Monday, April 9, 2012

Relationships on TV Shows: A How To Guide

I don't normally talk about TV...which is odd, really, because I love TV and am probably more passionate about TV than I am movies. Tonight's TV choice inspired this post and I really just needed to type it out to get it out of my head. Here goes!

How to simultaneously please a fan-base while not alienating viewers:  

1. Keep it light. I don't mean keep it "light-hearted". I don't care, take it as dark as you want. I just mean, don't throw the new relationship in viewers' faces because, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have cried for years on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr,, and all of Google for you, The Powers That Be (TPTB), to put these two characters together and to let them see them together 24/7...they lied. They do NOT actually want to watch an entire episode of nothing other than those two characters saying how much they love each other. My personal threshold for TDA (TV Displays of Affection) is about 3 minutes for every 1 hour show. That's it. After that point? I just get squicked.

2. Keep it secret. Ah, secret love...what could be more fantastical? Nothing. I'm serious! If you have two characters dating in "secret" there are SO many ways to play it. By "letting" the audience in on their late-night-rendezvous but not the rest of the characters, everyone wins! You can't have them jumping each other every five seconds or too much on-screen TDA because then the secret would get out. It's really the best way. Heck, CSI got away with a season and an episode this way and they SO could have gone longer with fans being "ok" with it.

3. Keep it quiet. No, not the same thing as keeping it secret. Remember what I said about the TDA? Well, I have exceptions. Know what I love? Looking for things: "dead bodies" breathing, continuity fails, bad sound looping, etc etc...I like watching shows that I actually have to, you know, WATCH. I barely do that these days. I can have Facebook, Pinterest, and homework open while "watching" Survivor and not really miss a lot. Why? Because, TPTB, you are relying too heavily on dialogue! Dialogue is great and more power to screen writers but...acting? Have we lost the ability to speak with our eyes? If you can get two actors to have a conversation without using words and have that conversation BE the only bit of relationship your fans get that week? You have something. Once again, I know CSI fans know what I'm talking about.

4. Keep it slow. I don't mean that you have to flirt with the idea of two characters finally starting the journey for years. I just mean, don't rush it. Bones fans feel like they were cheated out of those beginning stages of the Booth/Bones pairing due to TPTB's decision to use Emily Deschanel's real life pregnancy timeline for the show. I didn't feel cheated because, heck, those two have always been together in my book. But, I see fans' points and I agree that it was a very risky move. We need to see *something* before we see *everything*. Most shows follow the 6-season-build-up plan, for who knows what reason, and I like it..I like the idea of a relationship visually building for that length of time. Or, at least, building for more than just a few episodes.

5. Keep it a subplot. Not to burst anyone's bubble but...I don't want to watch two people in love for an hour. Every week. For 24 weeks. I want to watch two people in love along with 3+ other people and them all doing something non-relationship-related, for an hour. Every Week. For 24 weeks. What does this mean? It means...keep the relationship in the background. This way, you don't alienate those die-hard "I'm just here for the murders!" fans OR those who just watch the show in hopes of catching the leading man shirtless. By keeping the 'ships in the background, you can really make your fans WATCH and listen for the fleeting moments of reveal. Make them want it. If it's plastered all over every episode, it loses appeal. It'd be like being forced to eat a Butterfinger candy bar every day of your life; after a while, you really don't want to eat it any more and you might even start to avoid it.

6. Keep it PG. I know, I know, a killjoy number. But, really, let the sex scenes stay off screen. It's just better for everybody. I'm one of those viewers that over thinks everything, I can't help it. So, when I see a sex scene or even a kiss sequence, I'm not gushing over character-love, I'm thinking about how awkward that must have been to film. Sure, I've heard that on some movie sets when filming those bits certain directors have been known to dismiss the crew so it's just them and the actors but..really? TV isn't that intense (and still, just you and two actors hanging around filming a sex scene? awkward anyway). You know there is the poor guy stuck holding the boom mike above the bed trying not to let it sink into view, a guy with headphones trying to make sure the only noises audible are the indiscernible ones from the actors, and at least 15 people standing around, waiting on the director to yell "CUT!" so they can move on to craft services. If you didn't know that, you are very welcome for that visual. I don't mean that TPTB have to make the only physical contact between two characters a classic-homeschool-side-hug...but I do wish we could keep it classy.

7. Keep down the innuendo. Just as I don't want to SEE the sex scenes...I don't want every line between two characters to reference the unseen. Especially if the show is a drama. I understand the need to imply things and to let people in on the fact that you, TPTB, think this whole pairing is something you've thought of since day one and that you're super proud of the fact that the characters are together but, really? I don't think having those characters, that you've poured years of hard work into, constantly referencing each other's genitalia is really honoring your work or the viewers' view of it.

8. Keep it consistent. If you're going to go the "okay, for every 10 minutes of show...we give the viewers 30 seconds of the 'ship" route, stick to it. Having half a season of glimpses followed by a full hour of nothing BUT that relationship is risky. While most of the time the decision to have the relationship at all is so calculated and thought out and polled to the moon and back, you still take a chance of angering a large portion of your fan-base if you dedicate one of the precious 24 episodes to a 'ship they don't support. It's especially risky if your show has an abbreviated season: "You mean to tell me we only get 12 episodes of Bones this season and one of them was WASTED on this?!?" (real words spoken by yours truly).

9. Keep your time line. As much as we all think we want our shows to last forever...we really don't. There are only so many strippers that can be murdered in Vegas; let's be realistic. There are only so many different ways a serial killer can strike. There are only so many different ways you can have a body splayed about on the highway. It's just the way it is. The average lifespan of a TV drama? Past its prime. Why don't TPTB end shows when they're good? As a dog trainer, I understand this principle very well: you don't work on something until the dog doesn't want to anymore, you work on it until the dog is so enthralled in the activity that it can't possibly think of anything else and QUIT. Why? Because you want that dog to crave that activity and by stopping right when it's getting good, you achieve that. No, TV and dogs are not the same thing but I think the principle applies to both. I know we think that we could watch Law & Order until we die (well, I don't think that...), but you just can't possibly tell that many good stories. Actors get tired, writers get fired, and networks can't pay. It is what it is. So, rather than ruin a relationship in order to try and save the show or flaunt a relationship in hopes of the same, just end it. As a fan of one particular show that ended on a cliffhanger of a relationship... It can work in your favor. That show went off the air over 15 years ago...PEOPLE. ARE. STILL. TALKING. While, granted, you want your show to be a success for as long as possible, please have a solid timeline in place and stick to it. Always.

Nine points later, I think I'm ranted-out. You can have your cake and eat it too (if your cake is a popular, feasible, 'ship) if you do it right. A relationship between two lead characters doesn't have to ruin the show. Unfortunately, more often than does.