Q. I recently pitched a pilot about a father and son serving inside an American humanitarian rescue & relief team. The son is more right-wing than his father, and resents his dad for pulling strings to get him transferred out of the Army and onto the team against his will.
People bumped on that. But don’t almost all leads in one-hour dramas find themselves in transition / in a situation they no longer want to be in? Whether it’s the onset of cancer (Breaking Bad, the Big C), being under investigation (The Shield), or a Marshall being transferred out of sexy Miami to backwoods county Tennessee ( Justified), isn’t it the whole point to start off with your character in a place that he doesn’t want to be?
Sure. The problem isn't the son's not wanting to be there. The problem is he doesn't want to be doing something we consider a Good Thing. That makes him a bit of a prick. (Most of us don't devote our lives to other people, but TV is more sentimental.)
On pay cable, your main character can be a prick (CALL ME FITZ, SOPRANOS) or a psychopath (DEXTER, arguably BREAKING BAD). But on broadcast, he can only pretend to be a bastard (LIE TO ME, HOUSE) but is really secretly A Good Guy.
Broadcast can show horrible things. But the good guys have to be Good Guys, and we have to want to wholeheartedly root for them. So you can have torture porn shows like CRIMINAL MINDS, but the cops are pure and good. Meanwhile on pay cable your main character has to be messed up in some way, and preferably despicable.
Needless to say the moral compartmentalization of the TV market is unfortunate for writers and viewers alike, because pay cable is also the natural home of serial narrative. I've got a bunch of serial narrative ideas, but unfortunately their protagonists have some good qualities. Meanwhile when I come up with procedurals, the main character is sometimes a bit of a prick. Neither of these combinations seems to work. It's either despicable people in serial narrative, or pure people in procedurals.
I'm exaggerating to make a point, of course. But not as much as you might think.
Labels: audience, structure