Typing Faster

July 7, 2009

Tell me your fantasies…

Filed under: Craft — petertypingfaster @ 1:32 pm

My friend and erstwhile writing partner Elize has an interesting post up at her place about the aspirational nature of tween programming.

Now I’m going to take her word for it as my tastes run to anything and everything not, well, tween. I refuse to give my money or eyeballs to Hannah Montana. Sorry.

But it did get me thinking about the nature of television series in general, and more specifically about why people watch the series that they do.

In his book Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box, which I highly recommend by the way, Alex Epstein talks about what kind of fantasy your show’s selling. What is it that compels people to watch your show.

In tween programming the fantasy is usually readily apparent. Hannah Montana is about a girl who leads an average life by day, but is a world touring pop superstar by night. It’s aspirational in nature. Who wouldn’t want to be a pop superstar?

Adult programming (and no, not adult in that way, get your mind out of the gutter), while often aspirational (*cough*Entourage*cough*), can also have incredibly negative fantasies (The Wire, Battlestar Galactica).

It’s obvious how positive, aspirational fantasies work. Who wouldn’t want to be Vinnie Chase as he f*cks his way through Hollywood? It’d be a no brainer for the majority of us.

Negative fantasies are a little harder to pin down because they’re usually working on a couple of different levels. People watch The Sopranos because they’ve thought about how cool it would be to be a mob boss. That’s the aspirational part of the fantasy.

But there’s also the negative. Tony Soprano is an all around bad dude, just take a look at the College episode, arguably the best of the series. This is where the negative fantasy really kicks in. The audience begins to think “Geez, I’m glad I’m not him…but I wonder what he’s going to do next?” It’s a strange mix of smug superiority, with a macabre interest in what the people trapped in this world are willing to do.

Shows often combine positive and negative fantasies in the manner of The Sopranos. Sometimes it just depends on your point of view whether a show’s particular fantasy is positive or negative. The Sopranos would probably be considered more of a negative fantasy than a positive one. Secret Diary of a Call Girl, on the other hand, would probably be considered a positive fantasy, though whether you’d want to label it aspirational is another question entirely.

A show that combines positive and negative fantasies runs the risk of being tonally confusing. Is the world rainbows and butterflies? Or is it the condemned buildings and shooting galleries of west Baltimore? A combination of the two might work, but it would be a huge, huge risk…


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