Wednesday, May 20, 2009

TV and Storytelling

While I had watched TV, like everybody else I've known, since as far back as I can remember, I, like most people, never paid much attention to the TV business. And while I had favorite shows, I never really knew about cancellations, or schedule changes. If I caught an episode, or not, it was entirely dependent on luck and the TV guide. Besides, other than one or two shows, there was almost never anything on TV to get all that excited about.

But then, about a decade or so ago, TV got good. Really good.

As someone who loves reading, has confessed to having a detrimental addiction to reading, I should be the last person to admit to being a rabid TV watcher. Yet the two mediums are not entirely dissimilar. Especially when what I watch is solely scripted shows. Comedy, drama, dramedy, action, sci-fi, fantasy. And in each there invariably is a story that will suck me in. Not the disposable stories of older television, with no continuity, and no respect paid to whatever had happened previously, but real stories. TV has grown and become a true literary and storytelling medium. Some point to shows like The Sopranos, whereas I look to shows like Babylon 5, but both are illustrative of a change in the storytelling landscape that has resulted in great epic tales like Deadwood, Rome, Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, Life on Mars (UK), Life, Breaking Bad, Intelligence, Durham County, and so many more. And then there are shows which bring high spirits, laughs, and general good feeling whenever they're turned on, like Chuck, Monk, Psych, Burn Notice, and Corner Gas. Unlike a book, which you can only share with one person at a time, these shows can be shared with many, simultaneously. And I tell you, as much as our culture reveres the written word, the written word did not precede storytelling.

Think back to those summer camp experiences, sitting around the campfire, sharing stories. Go back before the rise of electronic media, and that was how most stories were told - aurally and before larger groups of people. Stories were communal experiences, which excited, delighted, amused, and frightened. And those reactions and emotions were shared by those sitting there, together, listening.

When the book became king, a lot of that was lost. Oh, sure, you could share your thoughts in retrospect, but there was none of the immediacy of the moment that made stories such an essential part of life. During the heyday of radio drama this immediacy was there, and it has always been there to one extent or another with cinema, but cinema has become far too pricey to be an everyday experience. But that's not the case with TV now, having become a real, true, storytelling medium, with writers and producers who actually care about the art of story.

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