Friday, May 4, 2012

Same Old, Same Old

A few years ago, I learned that there are thirty six basic basic dramatic situations for all literature. They were outlined in a book by Georges Polti. Some purists would argue that there are even fewer. In fact, Heather Mallick wrote an article in the  "Toronto Star" on Sept. 23, 2011, saying there are seven themes for everything. The exact number is irrelevant to me.

I have read novels with plots which seemed all too familiar...the same basic characters, similar scenarios and an outcome with only a minor change, usually in the setting. In fact, I have often picked up a book and found myself wondering whether I had read it before.

Similarly, I believe that this is happening more and more in television programming. I enjoy watching some sports, some comedies, some reality tv, and some dramas. I say "some", not all. Although hubby and tiny dog might dispute this, I am a discriminating viewer. What I appreciate most, is a scripted programme where one of the thirty six dramatic situations is used in a unique way.

Last year, I began watching a new show, "Harry's Law", starring Kathy Bates, a fantastic actor, written by David E. Kelley, a gifted writer. It was about a lawyer...nothing new. She became frustrated with the corporate world and quit her job. After a series of bizarre and humourous mishaps, she opened a small office in a poor area of Cincinnati. At age 62, she began a practice in criminal law in a space which formerly housed a shoe store and still contained much of the inventory. She hired a law associate and an assistant who ran the shoe store to help pay the bills. Her shingle read "Harry's Law and Fine Shoes"...a unique twist on an old premise. As the season progressed, Harry (Bates) helped needy people, gang members and other unusual neighbourhood characters with their legal issues. I was excited for the arrival of the second season.

The second season is here. I no longer look forward to the show. I have no idea what happened or what I missed. Suddenly, a clever little programme turned into a copy of every other legal show ever written. In fact, it is almost a clone of one of Kelley's former series, "Boston Legal". At some point, the small shoe store office became a large firm with noise, clatter, ringing phones and people wandering everywhere. Many characters are identical to the aforementioned show. In fact, a few of the actors are even the same.

What started out as a little office in a shoe store with lawyers who were interested in helping the community, has made a three hundred and sixty degree turn. Poor and needy begone. Perhaps it's just not good t.v., or so is the perception. Maybe it's true. Could it be that the stories were too real? Is it that we don't want to see pain and suffering when we sit down in front of the tube for our evening of relaxation? On the other hand, how does this explain the popularity of all the police dramas and doctor shows?

I think that this particular programme had merit, with just the right amount of absurdity and comedic relief to garner great ratings. It provided the audience with thought provoking issues, while at the same time being entertaining.

So now, I am left wondering. Why is it that some writers resort to a format which is essentially a clone of previous work? Is it because they start running out of ideas? Why do they need to add sex,  violence, greed and shocking events or cliff hangers to get an audience? How much longer will this show last? I suppose it will be on air until the viewers get tired of seeing yet another rehashing of one of the same old plots.

Tonight, they are re-airing the very first episode of "Harry's Law". I think I'll watch. I'll probably enjoy the memory of what the show was and could have been.

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