Philosophy, Psychology, Nerdisms, Writing from the Trenches

Posts tagged “The Walking Dead

Everything Wrong with The Walking Dead (And What You Can Learn From It)

The Walking Dead is a good show. It’s gritty, dark, often times raw, and has that gore factor that you just can’t find on broadcast television. It gets people talking.

But, as all stories, there are imperfections. I’m not here to ask why they have a 2013 Hyundai when the apocalypse happened in 2010 (something has to pay for all that gore and apparently it’s the South Korean car makers).The Walking Dead

I also don’t care about certain characters unlocking infinite ammo mode. Let’s just assume they reloaded off camera.

“But, there was no time…”

LET’S JUST ASSUME!

Here, I want to talk about some weird storytelling flaws that you should avoid. (Probably spoilers, but, dude. Netflix.)

1. Almost every episode’s plot is launched by someone doing something stupid.

You didn’t have to be a super genius to survive the apocalypse. The law of averages says that isn’t the case. When The Walking Dead starts, Rick comes out of a coma and is thrust into a world he doesn’t recognize. It’s okay if he makes some mistakes, especially if he’s just going through routine.

“Hark, a monster! I shall shoot it!”

Gunshot brings hordes of zombies. Okay. He didn’t know any better. He learns that shooting them is maybe not the best course of action (if he survives).

In the second season, Sofia, a little girl, goes missing. She was supposed to stay somewhere and wait for Rick. He went back and she was gone. The rest of the season is spent with them living on a farm, sending out search parties. Now, when I was a kid and Mom told me to stay somewhere and wait for her, you better believe I did. When I was separated from her in the grocery store, I knew to not wander around because she would retrace her steps.

Realize I was not surrounded by zombies at the time.

Again, I can forgive an 8 year old for getting scared and running like Hell, but she didn’t even go back to the car. And she wasn’t attacked by a zombie at that point, either. See, when they do find her, she’s a zombie. And, she still looks pretty normal. Which means she was bitten and got away or she died of natural causes and the infection took her. Rick wasn’t gone for very long, so she wasn’t attacked where he left her. He would have heard a scream and the zombies would have lingered.

The real stupid thing that got me, though, was after the massacre of the zombie pets in Herschel’s barn (that’s right, I’m not addressing the stupidity of the zombie pets).

Herschel is in town, drinking away his feelings. Glen and Rick go to find him. They tell everyone before they leave:

“We think Herschel went into town. We’re going to go get him. We’ll be back later.”

Ten minutes later, Lori, Rick’s wife, is running around going “they’ve been gone too long.” Jesus, lady, it hasn’t even been an hour. So, she decides to go into town and find them. She doesn’t tell anyone she’s leaving. On the way into town, she’s looking at a map and crashes into a zombie (flipping the car because…physics?), and she’s lying unconscious as zombies start to close in around her.

Meanwhile, no one at camp has even realized she’s missing. They don’t realize it until nightfall. While I’m sure some people think, “High Drama!” I say, “No. Let the bitch die. If she’s dumb enough to A) go looking for someone before they said they’d be back B) not tell anyone where she’s going in a world populated by zombies and C) not watch the goddamn road, let the zombies eat her.”

When anyone says they like The Walking Dead because of “the characters” I’m forced to ask why. They are TDTL, too dumb to live. You like the show because people are running from zombies and there’s high tension with climatic payoff. Call a spade a spade.

It’s not drama. It’s stupidity. People don’t like dumb characters. If you’re going to get your characters in stupid predicaments, try to give them a smart/unavoidable reason to be there, otherwise, it’s dumb. (more…)

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Notes on Television: Part 1 of 3 – The Case Studies

It’s an exciting time for storytelling. As the publishing industry scrambles to figure out what to do with itself, television seems to be embracing change as fast as it can. If you look at recent developments, you’ll agree.

Case study 1: Veronica Mars or How You Can Buy Your Own Happy EndingVeronica Mars

Veronica Mars never experienced the ratings that it needed to be considered a hit, but it had then what every TV show wants now: a cult following. In today’s terms, look at Community. Community doesn’t get the ratings. What it does get is trends on Twitter. Community fans are rabidly supportive. They not only watch, but they talk about the show. The watercooler has gone to the Internet and you can see exactly the impact your stories are having.

Veronica Mars shows you what happens when a rabid fan base is monetized. If you haven’t heard about the Veronica Mars Kickstarter project, check it out here. The show raised $2 million for a Veronica Mars movie in 24 hours. Their campaign is still going as of this posting at $4,332,000. The fans will get their movie.

The Veronica Mars project is still an ongoing experiment. Will the movie be successful? A Kickstarter campaign is just the beginning. The project still requires studio backing and production costs outside the purview of crowdfunding. We’ll see how it goes.

The downside of the Veronica Mars project is the possibility that everyone and their brother will call for the return of the television they think was unjustly ended.

Where’s my Pushing Daisies movie? Why can’t we have one more season of Chuck?

Some things are meant to die. Veronica Mars may be a fluke. Or it may launch us dwelling in the stagnant waters of a culture that refuses to move on. Or it could be the best thing that ever happened.

Case study 2: Breaking Bad/Walking Dead/Mad Men/cable shows

There’s an old trope about British television and how short their series are. This isn’t wrong. If a Brit show runs 13 episodes, it’s consider an overwhelming success. Fawlty Towers, considered one of the best sitcoms ever made (by the people who decide those things) only had 12 episodes from 2 seasons made over the course of 4 years.

