ALL CATS ARE GREY IN THE DARK - Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Kane, responding to my latest post about Grey's Anatomy, asks:
So, then, to tie your themes together, to what extent do you think Sex in The City's greater success in pulling off the "different plots tied together by protagonist-spouted theme" concept derives from the lack of commercial-driven structure, as compared to merely better writing or different genre expectations?
First of all, I can't speak to success. Grey is a hugely successful show, top 5 I think I remember reading. And if you're talking about artistic success, Grey still has years to prove itself.

But yeah, Sex and the City wasn't written to act outs, really, because it was on HBO. (Does anyone know if the script had act breaks?) They can find outs in the editing room, but even if S&TC had been written for broadcast TV, I think the outs would still have been softer. It goes with the territory: character drama vs. medical procedural. The story arcs were soapy (will Carrie dump Aidan for Big?) but the stories were more lyrical slice of life. On Grey you can always get an out when a patient's condition worsens, or someone has a heart attack in a restaurant. Sex was going for intriguing stories about the kind of people who live in New York, how they have relationships with their dogs, how they struggle to find apartments or renovators, etc. They weren't really going for the big cliffhanger act out.

I was really fond of S&TC, but I kind of overdosed on it while we were doing Naked Josh, which was definitely inspired by S&TC -- the original pitch was "S&TC in college" before we aged it up. And the VO sometimes seemed to stretch the theme more by sleight of hand than actual resonance between the stories.

I think Grey's effort to be a themed show is a bridge too far. I don't feel the show needs it. Certainly not to tie together fatuous observations by Meredith Grey ("love is about choices"!) with life-and-death cases in the trauma ward. It's got to be tying the writers' hands a bit in the A story. (On the other hand they probably have a big bank of interesting medicine, so they may not feel their hands are too tightly tied.) I'm not sure what the theme is adding to the show emotionally or intellectual, other than the audience realizing "oh, I see, they have to choose which patient will die and which will live, and that's like which woman will Dr. McDreamy pick," which throws me right out of the story, anyway. I'm not sure that S&TC always added value by having themes, sometimes the juxtapositions were kinda strained, but at its best the juxtapositions really made you feel you were seeing different sides of the same animal. One of the best themed eps I ever saw was a Hill Street Blues by David Mamet, which was about the different faces of death, if I remember right.

You can go too far, too. On NJ we often had to throw out good stories because our template required all the stories to make the same anthropological point. I think we would have done better to use the theme as a jumping off point -- the way S&TC did -- than to make ourselves a Procrustean bed for stories. I would rather see the different stories argue different sides of the anthropological point -- counterpoint and harmony, not Gregorian chant.

But that's all water under the bridge.

Does that in any way answer your question? Or am I rambling as much as I think I am?

2 Comments:

I'm glad you brought up NJ, Alex, because I've been meaning to ask you a few questions about it. I know you created the show and co-executive produced it with Laura Kosterski (featured in the Fall/Winter 2006 issue of Canadian Screenwriter, which is now on bookstore shelves). You and she also wrote many of the episodes but you left after the first season, right? This was your show but you decided not to strick with it, and now NJ is getting ready for season three without you. I don't get it. Why did you abandon your baby?

By Blogger Kelly J. Compeau, at 3:09 PM  

I'm fairly sure S&TC was written in two acts, and that the act out was Carrie finally articulating the thematic question for that week's column/show. It was soft, and I respected it for that.

Then again, I love those Gilmore Girls (last year as well as the other years, Alex) and I don't think I've ever seen softer bumps anywhere... I can't figure out if the format of the show is a little subversive, or if I just don't care about bumps & act outs because I like the characters so much. I'll watch them do... whatever.

By Blogger Jennica, at 12:48 PM  

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