Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Pan Am" Reminds Us: TV Sex is for Lazy Writers

Recently ABC offered the first nine episodes of the drama “Pan Am” for free via iTunes. Maybe it was a last ditch ploy to raise an audience for a failing show. However, rumors and all the evidence indicate that the show had been cancelled prior to the offering, so who knows? In any case, my wife watches so much science fiction and murder mysteries with me I am always on the lookout for a more feminine storyline that I could enjoy with her, and this was free. I started out pleasantly surprised.

The show was an interesting, well thought out and produced series about a fascinating period in history. It was a show about people traveling around the world and it addressed real issues of the day that have meaning for our current situation. And, perhaps in an effort to rope in more male viewers, they had a spy element right from the start. They didn’t just have the show occurring in 1963, they actually wove real world historical events into the storylines.

Then, just four or five episodes in, they did what conventional TV always does. You can almost imagine the writers meeting:

“Good job, people! We are really putting together a great show. What’s next?”
“Well, we have pretty much run out of novel ideas. We were thinking we ought to see how many characters we can have hook up. Maybe have a few sex-triangles going by episode six.”
“OK. The numbers need the help. Make sure we get a girl-on-girl kiss in by the mid-season break, alright?”

Why is it that television writers writing drama always go for the lowest common denominator? Creative, thoughtful shows almost don’t exist. It is probably a blessing that the show looks like it will die before it can devolve completely. Perhaps American television ought to look to the British model of creating shows for a single season with limited number of episodes. That way they can get in, tell their good story idea, and get out.

(Update: After assembling these thoughts, I found them confirmed here.  Turns out the studio specifically did instruct the new show runner they hired to "save" the show that they wanted him to sex it up.)

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