Saturday, September 27, 2014

TV VIEWING 101: CLASS #4: SITCOM WRAP-UP and INTRO TO DRAMA SERIES



SMILE! You're on "Candid Camera"! Alright, you're not on camera, don't worry. Can't take a joke some of you; it's not like you were doing  anything, you we're wait- Hey wait a minute, what-the-hell we're you guy's doing? If I find a cell phone on in here, it better be turned to Hulu or Netflix or something, folks. There's no taking personal calls in this class, you better be watching television! There's plenty of shitty television I can make you all watch instead of what I'm teaching. I'm not against using "Flava of Love" as a punishment device, just so you know.

Okay, this is a light day, we're going to have a brief Introduction to Drama, but we're gonna finish comedy for now. Now, how many of you actually did your homework? Good, good. What did you guy's compare? "Veep" to "Parks and Recreation", that's two shows still on the air, but okay, I would've tried comparing it to an older show. Perhaps "Murphy Brown" or "Ally McBeal" maybe. Um, yes, what did you do? "Glee", with what? "Welcome Back, Kotter," that's actually not bad. There could've been some better ones, the Us. against Them, outcast/misfist concept isn't as strong with that show as it is for "Glee", per se, but you still got a lot of good parallels. Who did "Modern Family"? Alright, what did you come up with? "Soap"? Uh, that's not bad. A lot of family sitcoms could've worked there, but I'm glad you picked an extensive family one. You're right, there aren't a whole lot of-eh, extended family multi-narrative sitcoms from the past. Actually you know what would've been good? "Friends". Seems weird, but that was the trick to the show, that it was a family sitcom, it's just that, the family was your friends, so that actually could've worked out well. Anybody struggle with "The Big Bang Theory", (Raises hand) I did! That was so much harder than I thought it would be. What did you compare it to? "Friends", kinda, yeah. What did you have, "A Different World"! Really? How did you get that one? Whitley and Dwayne kinda like Penny and Leonard? I don't think so; you're really stretching it there, if that's the best you came up with. Yeah, they're students in the college, that's a different dynamic completely than scientists that work and teach in the college. There was never a date rape episode of "The Big Bang Theory", I think you're way off on that one. What did you have? "Newhart", I thought about "Newhart" but, it didn't quite work- What did you have? "Taxi", I thought about. You? "Family Matters"? You know, stop laughing actually, I think he's closer than you think he is. You know why this was harder, it took me awhile, but then I figured it out why. Okay, the original idea premise of the show, seems simple, somebody comes into a new world and they soon effect each other, but in every other version of that plot, Penny would've been the star, and everybody else would've been the supporting actors. Mary Richards, goes to get a job, and soon, she's one of the gang at WJM-TV, But it's still Mary, who's the main star. Not Lou, or Phyllis or Ted or somebody like that. They're not observing this new girl obsessed with her, you know? And that's the distinction with "The Big Bang Theory", it wasn't about the new character who comes in. That's why "Newhart", doesn't work, it's about the normal guy, surrounded by the bunch of crazies, "The Big Bang Theory" it's a bunch of crazies, in this case, intelligent crazies, focusing in on the way the new neighbor effects their world. That's why "Family Matters" is actually kinda close, because- well, they didn't do it on purpose originally, but Urkel comes in and effects the lives of everyone else, but essentially the show, for awhile anyway let's say, was still about the Winslows having to deal with Urkel, and not from Steve Urkel's perspective. So if you ever run into somebody who hates "The Big Bang Theory", tell them to think of another show that had that dynamic, seriously, 'cause I couldn't think of too many. That was much harder than I thought it would be for that show, but once you realize it, it's like "Whoa, that is different!", like the Tommy Chong character from "That '70s Show

