I watched the second-season debut of Magic City, a Miami-based, 1960’s-set drama, on Starz this past week. I was somewhat disappointed with its slow start, yet still excited that this wild show is back. But it makes me wonder, what is it about the shows on premium channels that draw us in?
Most of them have a formula:
· Excessive violence
· Likeable characters amidst illegal activity
· Healthy serving of gratuitous nudity
· Good writing and creative plot twists
These shows have to be excellent because they inspire viewers to keep paying for the channels they air on. If they don’t hook a certain number of people in, they vanish.
I date the current formula to The Sopranos. The HBO original show broke ground for TV in its day and now seems to be the norm for envelope-pushing shows like Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, and Magic City. Others, like Weeds, Nurse Jackie, and Californication, use humor to explore the dark side of humans – as well as other devices such as sex and/or violence.
Is it because most people’s lives do not consist of the quantity nor quality of sex and violence depicted on these shows that makes people tune in – or is it the humanization of people we’d otherwise not like that makes us watch? Nurse Jackie is a drug-popping, cheating, ethics-violating, murdering nurse. Dexter is a serial-killing cop. Weeds features a drug-dealing, murdering suburban soccer mom. Magic City is about a hotel owner in bed with a sadistic Mafia front man. All of these people would be in jail or divorced or banished in real life, but we embrace them in our living rooms.
Fiction is supposed to supplement the reality we can’t have, to fill in the gaps of what we dare not do. We want to see the other side of life, but not get dirty or risk injury. We’re all voyeurs in the train-wreck lives of others. We want to be the womanizer, the all-powerful gangster, the witty heroine, the smooth-talker, and the law-bender out for justice. These shows should serve as models for today’s novelist.
The more that authors can write about the things people never truly get to experience first-hand but in some, perverse way desire, the more readers they will have. We can’t all write about criminals having kinky affairs, but writers would serve their careers well to infuse their writings with what these premium channels serve up.
The world offers many landscapes to paint a picture. TV shows – and books -- have many story lines waiting to be told. For instance, rather than focus on the Mafia, start putting a lens on hackers and identity thieves. There must be a nonviolent story waiting to be told about the tech criminals out there. Or maybe we highlight an unheralded blue-collar worker, such as a school janitor or an immigrant landscaper. Perhaps these stories should be set in places we never hear about, like South Dakota, Kentucky, or Kansas City. I think going overseas would add color to a story. And instead of following white people behaving badly, lets’ open it up to Latinos or Asians.
Maybe there will be a teenage or senior version of an existing show/book. Could we have a high school cast doing The Sopranos or a geriatric take on Californication? The possibilities and permutations seem endless.
I know I’ll tune in to the next episode of Magic City, because it still gives me something I can’t have in my real life. It manages to come close enough to reality while cushioning me against its depictions of the immoral, illegal, and improbable. I will root for the sadistic character, Ben Diamond, because in my reality he’s the last guy I would champion. But these shows allow us to turn the world upside down and find it acceptable to root for the villain.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This blog is copyrighted material by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2013
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