International Writers Magazine:
or how to kill a TV series
guess it can only mean a few things. The cast has fallen out. The
budget has dried up. The creator has a mental block. The producers
have found something better.
In my television-watching
experience (twenty odd years), I have had many letdowns. When the plot
of Dawsons Creek started filtering away from the principal
foursome and giving relatives and new friends main roles, I was heartbroken
because I wanted to watch Joey, Pacey, Dawson and Jen, the characters
in the opening credits. Thanks to the wonders of home entertainment
all I had to do was change the channel, which eventually I did
and then Capeside was long gone and in came Orange County.
A few years before that and I remember sitting in the living room at
the age of eleven watching Harold Bishop magically disappear off a cliff
in an episode of Neighbours. The character extermination was
random enough, but even more so when, at the age of nineteen, I watched
Harold walk right back in to Ramsey Street as if nothing had happened.
So I changed the channel, once again.
when Marc Cherry, creator of Desperate Housewives, threw
Wisteria Lane into hysterics with an earthquake (aired in the UK
last week), disappointment hit once more. Its like reaching
a proverbial dead end. What better ways to kill off some characters
and shake up the plot a bit? Now Carlos Solis is blind and Bree
has nowhere to live. You can almost see Cherry scrunching up notes
as the ideas just fail to come.
from contemporary escapism and travel back to the classic case study
of Dallas, the hit TV series from the 1980s. The actor Patrick
Duffy, who was killed off in 1985, came back as Bobby Ewing in a shower
scene in 1986, and suddenly it had all been a figment of Pat Ewings
imagination. I wonder if David Jacobs, creator of the show, knows that
sociology students actually cover Dallas as a case study for
the understanding of media and audiences. Does it bring out the real
in surrealism, as audiences start get the gist of behind the scenes?
Are shows getting dumber or are we getting smarter?
Suddenly even soap operas are reality TV. We realise that Patrick Duffy
must have fallen out with the producers, as he left so suddenly. And
we picked upon the fact that, a year later, Dallas ratings must
have gone down, as he appeared before us in the famous shower scene.
Did we figure out that things werent going that well in The O.C,
when Mischa Barton became more famous than her co-stars and started
hanging out with the Hilton sisters, and then Marissa (her character)
suddenly died in a car accident? Or did we more or less get the hint,
when Harold Bishop walks back in to Ramsey Street in 2005, after having
died in 1997, that Ian Smith (the actor) had maybe run out of money?
The truth is, it is no longer easy to fool an audience. University may
have taught me about reception theory and the reciprocal causality of
how an audience is positioned, but I could have figured that out myself
in easier words. The audience is an active, pensive element.
We can figure things out. And, more importantly, we can change the channel.
Which might explain the resurrection of some characters, or the sudden
death of others. It is, ultimately, our opinion that will make or break
We can blame it on the tabloids, which tell us so much about Eva Longoria
Parkers personal life that her character Gabrielle turns slightly
boring in comparison. We can go further back, and blame it on the dramatist
Bertolt Brecht for breaking the conceptual fourth wall that divides
audience from performance. Even Aristophanes killed it for us in the
Greek comedy Peace, when the hero Trygaeus, who is being magically
elevated on stage, tells the crane-handler to be more careful. Talk
about suspension of disbelief.
Meanwhile, American is bringing us more and more reality TV. And we
are becoming more and more obsessed with celebrities and their personal
lives. Whether Marc Cherry had a plot premonition or got his timing
terribly wrong, the truth is that last weeks earthquake in Wisteria
Lane was a sour reminder of the horrific tragedy still going on in Sichuan
as we speak. Maybe it is not such a good idea to play with the concepts
of earthquakes, car crashes etc. Maybe we should be watching the news
© Gabriela Davies June 2008
gabrieladavies at gmail.com
Gabriela graduated from Portsmouth University in 2007 and now works
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