When the topic of “good” writing for television comes up, I always ask one question: Would you rather watch motivated characters triumph over tragedy, or would you rather witness someone solve a crime or a case? Maybe you enjoy both. Maybe they aren’t mutually exclusive. There really is no correct answer, but in all honesty, all primetime television can be categorized under those two umbrellas. So, why do YOU become invested in a show?
Let’s talk This Is Us for a moment. Hands down the largest hit of the previous primetime season by a significant margin. Why? Well, many would say this: “It’s a show about normal people solving problems.” Sure, you could say that. But actually, I would argue the opposite. It is not simple at all. Dan Fogelman found a refreshing, impactful way to portray how our past experiences influence our ability to walk through life as imperfect humans. No one is simple, and no one is normal. Obesity, insecurity, infidelity, dishonesty, and love – these are elements of struggle that the show tackles. Sure, it’s all fiction. But well-rounded characters that are motivated to make their lives better? That, my friends, is non-fiction. That is clarity. Clarity that we are not alone in this pursuit of happiness.
Lastly, we close with an iconic, critically acclaimed drama that lived 6 years at NBC: Parenthood. No “viewer discretion advised” warning needed. No cliffhangers. No shocking murders. Briefly, let’s name a few storylines: teen pregnancy, Autism, financial troubles, infidelity, family feuding, parenting, and forgiveness. Oh, and when season 4 comes around, we can add breast cancer, career changes, and divorce once you reach Season 5. Many people who might pick crime dramas or case dramas would ask me: “why would you put yourself through Parenthood? Too sad. Why would you want to cry watching TV?” My answer to them was simple: They are tears of clarity. Tears of motivation and empathy. Every single one of us can identify and empathize with one of the themes listed above, and THAT is why we watch. More imperfect examples of people powering through tragedy that might just make you approach yours a little differently.
So, all in all, isn’t that what every writer wants? A story that reminds a reader or audience member that he or she is not alone. A story that provides clarity for someone who needs a friend. A leading character who often mirrors the mistakes we make on our own journey. As Bob Dylan tells us in Parenthood’s theme, “may you always be courageous, stand upright, and be strong.” Yes, Bob, we will do our best.