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Sunday, December 16, 2007

We finally caught up with THE TUDORS on DVD. We had given up in frustration halfway through the season on the CBC. The plot lines didn't make any sense. Fine scenes, fine acting, utter confusion from scene to scene. I surmised that in cutting down the episodes from BBC length to CBC length -- let us say from 52 minutes to 44 minutes, though I can't vouch for the exact timings -- something important had got lost.

Well, now we know. THE TUDORS is very fine television on DVD. The episodes make perfect sense. The pacing is good too. Nothing jars. The episode we watched tonight built up to a satisfactory emotional climax. It was an entirely different show than the hacked-up episode we watched last month.

I'd love to talk with whoever edited this down, or whoever ordered her to do it this way, and ask why the CBC version was edited as it was.

When you have to cut down a complicated episode, the first thing you do is find the D story, if there is one. That's the least important story, the one that has few ramifications for the A story, and doesn't reflect theme. Cut that. There's most of your time savings.

A full hour show can have a D story. A 45 minute show probably shouldn't. Simple as that.

There is an obvious choice in episode 5. There's a plotline where a minor character goes off and has a gay affair with an episodic character, introduced for no reason I can make out except that someone wanted to bring teh gay. The entire plotline could have been cut with no damage to Henry's romance with Anne Boleyn or the the power politics, which are after all the point of making a show about Harry VIII.

If you need more savings, try to find some pageantry that can go. And sex scenes that go on longer than needed for story. Spectacle of any kind can go. Sure, it's production value. But the audience is tuning in for a story.

Whoever recut THE TUDORS (or ordered the actual editor how to recut it) got it exactly wrong, I feel. He started by trimming a little bit from all the scenes, throwing all the pacing off. He cut scene buttons. He cut key character moments. He left in the spectacle, the sex, the pageantry and teh entire gratuitous gay plot line.

And so, the episodes on CBC feel folded, spindled and mutilated. To the point where I actually fell asleep in the middle of one.

I'm going to take a wild guess that no writer was involved in the re-editing of these episodes. Which is a shame.

So how do you write for a series that you know is going to be cut down?

Simple. Almost any full-hour show you might right for, whether for the Beeb or for pay cable, has multiple story lines. Just make sure that the D story fits nicely on the plastic. Make sure that its connections with the other stories are thematic, rather than plot. Don't put any crucial information in the D story. That way when you have to kill it, you don't get blood on your carpet.

Make sure that whoever's re-editing the episodes knows what you have done.

If you can't be bothered -- say you are writing SOPRANOS for HBO, and you are more worried about groundbreaking TV than what it might look like re-edited and re-aired for a conventional network -- then make darn sure that at least one of the original writing staff, and ideally the showrunner, is present for the re-editing sessions.

Somehow I don't think that happened here.

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You'll probably have heard that a similar showkilling editing job was performed on ROME for airing in the UK, where the three opening episodes were recut to make two. Both pacing and clarity were lost, and we were disinclined to stick with it until a friend urged us to borrow his discs of the original cut.

I once worked on a show where I was assigned the feature-length Christmas special and had to plot it in such a way that it could be recut for export sale as a one-hour, non-Christmas-themed regular episode. That was fun.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 4:41 AM  

Cut sex scenes???????


By Blogger Lucy V, at 11:07 AM  

Lucy, I think you might need to get out a bit more! ;-)

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 11:15 AM  

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