That’s right. If you crunch the numbers, they made 3 episodes a year.

Walking DeadWhy are British TV series so short? Because they aren’t full of crap. British television is liked distilled TV syrup. There’s no fizz added.

Breaking Bad‘s first season ran 7 episodes. The subsequent seasons ran 13 episodes.

Mad Men‘s seasons are 13 episodes each.

The Walking Dead‘s first season: 6 episodes. After, 13.

Why is this a good thing? Like British television, the writers/producers/creators of these shows are trimming the fat and giving us delicious, meaty chunks of storytelling. The miniseries isn’t dead, it just bred with series television and created a new species.

Why is American television full of 22-24 episode series? Because it’s a race to 100. I’ll talk about that in a later post.

Case Study 3: Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu

Arrested Development is getting it’s happy ending and it isn’t crowdfunded. Netflix will release 14 episodes in May (that’s one month away! Be still, excitement). While Netflix is trying to temper everyone’s expectations by telling us lightning won’t strike twice, it would be interesting to know how many people signed up for Netflix because of their acquisition.Arrested Development coming in May

While the Arrested Development fan base is just as rabid as Veronica Mars’, there is a key difference. Unlike Veronica Mars, most people came to Arrested Development AFTER the show was cancelled. Key aspects of the show’s humor were in subtle jokes that were only noticed upon multiple or marathon viewings. This makes it a great show for Netflix. All 14 episodes will be available at once. How many of you will watch start to finish without a week in between?

That’s not all. House of Cards, staring Kevin Spacey (KEVIN SPACEY!) had a 13 episode run on Netflix. Just Netflix. It was made, produced, distributed by Netflix. Netflix has become it’s own TV studio, network, and station all rolled into one. It’s opening up a whole new avenue for storytellers. And, it’s gives viewers something TV networks can’t: the chance to watch your show whenever or wherever you want (as long as there’s an Internet connection {you can argue that the DVR did this, too, but you still have to wait a week [and my DVR is filled to capacity with my roommates’ shows]}).

Amazon Prime will produce a show based on the hit movie Zombieland.

Hulu is bound to get into the game soon, too (so far, their original material has been mostly shortform). They’re already working with SNL former and current cast members on development.

What’s next for online content creators? Who knows? Perhaps viewing parties will launch their shows to trending topics on Twitter. But, don’t worry. When Arrested Development hits, it will be huge.

Things I didn’t have time to talk about: Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Girls, Veep

The Golden Age of Television isn’t over. It’s going platinum.

What do you want to know about the television business? Share your thoughts below and stay tuned for the next posts.


Top TV Writers Talk How to Work on Successful TV Shows

Went to a panel sponsored by The Scriptwriters’ Network on Saturday. Call that my force social interaction for the week. The speakers were Glen Mazzara of The Walking Dead, Dan O’Shannon of Modern Family, Alex Cary of Homeland, Janet Tamaro of Rizzoli & Isles, Vanessa Taylor of Game of Thrones & Matt Nix of Burn Notice. As you can tell, some hefty names in there.

They started with the usual grab bag of “How I Broke in Stories.” I appreciate these to a certain extent, but the thing that nearly all of the stories boil down to is: Know Someone.

They knew someone, They met someone at a party, such and so introduced them to their agent. It’s not easy. You have to network. So, circle this, star it, bookmark it, whatever. If you want to write for television, somewhere, somehow, you’re going to have to know someone in or around the industry. What this translates to is: get to Los Angeles. I’m not poo-pooing your dreams and maybe there are exceptions, but look deep inside yourself and decide whether or not you’re Katniss Everdeen and even she had sponsors. Peeta had to know someone to get a leg up (oh! A leg up! Snap!)

Enough with the Hunger Games references. What other wisdom did I take away from the experience?

You have to write. A lot.

You have to get used to rejection. Janet Tamaro, as a female showrunner, asked the men on the panel what the male equivalent to “bitch” was. Interestingly, the joking answer was “success.” And all the panelists were kinda like, “well…yeah.”

But let’s be honest:

bitches get stuff done

Perhaps the biggest thing they hit on was Voice. (Yes, so big I capitalized it)

It’s weird, Voice. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have a Voice. No, not sometimes. All the time. What is my Voice? How am I different? How can I be different while proving that I can also be the same?

This comes on the tail end of me pitching something in class that I probably shouldn’t have. I started the pilot writing class on Tuesday, a class that will end with a group of actors reading my pilot on stage. This is an awesome opportunity, to see what someone will do with my work. And, I pitched my half-baked idea. I had my ready to go idea. And I pitched my half-baked idea.

My heart’s in it. I love my half-baked idea. But my brain started berating me. I’m not ready to write this. Which makes it, perhaps, the perfect time to start writing it. It’s like I snuck up on this idea in the jungle and surprised it into submission. Hopefully, I can wrestle it to the ground before it gets its legs underneath it.

Well, once again, I’ve turned this blog around and made it all about me.

I guess what you really need to know is that nobody knows what they’re doing. And also no one can really tell you what to do. We’re all firing in the dark. Some people have flashlights, but when they hand them over, they don’t always work correctly.

Last note: Dan O’Shannon wrote a book about some of his comedy experiences called What Are You Laughing At? If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought. I will probably take a look at it and throw a review up here. I suppose I should get back to being “smartly droll*” about books.

* A friend of mine said I was smart droll so I’m stealing it. Welcome to the world of writing.