I don’t have cable or satellite (weird, I know, but guess who hasn’t seen a political ad ALL YEAR), so when I get into a TV show, it is usually a few years old, and available by the season on Netflix. This gives me a unique perspective in viewing shows. I can watch them for the episodic stories and the seasonal arcs. I’ve picked up a few things this way that may help you better your writing.
Drama works smarter when it’s shared. Shows can’t maintain momentum when their personal arcs center around a single relationship. Just when the first flush of newness wears off the external story concept, the relationship also reaches its point where the tension stops being romantic and starts feeling manufactured. Without multiple relationship arcs to engage the viewer, a fun show can get bogged down in needless relationship drama.
Good writers aren’t afraid to play with Theme. Most script writing courses will tell you about the A storyline and the B storyline, or the plot and the subplot, or the internal and the external throughlines, and how they should be related. The good shows seem to run with that idea and take it one step further–they’re not afraid to take an episode, center it around theme, and express that theme in multiple ways, matching A and B storylines, but also matching seasonal-arc sequences, and even down to the beats of a scene.
Never Marry Your Ideas. It rarely fails in TV-land–there will be a great show, with a terrific premise, a cast that can pull it off, and writers that help it reach its full potential. Then, three seasons into it, all hell breaks loose and the show either gets the axe just when things were getting good, or goes into a series reboot. Part of this is undoubtedly the result of the writers progressing the stories far enough to realize the mature version of their concept. But part of this is the fickle attention span of the viewing public (and the nervousness manifested by the network execs over it). Once we “settle in” to a show, Americans seem to want to be surprised all over again. So that terrific idea you got off theyfightcrime.org (He’s a jaded ninja romance novelist for the 21st century. She’s a provocative psychic cab driver descended from a line of powerful witches. They fight crime!)? A few seasons in, be prepared to revisit the site and change things up in a reboot.
These TV tricks have one thing in common–they do push your writing. Try a TV trick or two to see if you can’t break through some of the boundaries that might be fencing you in.