It’s all About the Story – What I learned from Netflix

There are stories all around us.  TV, movies, theatre, comic books, graphic novels, Ebooks, Print, Hardcover, fan-fiction, poetry, non-fiction, jokes, legends, stories told through song, through art – the list goes on and on.  Each episode of your favorite TV series is a story within itself, sometimes stand-alone and sometimes part of a larger arc within a 24 episode seasonal arc or even an arc that lasts for season after season.

What makes these stories either succeed or fail?

My last post was about the contract with the reader.  (which we can extend to contract with the viewer, listener etc.)  We either walk away satisfied or we don’t.  That is not to say that every story that fulfills the terms of the contract will be liked by everyone.  I have heard all kinds of reasons why readers don’t like something they have read.  Some legitimate reasons and others – from way out in left field.

One thing to keep in mind – some books are like junk food.  It was designed to be tasty and maybe fill you up for a short time.  And that’s great.  Instant gratification without too much cerebral pressure.  Escape.  Everyone needs an escape now and then.

So why would something as simple as escapist entertainment fail?

Between transcribing my latest novel (and working … always trying to keep a buck coming in) I’ve been giving this a lot of thought.  And I’ve been watching a lot of TV, specifically NETFLIX series.  Since I live in Mexico I have missed a lot of shows and I have been catching up.

So here’s my list of series that FAILED in some way or another and didn’t life up to the promise / contract with the reader.  As a writer I think there is a lot to be learned from the successes and failure here.  After all, there’s a good chance that some of the people that watched these shows might end up with one of my books on their kindle.  I’d hate to let them down the way these shows have.

  1.  Dexter.
    Just an amazing show that totally dropped the ball in the last season.  I don’t know if the writers just didn’t get their own show but I as a viewer was ready to see Dexter WIN WIN WIN big in the end, to finally have the love of his life, to kill the last bad guy and to hang up his kill kit and plastic sheets for good.  And then walk off into the sunset … giving us one last ‘What if’ thought and a sly wink over his shoulder to indicate … Hey, I’m a retired serial killer but if anyone messes with me and mine ?????
    Instead they gave us Dexter the loser.  No one I have talked to was satisfied with that ending.
  2. Prison Break
    Not a thing wrong with this series – Interesting and engaging from beginning to end.  The unique problem was that the concept had an extreme limited shelf life.  They break out of prison.  Then what?  Hunt them down.  Put them back in prison.  Then they break out again.  Now they have to break into some high tech fortress.  Ok, it was all interesting and well acted but they bit off WAY more than they could chew and it became far fetched.  Thank god they got out when they did.
  3. Glee
    Here’s one the writers didn’t expect.  Their main lead character actor dies of a drug overdose at the height of the show’s popularity.  That pretty much put an end to this excellent show about a High School Show Choir.  But where were they planning to take the show?  With or without Cory Monteith’s death, the show had limited possibilities.  The right move was to slowly bring in new singers to the club each year, graduate off the older cast but follow their budding show biz careers.  Sadly, once the female lead hits New York and Broadway the show all but gives up on the original premise and become the Rachel Berry show.  Which while still entertaining, isn’t the agreement we had from the beginning.  Also, the death of the main male lead left the on again off again romance between the principal characters unresolved.  A death knell for the Young Adult demographic.  glee
  4. Lie to me
    This one struck me a particularly obvious.  They laid out a huge premise about the micro expressions we all make to express disgust, shame, guilt, fear, honesty etc. and how this FBI consultant could read our expressions blah, blah, blah.  I never really bought into the premise but I went along for the ride anyway.  It was a well scripted show with good actors.  Then, around episode 15 or so of the first season they started to steer away from the technological element of this ‘face reading’ process.  By about the second season they have abandoned the premise completely and it was just the main character as a Super Sleuth.  Nothing to back up his hunches … we just had to believe he had the gift.  A major let down.
    There are a lot more show that over the years haven’t lived up to their promise or have bit off more than they can chew.
    Don’t get me started on movies.  The Force Awakens anyone?

    Have a good day.  Keep true to your vision and keep that contract with the reader alive.  After all, who are you writing for if not the reader?

    David Gordon Burke
    Find my books here!


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