I spend a lot of time thinking about story. The one I'm working on, the one I'm reading, the ones by my fellow (or should that be sister?) authors, the ones in the Bible, the ones in movies, the ones on television. I must have at least ten books on my bookshelf on how to tell a story, most of which I've read from cover to cover, some more than once.
It takes a lot of talent to tell a good story. First of all, the story needs to have characters you care about. If you don't care about the characters, you won't care what happens to them. They have to face a problem that matters. They have to struggle to solve that problem, failing at first, but succeeding in the end.
Now that the Red Sox have gone into spring training mode with no hopes of salvaging anything from this season other than evaluating young players for next year, I no longer spend four hours watching baseball after my day's work is done. That gives me more time to work on my stories, but it also leaves me in a quandary. What do I watch on television in the evening when I'm too tired to read?
This week I've become aware of how many reality shows there are and how often they're replayed. Even a year ago, it seems to me there were more choices, more variety, more stories than there are now. Every channel has reality shows that they rerun over and over and over again. I can catch Duck Dynasty, Storage Wars, and Chopped, multiple times a day and multiple times a week. Not that I'd want to. Most of those I don't even watch the first time they air.
Fortunately, WE (Women's Entertainment) shows reruns of the original Law and Order for hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These are stories I can watch over and over. But you think there would be something new of the same quality. There was. It was called Longmire. Longmire may come back, but it's been a struggle, both by the producers and the fans, trying to make that happen.
So this week I was excited to accidentally find the pilot of a new show in time to watch it. I usually have no idea when new shows are premiering. In the old days, new shows premiered in the fall, ran for twenty-six weeks, then, if they were good, rerun for another twenty-six weeks over the summer. Yes, twenty-six brand new episodes. Not thirteen. Not ten. A half year of originality. If the show didn't make it, summer replacements showed up and sometimes made it into the fall line-up. A show had time to develop, time to build an audience, time to get to know whether this was going to be a good one or not.
But back to the new show. It's called The Mysteries of Laura and stars Debra Messing. I was hopeful. More than hopeful. A mystery! A woman detective! Maybe this would be the new Law and Order.
It wasn't. The most vivid image I remember is of Laura's twin sons covered in red paint. Them and everything around them. Half the show dealt with her out-of-control children, who get thrown out of preschool for their misbehavior, and her pending divorce from her idiot husband. With no place to park these terrors, she brings them to the police station, where her coworkers are thrilled to see them and spend more time bouncing them around than working on the case. Even reality shows aren't this unreal.
Oh, and before that happens, Laura and a partner go to question and/or arrest a suspect. I'm not sure which. I was already only paying half attention to the show. It's at this odd kind of club, where people are wandering around in scanty costumes. Instead of being all Lenny Briscoe and walking up to the guy like cops, the partner gets the idea to "blend" and try to uncover information that way. Next we know, Laura is in a $350 purple bathing suit, with a deep-cut V that goes to her waist, and the camera is taking long shots of her body. Last I noticed, they hadn't questioned anybody. It was farcical, but not funny.
At the point where the two kids urinate on one another in public while Laura is distracted by an argument with her husband, I turned it off. I think this was supposed to be funny, too.
Season Five of Downton Abbey doesn't start until January. The next episodes of Sherlock are over a year away. Castle isn't what it used to be. And Firefly? All that remains are the DVDs I rewatch every couple of months to remind myself of what a good television show is. Why can't we keep shows on the air that have story?