Tuesday, May 1

TV and Me

My name is Jen, and I'm a TV junkie. I wasn't always this way. There was a time (middle school) when I didn't watch much TV at all. For several years, I was the only person on the planet who'd never seen Seinfeild, ER, or Friends. I've still never seen a complete episode of either of the first two. I went from watching Full House and Saved by the Bell to not watching much of anything.

And then my town got The WB. This occurred during my sophomore year of high school, which corresponded with season four of Buffy, season 1 of Roswell, and one of the later high school seasons of Dawson's Creek. About that time, I also started watching reruns of Party of Five and got embarassingly hooked on the Disney Channel, for someone who wasn't, you know, nine. And then there was Gilmore Girls...

In the long run, The WB was my downfall, because watching those teen shows taught me something very important about television: watching it can be a bonding activity. I rarely, if ever, watch TV alone. My best friend from college and I watched all of our shows together, and all of my roommates would gather to watch Grey's Anatomy on Sunday nights. My lab group actually sponsored One Tree Hill marathons, and as an undergrad, I used to go over to the grad students' houses each week for The OC. Actually watching a show is only half the fun- if that.

My freshman year in high school, back when I was no TV girl, I used to tease my friends when I overheard them talking about what had happened the night before on Party of Five, because I'd always come in on the end of conversations, and I'd be convinced they were talking about real people. As a scientist, one of the things I research is the way we view fiction and the relationship between empathizing with fictional characters and empathizing with real people. As a writer, I want to write characters that feel as real and immediate to my readers as the numerous 3-D television characters I've related to over the years. In some respects, those of us who write books have a lot to compete with. You can't actually see our characters. Nuanced emotion has to be put into words, and dialogue that would seem right at home in the Buffyverse might seem cheesy on the written page. At the same time, however, books have an advantage that television doesn't- complete access to the inside of our characters' heads.

As a writer, I've learned a lot from watching television over the years. Season 1 of Veronica Mars is one of the best examples of plotting and story arc I've ever seen; Joss Whedon's Firefly has remarkable characterization, and nobody does the supernatural-as-metaphor better than Buffy. For me, watching TV isn't just a passive process. I'm in a constant state of analyzing the characters, trying to get inside their heads, predicting what's going to happen next, and picking out my favorite pieces of dialogue to smile over at a later date. One of my friends prefers watching me watch television to actually watching the shows himself, because I have a tendency to get really... involved.

This year, I'm living abroad, and therefore missing out on the twelve or so shows I watched religiously last year. My college roommate/partner in TV-watching crime keeps me up to date on some of them; my mom sends me care packages with recorded shows on DVD, and my friends and I watch Heroes on iTunes every week. I also read comics, tear through books, and go to the movies as often as possible. I'm a total fiction addict.

So what are your fiction addictions? And while I'm asking questions, are there any other writers out there who've learned something about their craft by watching TV?

9 comments:

Sara Hantz said...

Jen.... welcome to my world. I LOVE TV and have a huge list of programs I just won't miss.

I watch for pleasure, first and foremost, but watching does help my writing. Especially writing about guys, it's good to listen to the dialogue and watch their actions.

GeminiWisdom said...

Oh, definitely. 21 Jump Street (w/ a young Johnny Depp) shaped my first book and shows like Buffy, Alias, and My So-Called Life shaped the YA series I'm currently working on. I was a HUGE fan of Buffy and Angel. Roswell, too, at first. I lost track right around the time that girl had Max's baby. I used to watch Dawson's Creek, too, before moving on to something else.

Now, it's Smallville, Supernatural, Bones, Heroes, Kyle XY and The 4400. I love writing YA and can't imagine doing anything other genre. I've immersed myself--unknowingly--in the teen culture and there's so much inspiration. y'know?

bevrosenbaum said...

'm down to Heroes and Gilmore Girls (no time!). Let us pray that GG doesn't end this season!
Bev

Jennifer Lynn Barnes said...

Sorry, Bev. Looks like the CW just officially announced the end of Gilmore. I'll miss it- I'm just hoping that somehow, Veronica Mars pulls through. Otherwise, I'm not sure how much I'll even get around to watching the CW.

Gemini, I'm big on Supernatural and The 4400, too (though I haven't seen either of them since last summer, given that I'm abroad this year and can't keep up with many shows). I watched the first couple of seasons of Smallville, but then my older brother (who I used to watch with) left for college, and I lost interest. I really want to get My So-Called Life on DVD... I think I'd like it.

SH- it makes me feel so much better to know that you're a TV fanatic, too. I always watch for pleasure, but then end up analyzing everything after the show's over. Coincidentally enough, I do that tons more now that I blog.

Jessica Burkhart said...

Hi Jen, I'm insanely addicted to Gilmore Girls and get a definite vocabulary builder and pop culture lesson from that show. :) Over the past couple of years, I started watching General Hospital and learned so much about drama and how to keep a story going. TV is certainly great for YA writing.

Simone Elkeles said...

I'm totally into reality televsion, as most people who know mre already know. I don't know what I'd do without TiVo!

~Simone Elkeles
www.simoneelkeles.com

Alyson Noel said...

Hey Jen-
I too am a TV addict. And also like you- I'm constantly looking for the incident incident, the plot twists, etc. I blame Robert McKee, ever since I read STORY (and attended the 3 day seminar) I cannot watch TV or a movie without disecting it!
Euopean TV is funny- I learned how to read Greek by watching old, subtitled episodes of 90210 back when I lived in Mykonos!

alexgirl said...

Um, will you be my best friend? Seriously, reading your post was like looking in a mirror or something! I'm a total TV addict. Fave's include: Buffy, My So Called Life, Felicity, One Tree Hill, Dawson's Creek, Popular, 90210, Veronica Mars... OK, I should stop. I'm sure there are tons more, but it's going to get embarrassing if I just continue to list TV shows! lol! But I wish there were more good teen dramas on. Gilmore Girls is being canceled, OC is gone, all the good ones are kinda boring now... I would LOVE to write for a TV show. That would kick ass.
Great post.

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