Rae’s talked about it, so hopefully you guys have checked out the amazing “Why We Write” site. At one point some writers were talking about starting a “Why We Watch” companion blog and one of them asked me to jot something down for it. Since it’s not looking like the project is going to happen, I’ve decide to post my essay here instead. In it I talk about one of the main reasons why I watch TV: the writers. Give it a read and then take a minute to tell me why you watch.
Everyone is always talking about how the internet has changed the way we watch television. While this is certainly undeniable (unless you are in the AMPTP apparently), for me the important change wasn’t in how I was viewing my programming—on the network’s website via streaming video, on my computer via iTunes downloads, or on my TV via my internet connected TiVo—but why I was choosing the shows I was watching. I tend to pick shows not based on genre or storyline, but on who is writing them. Thanks to the internet, researching a writers’ career is a simple task and following which writers might be working on which series and which pilots are likely to get picked up is not unlike following a favorite sport. Viewers congregate online to discuss how exciting it is that Who is writing for What and When it’s going to be on opposite Which other series and How likely it is to succeed. We are faithful to the teams behind our favorite shows but when a beloved writer gets “drafted,” we make sure to at least check out his new home.
This fall I watched Chuck because Veronica Mars writer Phil Klemmer worked on it. It certainly didn’t hurt that the creator of The O.C. was an executive producer—I have a soft spot for the Cohen family—but it was my connection to this particular writer that got me through the door. Long before I had seen the pilot I had faith in the quality of the series. If Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedek were hiring Phil Klemmer, they knew what good writing looked like. And if the other writers were anything like Phil, the actors were sure to get hilarious lines to utter and compelling arcs that would develop their characters and their relationships to one another. The actors would read their scripts and be inspired to work that much harder to honor their writers. Everyone from the director to the set designer to the grip to the person photocopying call sheets would step up to the plate. If the writing was good, the show would be good. (And it was. It’s genius.) The script is the first step. It inspires everybody else.
Viewers can tell when everybody behind the scenes is ‘bringing their A game.’ Nielsen ratings tell you how many people are watching, they don’t tell you how many people ran to the internet the second the credits aired. These discussions are less like those had around the water cooler—I mean how long can you actually get away with standing around at work—and more like those found in classrooms and book clubs. Fans of shows with complex mythologies like Heroes, Lost, and Supernatural will work together to understand what they’ve just seen and speculate about what’s to come. To these viewers, television is an interactive sport. Shows that pack emotional punches like Grey’s Anatomy and Brothers & Sisters and shows with high shock value like Weeds and Dexter also drive fans to the net. People want to know if others were as moved as they were. They want to respond to what they’ve just experienced. For me, this communal experience has become as important as the television set. I watch the above named shows because they are rich enough to withstand highly involved somewhat obsessive discussions.
And a favorite topic among online fans is the quality and the consistency of the writing (or lack thereof). TV shows are written by teams of people and picking out the sound of a particular writer’s voice is like solving a puzzle. This game has turned me into a writers’ groupie actually. If a writer speaks to me once, he or she is likely to do it again. Sometimes they do it before I even know what’s happening. A few years ago I was mesmerized by a Dead Like Me marathon on SHOtime. When I learned the show had been canceled I was disappointed but I never thought to look up the creator’s credentials online. I didn’t even bother to memorize his name. This summer a friend suggested I watch Wonderfalls. I not only fell in love with it—the concept, the characters, the dialogue, the performances–I compared it to Dead Like Me in my blog. Later when everyone was buzzing about “Pushing Daisies from the creator of Dead Like Me” I finally looked Bryan Fuller up on IMDb.com. In addition to creating my beloved Wonderfalls, he also wrote my favorite episode of Heroes (1.17: “Company Man”). Not surprisingly, I think Pushing Daisies is the best new show on television and I am deeply concerned about how the AMPTP holdout is going to affect its lifespan. This unique writer finally penned a show 9+ million Nielsen viewers could agree on and it might not live to finish out the season. (Sadly Ned’s gift only exists in the Fullerverse.)
I miss my favorite shows, but I know that without the writers, these shows would have never existed in the first place. I support the WGA in this fight and because the online community has been vocal since Day One, I know I am not the only one. The internet has changed not only how and why we watch television, but how we speak out when we disagree with the decisions the studios and networks are making. If you want to find out more about how you can help end the writers’ strike, visit sites like Fans 4 Writers, The Fan Union, Bring TV Back, and Pencils 2 Media Moguls. Or write your own “Why We Watch” essay and post it on your own blog. (But leave me a link in the comments because if you do that, I want to read it.)