Monday, April 03, 2006

The Moonlighting Effect

Here's an interesting article about TV hookups, which I think raises but doesn't fully address the problems of romance on TV.

First, I want to say that I'm absolutely disgusted with NBC's handling of the last episode of The West Wing. I know the ratings have been shit this year (and so has the content, mostly) but that's no excuse for giving away the Josh/Donna get-together. For seven years fans have been following this show and this relationship and to just casually dump the revelation of their coupling in the preview commercials is unforgivable. (So is giving up the resolution of the Leo character, but that's another topic.) Both moments would have been quite powerful for long time viewers of the show ... if we hadn't been tipped off to them by the network. I hate that.

But back to the situation at hand. Because of all the shows mentioned in the article above (and others) I have discovered a rule about series television that network executives have still yet to figure out. Let's call it Television Law #1: Any series in which the central premise involves one character trying to win the affections of another is doomed to failure.

You can have a show about a couple, provided the couple is already together when the show premieres. Your characters can have relationships, you can even have romance between two main characters, but the show cannot be about that romance. You cannot base a entire series around one character being in love with another character, who may or may not be in love with them. We've seen it a thousand times and it never works.

Look at Cheers. That was almost completely ruined by the Sam and Diane storylines. It was funny for awhile, then it got really, really old. Because here's the thing: There are only so many way you can contrive a situation where two characters are in love with each other, but remain apart. Most movies can't barely sustain that idea for two hours, how could a TV show do it for two years? If Diane had not left, Cheers would have been canceled. Bringing in Rebecca saved it, but when Sam and Rebecca got together, the show nearly died again. Then they wisely dropped that idea and managed to salvage the final two seasons.

Think about all the other shows where this has happened. Friends was at its best when it ignored the Ross/Rachel plot. Focusing on their relationship always dragged the show down. (Admit it. It's true.) Monica/Chandler only worked because once they got together, they stayed together. The writers never made any attempt to break them up. That was the exception that proves the rule: When two main characters get together, a show always gets worse.

The X-Files? Mulder and Scully's baby destroyed it. Frasier? Too much Daphne and Niles ground it to a halt. That new show, Teachers, that I unfortunately found myself watching the other night? Doomed, because every episode will some how involve the main guy's crush on his co-worker, and you just can't make that work over the long term. No one ever has, no one ever will.

The West Wing? It wasn't about Donna and Josh, so you can drop in a line or two here and there, even a one or two episode subplot, but it doesn't get in the way of the show. And then, seven years later, you can bring those two together at the end of the run, and it's a nice little treat for the loyal fans. Or you can shit on those fans by giving away the surprise ahead of time. Either way.


Anna said...

I can't believe you didn't mention Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman!

I was obsessed - OBSESSED - with that show in high school (or was it junior high? I can't remember), and it was single-handedly ruined by the attempt to finally get Lois & Clark together. It killed the ENTIRE story - I can't think of a single episode post hook-up that was good. I'll never forgive them for doing that to me.

As for Friends - as you know, this is probably my favorite show of all time. And I'm glad you differentiated Monica & Chandler's relationship, because theirs totally did work. Ross & Rachel totally dragged the show down - I think it would have been great if they'd gotten together the first time, broken up (the "on a break" thing was hilarious), and then not gotten back together. That could have worked... you know, how do you remain friends after dating? Could have been great. It WAS great for a while. Then they got back together, and broke up, and got back together, and broke up, and got pregnant... UGH.

That said, I'm still glad they ended up together. They HAD to. They're each others' lobsters!

4/04/2006 12:21 PM  
Dashiell said...

Lois & Clark! Great example, Anna. It was only interesting, because they could never be together. Once she finds out who he is, BORING. Those two hooking up didn't really help the Superman comics, either.

There's a lot of others that I couldn't remember. Can anyone else think of any? Or do you have a show that you think proves me wrong?

4/04/2006 5:53 PM  
Anna said...

Hey, where are you?

Entertain me!

4/19/2006 12:25 PM  
Dashiell said...

Hey, Anna! I'll be back soon. I just need to get my act together, before I start blogging again.

4/19/2006 4:51 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home