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Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Sound of Silence

So this is one of those blogs that isn't necessarily inspired by something I saw on soaps this week. It's something I've kept tucked away in the back of my mind for awhile now, but recent events in my life brought it to the forefront this week (more on that later).

And before I continue, I know that a lot of writers I used to work with read my blog, so please know before you continue that this is not aimed at any one writer, or any one show directly. It's just an observation of the genre as a whole.

Which brings me to my point...


(insert giant sigh of exhaustion here)

This is the cross every soap writer must bear. We can never truly write scenes or dialogue in the most natural of ways, because there's always a network executive whispering in our ear "But what if I didn't see yesterday's episode? How will I know what's going on?"

I totally get that. I really do. It's one of those things you wish didn't exist, but unfortunately, it's the double-edged sword we have to live with. There's the argument that if you don't recap the last five episodes in your dialogue, then that forces people to tune in every day, as opposed to only on Fridays or during Sweeps. Then again, there's the other argument that you want to capture new viewers, and by not recapping the details of the last five episodes, you make it difficult to draw new viewers in. So either you sit through half a scene of exposition and risk alienating viewers who don't want to be talked down to... or you don't, and risk losing viewers who tune in for the first time and might potentially tune in again if it wasn't so damn confusing to keep track of who's sleeping with whom. Either way, we, as writers, have to find a way to somehow, as organically as possibly, recap everything that's already transpired.

So we have to do it. It's the way soaps have always been, it's the way they probably always will be.

But I think at some point, we went too far (and I include my own contributions in this as well)

Recapping previous episodes, at some point, turned into characters talking to themselves in order to explain their actions. And characters talking to themselves (and to other people) suddenly turned into scenes that so full of words, so full of explanation, there's no room for reaction... the only time we ever don't have words is the obligatory "Final Act Music Montage", when an affordable B-side of a hot single is used to enhance the mood.

I think that's part of the reason I loved that episode of Y&R a few weeks ago (the one I blogged about)... so much of its strength was in what wasn't said. The script writer knew that sometimes, you don't need that over-written moment. Don't get me wrong - I'm an over-writer by nature... can't you tell by my blog? But sometimes the sign of an excellent script writer is what they choose not to write. As cliché as it is, silence does speak volumes. And maybe we should give our actors room to explore their quieter sides as well.

In last week's Mad Men, uber-secretary and sex-on-a-stick Joan fired an underling. (played delightfully suspiciously by Peyton List! Congrats, Peyt!) Said underling then went over Joan's head and poured out her sob story over getting fired to Joan's boss… who promptly hired her back (mainly so he could continue to watch her "assets" at the office) by telling her to come back on Monday - Joan will be over it by then. Come Monday morning, Joan was at the other end of the office - when she saw the fired secretary at her desk. With a smile that would melt butter, she made her long, slow strut towards the desk… and when she got there, the smile morphed into barely contained rage as she said "What in God's Green Earth are you doing here?!" in a tone that I'm surprised didn't kill the poor girl.

That one line of dialogue is not a mind-numbingly original line that will blow you out of the water. But the silence as Joan walked across the office to confront her rival… the slow simmering of her rage underneath her office-cordial grin… it spoke VOLUMES. I wish we had the opportunity to give more of that to our actors. Moments they can savor, where they can explore their character, without a Top 40 song playing, or forced to talk to thin air as they explain what they're thinking.

My parents are moving next week… they finally sold the house that I grew up in. I'm heading back there this weekend to say good-bye to the home I learned to walk and talk in, the home I learned to read in, the home I graduated middle school and high school in, the home I returned to when my first bout with college didn't work out the way I had hoped… in short, this place holds all sorts of memories. Both good and bad. It's definitely the end of an era, and I'm sure I'll end up reliving every one of those moments in a span of eight hours as I say goodbye for the last time. Something tells me I won't need to talk about it though. I won't need to explain myself. I'll travel from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, without a word. It'll all be right there on my face.

That's the way life is. It's a shame we have so few of those moments in our soaps. It's those moments that really make us connect with a character. It's those moments that consider them our family. It's those moments that caused so many of us to think of them as "home".

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