I’ve been watching a lot of Magnum P.I. lately. And two things have become very clear. One, the early 80’s were a time of inappropriately short/tight shorts for men. And as for the second thing, well, it’s a bit like the old joke about intelligence. There are those who can extrapolate from incomplete data and those who… I’ll leave you to figure out the second item that became clear from Magnum’s short-shorts.
Aside from admiring 1980’s Tom Selleck, I’ve also been pondering a shift in TV story-telling style. Compared to today’s TV shows Magnum’s style of bouncing from weekly mystery to weekly mystery with virtually no expansive story line seems almost quaint. These days it seems like every show is pursuing extended plot lines and slow building character themes that reveal a new mastermind villain every season. In fact, it seems like the only ones without a seasonal “Big Bad” these days are the procedurals like Law & Order.
As a writer, I find myself intrigued by this shift. On one hand, this extended long-form way of telling a story, makes for greater character development and deeper story telling –making a TV show more like a novel (or comic book). And I admire the skill and planning it must take to execute so many plot lines at once. On the other hand, the extended story archs make it hard for casual viewers to pop in and out of a series. This kind of barrier to viewing would not have been allowed before Netflix, Hulu and other streaming media allowed viewers to catch up with a show all at once.
I feel this style dichotomy is closely related to what I call the “Sequel Dilemma.” When writing a sequel, do you simply dive into the latest mystery or do you stop to throw in a couple of paragraphs of exposition to catch the reader up on what has happened to our hero/ine thus far? If I were writing Magnum style novels than I pause to tell everyone that my heroine used to be in the military and toss in a bit of back-story. If I’m writing new style (aka Joss Whedon Style) novels then I just dive in and let my readers catch up or read the other novels to fill themselves in. As a matter of personal taste I find that I dislike the three paragraphs of exposition (which doesn’t stop me from loving Magnum – I love Magnum!!), but maybe the TV model doesn’t translate to novels. Maybe if a reader is diving into a story they expect a little exposition to get the ball rolling? What do all of you think?
On a separate note, today is my birthday! And I would like to celebrate by giving a gift to someone. The first person who can tell me the names of the two Dobermans, aka The Lads, on Magnum P.I. will win a free download of The Dragon Incident!
Bethany Maines is the author of Bulletproof Mascara, Compact With the Devil and Supporting the Girls, as well as The Dragon Incident, the first short in her new series Tales from the City of Destiny. You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her at www.bethanymaines.com.