Okay, I think you guys have gotten a very basic understanding of how to watch and read sitcoms properly, but we will probably revisit it before your tests. (Oh, we're having tests) Meantime, we're gonna move onto drama series now. And the truth of the matter is that TV dramas and TV sitcoms aren't really that different, per se. Comedy/tragedy, like those masks, they're basically two sides of the same coin.  There's some obvious differences, most drama are an hour, most sitcoms are thirty minutes, you rarely get a laugh in a drama series, although sometimes a drama series, can in fact, be pretty damn funny. That said, unlike sitcoms, which have always been somewhat continuous in their storylines, that, actually more of a newer phenomenon in drama series, at least Primetime ones, we'll get to soap operas a little later. When we're the beginning of television, some of the first reality big drama series were what we would think of now as anthology series. This was even before "The Twilight Zone", there were shows like "Studio One", "The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse", "Playhouse 90" even the much-maligned "Hallmark Hall of Fame", actually started that way, and what most of those shows actually shot live at some point in the earliest days of television. These were essentially an extension of radio plays, when things like the Mercury Theater would adapt famous plays and movies and other stories, and adapt them to the radio, and then, when television came along, they would turn these into what we would call teleplays, and they were popular, and relatively easy to put on the air at the time. And, while like I said soap operas, also transition from radio, as well as sitcom, serial drama series, also did as well at that time, cliffhanger-type stories.

Eventually though, more traditional continuous drama series would also pepper the landscape and essentially take over today, that said, though eh-, well, let's compare with sitcoms, 'cause essentially, you can narrow down 99% of sitcoms into basically one or two different basic concepts, the family sitcom and the workplace sitcom. You can take any sitcom and essentially it'll fall into either one or both of those structures/parameters. Look at the "Sex and the City", change the city of New York to a house in Miami, and the cosmopolitans to cheesecake, and it's "The Golden Girls". 4 old women, talking about each other's sex lives, so they don't live in the same, still a family sitcom. Even when sitcoms have more elements to them than simply family or workplace, we tend to think of them in those terms, most of the successful ones anyone. That doesn't mean it couldn't of sci-fi, fantasy or mystery, or even soap opera like aspects to them, but we still think of them like that, but there is a giant tendency to separate dramas into these subgroups, family dramas and workplace dramas, but we also found ourselves separating them even further into subgenres. doctor shows, cop dramas, lawyer shows, detective shows with private eyes- in fact, ever since nearly the beginning of television, over 18 hours a week, at a minimum in Primetime has been devoted to some section of the law. And honestly, I'm not even sure that counts the first big continuous drama series subgenre, the westerns, many of which, were based around law themselves.

Westerns were the really first one, and there were lots of westerns, and many different styles of westerns from wholesome family shows like "The Rifleman" or "Bonanza", to comedic ones like "Maverick", to your more classic sheriff and small town ones like what was the longest-running primetime series until "The Simpsons" passed it a few years back, "Gunsmoke". For the most part, this genre fell off, but shows got replaced by all the other ones we know, and most of these shows, have a certain pattern and rhythm that we're familiar with, and those are referred to as procedurals. We usually associate these mostly with detective or cop series, but essentially any drama that's not solely limited to the continuous serial nature of their nature as being the main point of entry, follow some form of a traditional rigid structure. For a long time, somebody dying on a doctor show was considered taboo. You know "Marcus Welby,M.D." never loss a patient that sort of thing, but that evolved in "M*A*S*H", or "St. Elsewhere" or "ER", you go to work, you're a doctor, there's patients you have to treat some you save, some die, etc. There's usually a b-plotline melodrama in their as well. Lawyer shows are even more predictable, there's a case, usually a new one each week, sometimes a few take long, and then we see the case and usually "Perry Mason" will figure out who actually did it, (He didn't once, that was weird) or nowadays, it's not too unusual for them to lose the case. Cop shows, investigate the crime, witness, maybe something a little sketchy by police standards to find a clue, often a reveal at the end of who did it. These continue today, primarily on the network shows, but don't be fooled, just because it "Law & Order: SVU" and "CSI..." one episode to usually solve it's case, and at least a whole season for "Homeland", "True Detective" or "The Killing" to solve theirs (Or did they ever solve the case in "Twin Peaks"?) doesn't mean they're not procedurals. You simply can't have a solve the case plot, or try a defendant, without following the structure of how to do that somehow. Even most family sitcoms, you've got your basic melodrama of the episode, usually it's relieved by the end.... This is when show started involving into more classical serial structures, first with primetime soaps, which actually originated with "Peyton Place" back in '64, and that was a big show for the time, and there were shows in between, but it didn't become more prevalent and relevant until, the Primetime soaps, like "Dallas" and "Dynasty", which were taking some of the things that daytime soaps were for, but moving them into primetime and taking the serial structure a little more seriously, the real key into modern day drama series, is when we started taking the procedurals and then adding the serialized continuous story arc.

