June 09, 2016

Screen Time #4: Dear Screenwriters, You Have No Right

Welcome to Screen Time, my own feature where I ramble about spotlight some iconic and/or favourite TV series from the '80s, '90s and 2000s!
I'm a child of the '60s *big shock*. This accounts for me fondly remembering some oldies I grew up with, or having some of them in my all-time favourite list. But don't worry, I'm not stuck in the '80s ;). There are plenty of series I've liked and followed in the most recent years...and some current favourites too. So tune in with me, and don't forget your popcorn...


OK, I'm going to do something different with this feature for once. Because - while my life doesn't revolve around my favourite TV series - I hate it with a passion when a screenwriter comes along and basically throws in a total game changer. One of those WTF ideas that have the power to retroactively ruin all the investment I had in a show. Not to mention, to sever all my ties with it from that point on.

There has been a bit of a commotion lately for The Walking Dead season finale. And, in the comic sphere, even more commotion for the grand reveal about Captain America being *gasp* a secret Nazi. With the serialization and the reuse of popular characters growing more and more intense, writers are always trying to come up with shocking contents in order to give stories a new spin...and a longer life. Which, frankly, more often than not brings them to absolutely bad decisions. Some TV series are becoming soap operas in disguise. And I am enraged, or disgusted at least. Are you?

The latest example of what I call the "soap opera complex" is the ending of the freshly-wrapped-up 13th season of NCIS. Now, mind you, it's not that I am a die-hard fan of the show - that is, someone who has gone out of her way to watch every single episode. Also, while I can be found obsessing over police procedural dramas at all hours - Law & Order, what have you done to me - I often find myself losing track of the crime and its ins-and-outs while watching NCIS. I suppose it's because it has a lot to do with military secrets and government agencies and spies and foreign policy, all of which kind of bores me to death. But what I used to like about NCIS was the cast of characters and their dynamics. And while some of them - e.g., Abby (Pauley Perrette), who I do like a lot, but could use a little character makeover after 13 years...and Jimmy (Brian Dietzen), who seems to be there for comic respite more often than not - have stayed the same for the whole show, others - like Tony (Michael Weatherly) - have been given the space and means to grow. Especially his whole (platonic) relationship with Ziva (Cote de Pablo), and even his friendship with Tim (Sean Murray) up to a point, have shaped Tony into a more mature and introspective person than he used to be at the beginning (and you know, even at that stage, there was something in him...or in Michael Weatherly...that elevated him above your average womanizer/jock). So far so good, then. But as soon as Weatherly decided to leave the show at the end of Season 13, the writers apparently went ballistic.

Now, with Ziva gone, NCIS had already lost a lot of its appeal to me. Poor Ellie (Emily Wickersham) never managed to get me interested - tough shoes to fill, yes, but not just that. Also, the soap opera complex had already reared its ugly head when the writers had decided to put Ellie's marriage under a ridiculous strain (really, you can't talk about your respective jobs anymore, and have different work schedules, so the male partner has to go and hop into a different bed?) and ultimately have her divorce Jake (Jamie Bamber). Maybe because they couldn't come up with a better storyline...or because you can't keep the same partner all the time when you are a character in a long serialization. It gets boring to watch, right? (*insert heavy sarcasm here*). But I digress. What I mean is, the show was already, slowly, going downhill. When a particularly brilliant writer came up with this spectacular idea for Tony's farewell:
  1. It had to revolve around Ziva. Of course.
  2. Except actress Cote de Pablo had already made it clear she wasn't coming back for some off-the-wall closure.
  3. So now Ziva was guarding some important files (AT HER HOUSE) and someone who wants them goes and burns the place down, along with Ziva...or maybe not, because her remains are not found...OF COURSE. Except there is a 3 year old survivor, whom later the Mossad director in charge will drop in Tony's lap...Tali, the daughter Ziva had conceived with him AND NEVER TOLD HIM ABOUT. Because she was a free woman who couldn't be tied to a man by a kid, or something.
  4. So now Tony - who could have left "our" NCIS squad to become Supervisory Special Agent of his own team, a chance he's been offered more than once during the series - resigns to take care of his 3 year old offspring. Who DOES know that he is her father, because apparently Ziva - bless her - has at least shown her a pic. How considerate.

