Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Most network notes come out of fear. Networks are deathly afraid viewers are going to tune out if they're not captivated every second. Go four lines without a joke and networks believe half your audience will bail. Take a minute in your storytelling to breathe and have two characters just relate to each other and networks are certain it’s the same as the Great East Coast Blackout.
One thing the networks have always believed is that you must explain every moment and every little thing that is going on. And then, to be certain, explain it again. Today, more than ever, that is their mantra (because today, more than ever, they’re gripped with fear).
If a viewer is confused he will tune out, is their reasoning. But there is a difference between confusion and just asking the audience to work a little to figure out what is going on. If viewers are lost because they don’t know why a character is so upset or where a scene is taking place then I’m the first one to say that has to be addressed.
But does a character have to tell us he’s sad? Can’t we tell by his behavior? Does Jack Bauer have to remind Chloe six times that if she doesn’t get him the coordinates the Grand Canyon will blow up?
The bottom line is networks think we’re so stupid that we need to be spoon-fed every detail. It’s more than mildly insulting.
As a writer I always assume the audience is intelligent. I feel that if they have to work a little to follow the action they will be more engaged, more invested. They’ll also appreciate that I’m treating them with respect. That I give them a little credit. I’m saying they can read books without the benefits of pictures. They can figure out how to turn on a blender. They can see a guy in a surgical gown and surmise he’s a doctor.
It’s time for networks to trust writers again. It’s time to realize that someone who has been writing and producing comedy for years knows more about how to make a sitcom than a former business major at C.W. Post. And it’s time to stop running scared.
Comedy needs to be daring, subversive, challenging. Networks need to be safe, non-offensive, appealing to the lowest common denominator. No wonder new sitcoms are premiering with a 1.0 share. No wonder shows can’t build an audience even after three years on the air. The audience is not so dumb after all.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM