Tag Archive for: TV writing

Magnum vs Everybody Else

by Bethany Maines

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 &
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!
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 
from the City of Destiny
. You can also
view the Carrie Mae youtube
video or catch up with her at www.bethanymaines.com.