This is where, in the late '70s and especially in the early '80s, with "Hill Street Blues". Now, "Hill Street Blues" wasn't the first how to combine a traditional procedural episode arc, with a long-form character arcs and development, probably something like "The Fugitive", probably gets the most credit, but "Hill Street Blues" is definitely where all the modern drama series can really be traced back to most.  It was a cop show, but it wasn't necessarily about, catching the bad guy or finding the next criminal, it really was the longterm story arcs and characters that we we're following, and reveals about the characters in certain cases, that was a big shift too, surprise reveals, (Subtlety revealed, which was also unusual) In fact, since "Hill Street Blues" won their first Emmy, back in '81, only one procedural drama has won the Best Drama Series, and that was the one year "Law & Order" won, everything else since, pretty much, so 1 in 33 years. So they seem like they've taken over, until you look at the ratings, and it's "Sunday Night Football", "NCIS", "NCIS: Los Angeles", "CSI: Crime Scenes Investigators", "Person of Interest"... right at the top. This is why "Hill Street Blues" gets the standard-bearer, 'cause there was the "Dallas" and "Dynasty"'s catching on at the time, but there were still "The Rockford Files", and "Kojak", and "Quincy, M.E."'s on, "Lou Grant"'s kinda of another tricky tweener one, although I tend to lean that one towards procedural just a different world, but "Hill Street Blues", really pushed aside the necessity of the procedural, in a procedural universe, but then advanced it towards this more complex, character-driven, serialized story arc, which really peppers what we now think as a premiere drama series in the spotlight.

Alright, this was a late day, for me, so we're gonna make it a short day for you. But you're gonna get some extra HOMEWORK: 1st, Identify your favorite drama series, and analyze whether it's more of a serialized continuous story arc or a procedural story arc, and obviously many shows are both, so think about how much each show is. Determine whether it's a workplace drama, a family drama, or some other genre it is, and if it mixes genres, be specific, and I want you to think about, especially if it isn't a procedural, think about the episode structure, 'cause they do have, very similar episode structure, even a long-form serialized series, have beginnings, middles and ends for each episode, and if it's done well it should be a complete one, each time. Just because it's a season or a series-long story arc, that doesn't mean, the episodes aren't themselves complete whole tales, you just have to figure out how to make those episodes compelling on their own. And finally, I want you to take a comedy series, which favorite one of yours you want, and think about how it could change and become a drama series. What kind would it be, would it have to be changed so much, how easily or how difficult would that be, all those things to turn a particular comedy series into a drama. I know somebody just tried doing that with "The Big Bang Theory", try a little better than they do, but I want you guys to consider it. Howard Hawks used to say if all else fails do a drama.

All right folks, that's all for today. Good night, and good luck.

If you missed a class, please catch up at the links below:
CLASS #1
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/08/tv-viewing-101-class-1-syllabus-intro.html

CLASS #2
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/08/tv-viewing-101-class-2-sitcoms.html

CLASS #3
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/09/tv-viewing-101-class-3-sitcom-structure.html
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