PROCEDURAL V. CHARACTER BASED - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Got an email the other day from someone who's pitching the head of drama development at one of the top prodcos in Toronto, L. L felt that her template would get old fast. Without giving anything away, it's "every week, the staff of [venue] deal with the outrageous demands of [clients of venue]" Our pitcher writes:
But aren't sitcoms like a Cheers about the characters' wants desire/conflicts and template is secondary? ... This is simply a template like the West Wing's President has to deal with some issue that ties into the characters around him as they resolve the issue together. Am I way off? Or did she not get it?


First of all, if you're dealing with a smart person (and this particular head of drama development is Very Smart), and the Smart Person isn't getting it, then there's something wrong either in your conception or your presentation.

Second, my interpretation of this is that the problem lies in the difference between procedural and character based shows. In a procedural, we're watching to see how interesting characters deal with extraordinary problems. In character based, we're watching to see how interesting characters deal with ordinary problems. In other words, in a procedural, the problems are inherently interesting. A locked room murder is inherently interesting. A deteriorating medical emergency is inherently interesting. In a character based story only the weirdness of the characters makes a particular problem worth following.

West Wing is procedural. The characters are on the same side, but they're at odds with the world. Every week they deal with huge policy issues that are innately interesting; their arguments about how to deal with those issues bring the show to life.

Cheers is character based. The characters' problems are ridiculous and generally of their own making. They're the sort of problems ordinary people have every day, except the characters are handling them much less competently than ordinary people would.

In this particular case, the template is indeed going to get old fast, because it's "about" the special outrageous requests. And L is right that outrageous anything gets tiresome after too many weeks. (Who can stay outraged that long?) The template should be "a kooky bunch of misfits try to deal with the demands of running a [venue]." The outrageous requests are just some of the problems they face. Extortionate plumbers, power outages, riots, greedy management, etc. are your story springboards; the stories are really about how the characters are at odds.

I recommended she rethink and repitch as a character based show...

1 Comments:

Is "House" procedural or character based?

By Blogger Webs, at 3:34 PM  

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