This is not, by any means, the only show I used to enjoy till some "creative" screenwriter came out with a spectacular idea. I have this rant coming about CSI (the original one) one day or the other. But the reason why I stopped watching CSI was entirely different from the one that is forcing me to abandon NCIS (just for your info, the second half of Season 13 hasn't aired in Italy already - it will in Autumn/Winter 2016/17. I only accidentally spoiled myself about it, but it was good...I spared myself a lot of grief. Of the watching kind, I mean). In this case, the writers have:
  1. killed a character offscreen;
  2. made up an equally offscreen past about her and another character (NOW they tell us that Ziva and Tony had sex before she left. Not only that farewell kiss at the airport, that should have broken once and for all 8 years of sexual tension until it didn't, because Ziva was leaving for good);
  3. made a despicable person out the deceased character, because THEY thought she would think that leaving her ex partner in the dark about having a daughter was a reasonable idea.

So, dear screenwriters - and TV producers/showrunners - if I may have a word or two with you now...
  1. ...you have to respect those actors who decide, for whatever reason, to drop a role they've played for years. You are not entitled to bury their vacant, or worse, supposedly dead character under a ton of crap.
  2. ...you have to respect all characters and make them consistent. You are not entitled to have them say or do random things for the sake of a shocking ending, or out of the perverse decision to stretch the plot for further 5000 episodes.
  3. ...and, last but not least, you have to respect US. The viewers. The fans. The ones who keep your precious toy in motion. Of course, there's always a bunch of us who keep watching, even with their heart broken. Even when nothing makes sense anymore. Even when you have stripped us of every reason for watching. Because more often than not, letting go of a series is hard. But like for more serious - and real - relationships, sometimes it just has to be done. Sometimes it is. Because you are not entitled to cash on what doesn't give us joy anymore.

a TV series aficionado with a still functioning brain.

[For the gifs thanks to Giphy!]


    1. I agree with most of your thoughts. I stopped watching various series because they became way too drama-filled.

      A very common thing I see in today's popular series is that the creators literally have no plans to stop making the show as long as they can profit from it - the storyline gets more and more complicated, they add a lot of unnecessary drama + after a while we start to feel like there's nothing left in the characters that we haven't seen yet. There are a lot of shows that I started and loved for a couple of seasons - Pretty Little Liars, Vampire Diaries - but then they became really repetitive and I got bored. And yep, one super-common solution to make series more exciting seems to be (in their opinion) to break up characters... I feel like long-term relationships are a very rare thing in tv, and not just in the YA shows either. Which, for one thing, is a horrible example, but it is also super-annoying.

      One thing I do understand is why creators choose to kill off the characters when the actors leave the cast. Otherwise the fans (if it really is a hyped show) would constantly demand both the producers and the actor to appear in the show again. So yeah, if I were an actor I'd ask the producers to kill off my character - I mean, from what I've seen, most actors leave a show behind to work on new things... who would want to be demanded to go back, then?

      But with #2? I completely agree - I've seen SO MANY characters change completely out of the blue just to add more tension to the story and to surprise the audience. I was very disappointed in the 3rd season of The 100 for instance... I don't think I'll be continuing the show.

      Great post! :)

      1. Wow, you were looking forward to this post indeed, if it managed to have you lift your noise from those textbooks AND write a super-long comment! I feel flattered :).

        Yes, like you said, the main problem is that creators/producers don't know when to stop. I've come to the conclusion that a series ideally shouldn't continue for more that 6/8 years, lest it loses its freshness. Of course, there are exceptions, like my beloved Law & Order...but, surprise surprise, those are mostly series that don't focus on the main characters' personal lives - in that case, for example, the crime is center-stage.

