Friday, May 21, 2010


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:

· Lost

· House

· Bones

· Castle

· 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.


Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

There are only a very few shows that I watch.
Reality is not on the list and I'm probably the only one at work who can't babble over the last episode.The lack of professionalism really shows even in the ads.
T V like anything else serves a purpose -- just don't overdo.
Giggles and Guns

Keith Raffel said...

When I was at Left Coast Crime, the question of what we watched on TV came up in the bar late one night. Was delighted to discover that others (including other men) shared my opinion that The Good Wife was the best show on TV. Glad to see it on your list.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I love TV! Have since I was a kid. And thanks to On Demand, I get to watch a lot of my favorites on my time schedule. And I also believe it helps with my writing structure and pacing. TV also aids in keeping up with popular culture, and I've mentioned certain shows in my books.

I'm particularly addicted to HBO and Showtime series like Weeds, Dexter, Tudors, and Big Love, but also to In Plain Sight and NCIS. I've been told to check out The Good Wife and Castle, but haven't yet.

And I confess, I adore certain reality shows, but those are limited to The Amazing Race, Top Chef and Project Runway. I've been watching Survivor since its beginning, but not with the same attachment as the others.

Darrell James said...

Lois- I don't watch any TV drama or reality programming, and can't really tell you what the hot new shows are. I find the dialogue, in particular, in most network programs to be somewhat juvenile. That said, however, I do watch a lot of the original progamming on the movie channels: Dexter, Big Love... and my latest (recommended)is Elmore Leonard's "Justified" on FX.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Right now "Lost" is my only show.

Since its finale is Sunday, I guess I'm down to no shows! My problem is hearing about good shows too late--then I don't know what's going on.

M Pax said...

I watch a lot of documentaries. I get dvds from the library and watch seasons of shows I want to see that way. No commercials. :D

Summers I spend working at an observatory watching the skies, my absolute favorite form of entertainment.

Lois Winston said...

Sue Ann, definitely check out The Good Wife and Castle. They're completely different but both well worth watching for the character dynamics.

Darrell, I tried watching Justified. Couldn't get into it for some reason. My son had recommended it, saying that since I had liked The Shield, I'd like Justified.

Elizabeth, I'm hoping JJ Abrams and crew do a better job of tying up all the plot points in Lost. I was really pissed over the way he ended Alias a few years ago.

MPax, I enjoy watching documentaries, too, but I found the recent America, The Story of Us awful. When I watch a documentary, I want commentary by experts, not the likes of P Diddy and Donald Trump! Can't imagine what the producers were thinking with that!

Alan Orloff said...

I'm a fan of The Good Wife, and I watch Castle, too. Never did get hooked on any reality shows--I have enough reality in my life!

G.M. Malliet said...

The Good Wife ... will try to catch it thanks to the recommendations here.

Julia Buckley said...

I watch lots of tv, and I think my brain is still intact. I'll have to check out THE GOOD WIFE, but my current favorite is MODERN FAMILY.