Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Heaving bosoms trump bad writing

You don't need to be a writer to appreciate Jane Espenson's blog. Though geared towards aspiring TV scribes, the entries provide great insight for TV viewers interested in learning what makes their favorite shows good (and what a Hollywood writer has for lunch). One article in particular details how a typical writer's room works (at least for US genre shows).

Which leads me to wonder how the writing is done on local shows like "Asian Treasures" or "Rounin." Is there some sort of planning going on? Do they map out story and character arcs in advance? Do they even write episodically, or is the orientation more like soap opera? Is each episode divided into act breaks? Do they have an end in mind? Do they even think about these things?

While I appreciate the networks' effort to create original action-adventure / genre programming, I'm not satisfied with what they produce. Cheap stuff from the US (like the Blade TV series) show better writing. The pacing is glacial (something the Koreanovelas reinforce) while the plots leave much to be desired.

In one episode of "Asian Treasures" the adventurers are looking for an amulet while defusing bombs (Pipe bombs! Please, konting research naman dyan.) in Manila City Hall. The story hardly moves. Imagine an entire Act (that is, the time in between commercial breaks) spent in two interiors talking. Which is fine if the dialog is smart and the actors engaging. "The West Wing" had an episode set almost entirely in a conference room with talking heads (Season 3's Isaac and Ishmael) yet still managed to be riveting.

Of course "Buffy"-level dialogue or "Veronica Mars"-type characterization is probably too much to ask for local networks. While "The Simpsons" can afford as many as 20 full-time writers in its staff, I'd be surprised if the local ones have more than 3, all of whom are also working on other major network shows.

One solution could involve using a different production model. Instead of trying to emulate the US market, it would probably be good for us to try the BBC or HBO model, with a series of around 12 episodes. Most have been written before shooting is done, giving the entire season a sense of organic unity and continuity that is lacking in our shows.

We're about 30 years behind when it comes to TV writing. While US and British production companies have almost perfected the medium, we're still stuck in "Charlie's Angels" mode, with jiggle TV being the prime motivator for watching.

Which, sadly, still works. You probably need to be an aspiring writer to not appreciate this.

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