        Killing characters off when their actors leave the shows is an option of course...but when you kill them AFTER THE ACTORS HAVE LEFT and add a random or shocking storyline for the sake of it, it's a no-no. And yes! like you said, there are so many recycled plots in TV series nowadays. You see the almost-same thing happening again and again. The only cure? Stop making the show before it goes downhill - do a grand exit instead! But this won't happen if we - though angry or bored - go on watching...

        Thank you for the long comment sweetie! And I hope you were able to replace the series you stopped watching with something that piques your interest!

    2. I'm awful. I've been burned so many times by shows/books/movies that I just don't get that invested in anything anymore.

      Don't get me wrong - I enjoy things but I'm ready to jump ship at a moments notice lol

      Karen @For What It's Worth

      1. I think it's because I'm so picky about what I read/watch that I get annoyed. I'm like - you managed to get my attention and then BAM! you blow my bubble with a cannon LOL.

    3. While I don't watch NCIS, I can totally relate to this!

      Also, fun fact, McGee played Thackery Binks in Hocus Pocus- but they used a different actor for his voice (and also because he's turned into a cat).

      1. LOL, I've just Googled it - he was so young! Only 16, actually.
        Is there a fantasy movie you haven't seen? ;)

    4. Great post! Sorry I'm late to the party on this one, but as a fellow TV fan, I had to comment. I don't watch NCIS so I can't speak to the specifics of your argument, but I've certainly noticed this same phenomenon in other shows, even some "prestige" dramas. I was super excited about HBO's new show Vinyl (don't know if it's made it to Italy yet ). It was good, but would have been roughly a thousand times better if the writers had focused on the freaking music and the dynamics of the industry instead of also trying to throw in a mob story and some family drama that bordered on cliche. The director/showrunner was fired at the end of the season, so maybe round two will be better. I also agree with Veronika that part of the problem is some series run for way too long and the creators don't seem to have an endpoint in mind. When you're trying to tell a story, not knowing the end can be very risky thing. Sometime it works out, but more often than not, it doesn't. I think that's one reason why some British series tend to retain their quality over American series -- shorter seasons and less of them.

      1. I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist commenting on this post LOL.

        NCIS is supposed to be the most successful show on the planet or something...and no one of those who comment on this post watches it LOL. Maybe it isn't, after all.

        Vinyl made it to Italy, but I've never seen it because it airs on a pay-per-view channel. The concept is awesome - plus it stars actors I’m familiar with, such as Bobby Cannavale from Third Watch and Olivia Wilde from House…not to mention, Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese created it. So, double shame if it’s a drama masquerading as a show that recounts an era. Also, the mob? again? The Italy=mob equation has to stop. It’s insulting, and so lazy. Yawn. I hope the shows gets better with S.2.

        It’s interesting what you say about British series…and having an endpoint in mind. Of course, I suppose writing for TV is much different than writing books. Apparently, while there’s a limit to stretching a book series, TV shows are allowed to go on forever, as long as they retain a more than decent viewer base. I suppose it’s our fault as fans…because if we refused to watch a series die a long and painful death, the producers would hastily put an end to its sufferings – not to mention ours…


    Welcome to Offbeat YA! I love hearing from you and always - I mean always - acknowledge your comments. This used to be a full democracy place, because anyone could comment, regardless of being a registered member of any community. Unfortunately, I had to turn off the Anonymous comment option, because I was getting too much spam that didn't get filtered. So, you’ll need to have a Google account (Gmail will suffice) in order to comment. Sorry about that. Anyway, jump right in! Come on, you know you want to...😉 And be sure to leave a link!
    BTW...I don't care if a post is a million months old - you comment, I respond. And you make my day 😃.
    Note: this is an award/tag free blog. Sorry I can't accept nominations due to lack of time.

    As per the GDPR guidelines, here's the link to my Privacy Policy.