Train-wreck Television

I’ll start this by making a confession: I watched the first season of survivor. Absolutely loved it, thought the interaction between Rudy and Richard was great, all the back-stabbing, the lying. I was hooked. But after that, I checked out. I don’t watch Big Brother or the Apprentice, I don’t care that Jimmy Johnson is on Survivor or Bristol Palin on Dancing with the d-list Stars. I don’t watch these shows for the same reason that I stopped watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire after a few weeks. The novelty wore off and I wanted to be entertained again. Well guess what, the novelty wore off for all of you too and the networks realized it. That’s why we have the utter crap that pollutes our televisions now.


I lived five years in Anaheim CA and there is NOTHING real about the Real Housewives of Orange County. Do you really think there are people in the world who are so interesting that their every minute should be filmed and shown in edited hour segments? I’m sure there were some weeks that Gene Simmons just sits around the house doing nothing… but that won’t make an episode so the producers come up with some “event” to drive each week. When you plan events and manipulate situations to make good television… it’s no longer REALITY.


All of these shows have become train-wrecks and the American populace watches in droves. They’re badly written soap operas performed by untalented people that you wouldn’t talk to if they lived across the street from you. But they are cheap to produce and throw on the air, so as long as people are watching it the number of really good scripted shows dwindles to nothing. Undercover Boss is a hit but Lone Star, a critically acclaimed new show gets two airings and killed. Why? Because viewers didn’t even try it.


Networks will put on the air the shows that the largest group of people will watch. That’s how it works. Which means that as long as viewers accept train-wreck television there will be no new brilliant shows on the big networks. You’ll have to go to TNT, USA, HBO and Showtime to get anything of any serious quality. And that’s a shame. If people turned off the Apprentice, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol and gave their attention to the well written, well acted shows that fill in between the train-wrecks… the networks will make more of the scripted shows again. And wouldn’t that be better for everyone?


I had a discussion this morning with a writer friend of mine. She commented on how quickly I was able to do the first draft of my novel, at one point having written about 10,000 words in a day. She commented that she was lucky to do 1,000 words in a day because she stressed over every word and how it interacted with the other words in the sentence, in the paragraph, on the page, etc. That got me to thinking and it connected with an argument I had with another writer a few months back. This other writer insisted that to be a writer you had to read ‘the classics’. I strongly disagreed with her because I just look at reading other people’s work as being influenced by their style and if everyone read the same authors, we’d all be coming from the same influences. The final piece that clicked into place was a discussion I had with the guitar player in my band. He is so focused on being a technically skilled musician that the idea of writing songs that people want to buy is foreign to him. He’d rather be a poor virtuoso than a rich rock and roller.


It was the combination of these three conversations that made me realize why some writers are prolific and why some write ‘the Great American Novel’ then vanish. It’s because there are two very different kinds of writers in this world and maybe lumping them into one category as we have for years is a disservice to everyone. When someone sits down to write, they do so in what I believe is one of two ways: either they begin to craft a piece of literature or they start to tell a story. If you have studied the art of writing, honed your craft through countless papers and read every one of the classics, you will look at every page as another piece of art where the words flow together like the colors on a Renoir. You want to create something that will last forever and stand among the handful of books that should never go out of print. On the other hand, if you sit down with the idea of making someone laugh or love or get caught up in the action or follow the clues of a mystery or even scare the hell out of them; then your focus is to tell the best story possible regardless of how the future will judge it. You just want to entertain your reader and give them their money’s worth.


I’m a storyteller. I figure out what I’m going to write about and I go from the beginning to the end without stressing the structure or the craft. I know enough about the rules of writing that I do my best not to break them as I go along. I’m never going to be considered a “literary master” and you know what, I am perfectly happy with that. I’d rather see the smile on one readers face because they enjoyed my book over any kind of award or trophy. Storytellers may get looked down upon by writers of literature… but again, I’m okay with that… I’ll just be standing over there in the bank line with Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Dan Brown and J. K. Rawlings waiting to cash my check. And the word ‘prolific’ that goes with storytellers… that basically means we just write the story, we don’t analyze every detail to the point of mental paralysis, or as they like to call it ‘writer’s block’.


So if you are the type to pick up a book and see how it compares to Tolstoy or Dickens… don’t bother picking up my work, because it doesn’t compare. But if you want to read a story that will entertain you from the front cover to the back, I may have just the thing. I can live without the title of writer, in truth I like being a storyteller… or better yet, just consider me a Professional Raconteur.