Recently I was discussing TV watching habits with a group of fellow authors. Some never watch TV, some seldom watch, some occasionally watch, and others are so addicted that they watch even while writing. Those of us who park ourselves in front of the TV do so for a variety of reasons: relaxation, escapism, addiction (Dancing with the Stars fell into that category for many,) and research.
I heard that groan! Yes, I know authors should never use TV for research because TV is notorious for playing footloose and fancy-free with facts. Just ask anyone who works in a forensics lab. What happens on CSI is about as far from the truth as it gets. However, there’s definitive research that deals with facts, and then there’s structural research that deals with the art of plot and characterization. TV is bad for the first, great for the second.
I’ll admit, when it comes to certain shows, I’m a Tvholic. I get hooked on one or two new shows each season. Right now my DVR is set to record the following in no particular order of importance:
· Desperate Housewives
· Law & Order SVU
· The Good Wife
· In Plain Sight
· Burn Notice
When I looked at this list, I noticed it was quite telling for not only what was included but what wasn’t. Not a single sit-com or reality show. I find that sit-coms are mostly stale jokes and predictable situations. Or the premise is a one-trick pony that starts out great but after a few episodes, the show brings yawns of boredom and finds me reaching for the remote.
As for reality TV shows, I find them exploitative, voyeuristic, an insult to my intelligence, and yet another way writers get the shaft.
About a year or two ago, I read about a new reality TV show in production. All the contestants were terminally ill. Even though the story appeared in a major daily newspaper and not The Onion, I hope the information was someone’s idea of a sick joke and not an actual show in production. I never heard anything more about it, so if it was an actual show, someone had the good sense to cancel it before it aired.
Did you know that the reason there are so many reality programs on TV is because they’re so cheap to produce? No Writers Guild members to pay for quality scripts. No Actors Guild members to pay for performances. I boycott shows that prevent hardworking, talented professionals from making a decent living. It’s my small way of sticking it to “the man.”
But getting back to my list of favorite programs, even though they include everything from evening soap operas to fantasies to cop shows, they all have one or more elements in common. They are, not surprisingly, the same elements that make for good books: great hooks, intricately structured plot arcs, engaging voices, and complex characters.
Many people believe TV watching is a waste of time, that it stifles creativity and kills brain cells. I rationalize my TV habit by studying the shows I watch in much the same way I study how my favorite authors write page-turning novels. That’s the cool thing about being an author. Watching TV helps me do my job better. At least, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.