braverman shoe company being bought out by an investor or something. Either that little detail was left on the cutting room floor, or a new set of writers weren’t briefed on the first season details.

You notice when an actor shows up more than once on a TV show, but is playing completely different characters. While watching a re-run of “Law and Order: SVU” one day I realized the sleazy bad guy of the episode was actually the actor that now plays one of the regular detectives on the show. I scratched my head for a few minutes before putting together that the seasons were years apart and sometimes actors rotate in and out of shows as different characters. Or maybe I’ve seen too many episodes of the show, but in my defense, it has been on the air for 20+ years. It’s also exciting when you notice a now-famous actor was a guest star in a TV show when they were a young child or teenager. Everyone has to start somewhere, right?

You fail to suspend disbelief when plot holes happen. I’ve been re-watching the series “Crossing Jordan” lately, which focuses around the shenanigans of a medical examiner’s office in Boston. First of all, I’ve never seen worse security than in this morgue. In one episode, a man with a gun showed up and gunned down a woman there to identify a body. There are constantly random people showing up in autopsy rooms and bodies going missing, leaving me to wonder if just anyone is allowed to stroll into the building, get off the elevator and duck into whatever room of their choosing. I’ve also been having a blast watching old episodes of “The X-Files.” I’m still scratching my head over the episode “Native,” where Scully couldn’t seem to figure out a character she was hanging out with was about to turn into a werewolf (even when he disappeared into a bathroom, screamed as he transformed, and then burst through the bathroom door and attacked her). After the attack, she told Mulder she didn’t know where they guy who had turned into the werewolf was. Really?

You can logically explain why a character just simply vanished (otherwise known as “Death by Focus Groups.”) I always love it when a character disappears from one season to the next—especially if the previous season had an entire arc built around why that character was even there in the first place. It becomes obvious that a character either took a better offer on another TV show or the focus groups decided the character was pointless. As a writer, I can also usually tell that a show must have been cancelled and picked back up by another network (this happened to the country-music drama “Nashville”). You could tell when new writers took over because it took a much darker turn and a few key characters just sort of dropped off the face of the earth with no explanation.

Don’t even get me started on watching movies.

Do all these reasons make me want to quit watching my old favorite TV shows? Nah, not a chance.

I’m curious to know if being a writer has affected how you watch TV and films.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who also blogs at FinishedPages.com.

6 comments:

Sioux Roslawski said...

Oh Renee, Renee, Renee. I wish. I wish I would look at TV shows more critically. Too often, I consider it momentary entertainment and will tell myself, "It's only a show (or a movie)." Occasionally, I do focus a critical eye on what I watch as I veg out. I used to rub my hands together gleefully when I watched CSI Miami sporadically. The lines they wrote for the characters--especially David Caruso--were hilariously awful. (His acting was also horrendous. But in Hill Street Blues he played an Irish gang member, and did a better job.) The female investigators who wore high heels and their long hair was never out of place? Also chuckle-worthy.

I too enjoy seeing actors play different parts on the same series. The original Law and Order did that a lot. One mentally ill man who was being tried for murder would later reappear as an attorney.

It's been raining and sleeting here all day yesterday, and today looks like more of the same. Should I veg out today, or write?

We'll see...

Angela said...

Renee, I love how your mind works! :) That's funny you should mention morgue security. I just had that thought yesterday while watching a movie called Message from the King, a neo noir that takes place in LA. The protag's looking for his sister, who isn't even a missing person, and strolls into the morgue and gets to look at all the dead bodies. Um, can I do that? Just randomly walk into the morgue saying I'm looking for someone and check out all the Jane Doe's?

Or I'm watching You, and someone gets killed and left by a hallway trashcan where anyone can find it, and I'm thinking, so you're just going to leave that body there and still hang out in the hallway and have a conversation with someone? Cool.

Sometimes it's not focus groups but actors who are difficult to work with that vanish...like I was wondering what happened to Erlich Bachman (TJ Miller) when he suddenly left Silicon Valley in the 4th season. They never explained what exactly happened to his character in the show.

I think studying Save the Cat ruined movies for me. :) I'm always mapping the beats to see if they fit with the structure, and which STC genre.

Nicole Pyles said...

Hahaha this is me sometimes! Like for Lifetime movies, someone in my family commented about why they only show like one child more often in these movies. And I replied, "It's easier to keep track of characters, that's why." So, I do that a lot with TV movies.

I have noticed in Seinfeld reoccurring characters who play different roles. I think that's more a sign that I've seen the show too much though. Lol.

Renee Roberson said...

I'm so glad everyone is having as much fun with this as I did!

Sioux--I did not use to be this observant. It's funny. And I guess once you see shows in re-runs you start to pick up on things. I always laugh at David Caruso's corny opening lines on "CSI: Miami" right before the opening credits. And what's up with al the bright lighting in that show? I would be afraid you could see every pore on my face if I was an actor! I hope you've been productive today, whether it was at vegging or writing!

Angela--Seriously, what is up with these morgues that just allow people to stroll in? That has to drive real M.E.'s crazy, among the other things about TV shows that drive them batty. Oh yeah, "You" is famous for leaving dead bodies in obvious places. And you're right about the "Death or Disappearance by Being a Difficult Actor" sub-section. Sometimes it's sort of halfway explained (like when Thomas Gibson left "Criminal Minds" after apparently kicking a member of the crew?) and other times, you have to find out in the trade websites!

Nicole--I have never put two and two together about Lifetime Movies only featuring families with one child but you are so right! Even in a case where there are multiple families, they all usually only have one kid! It does drive me nuts when books are adapted to movies on that channel, because so much of the story will get cut out! I was also listening to a podcast interview with a comedian who once got signed on as an extra for an entire season of "Friends." She said she was in most of the episodes, but always played different background characters (girl in street, girl in coffee shop, girl at restaurant). Wouldn't that be fun?

Cathy C. Hall said...

Yep, I tend to watch for pure entertainment so I can't watch police shows or med shows or...well, huh. I watch a lot of comedies and ghost shows. :-)

AND competition shows. I really hate the packages they have for contestants 'cause the writers pull on heartstrings, jazz it up, whatever they need to do to make the backstory really interesting. And I always wonder what the REAL story is. :-)

(That may have more to do with my cynicism than being a writer. Whatever.)

R.R. Brooks said...

My biggest issue is with plot holes. I find myself commenting that, if this were written in a novel, my critique group would jump all over it as unbelievable and a way to lose the reader.

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