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October 31, 2014

TV 101: TV Creators Need to Stop Listening to the Internet

by Jay Black, posted May 20th 2010 11:22AM
Yes, Nikki and Paulo really existed - you didn't imagine this.The Internet very rarely rallies around a single cause (and even when it does, that cause is usually "famous woman in sex tape that I want to see but not pay for"). The last time that I can remember a time when the Internet was truly unified about something that didn't involve nudity was in October of 2006. That was the month that every single person on planet earth decided that they absolutely hated Nikki and Paulo on 'Lost.'

The Internet didn't just spew vitriol about Nikki and Paulo, it fire hosed it like Lardass Hogan at the pie-eating contest. 'Lost' writers couldn't help but notice and in short order something that was supposed to be a multi-episode arc for two new major supporting characters very quickly morphed into one rushed episode and two very gruesome deaths.

As 'Lost' speeds along to the finish line, Nikki and Paulo have been showing up in a lot of retrospectives as one of the show's few mistakes. I agree that Nikki and Paolo incident was a mistake: The writers of 'Lost' should have never listened to the fans on the Internet.

Let's start with some irony: I've been dancing around this column all day because I know that if I don't word it quite right, I'm going to get gutted alive in the comments (like when I said the 'Chuck' flash mobs were dumb). So, to sum: I'm worried about how the Internet will react to my writing about how TV writers shouldn't be worried about how the Internet will react to their writing. Yeah, I'm a d-bag.

But I can't help it. Every single one of your comments gets e-mailed to me and even though each week I promise I won't read them. Of course, when my iPhone buzzes I'm dashing after that feedback like I was Renton diving down the toilet for his drugs. When I'm writing something I know will piss some people off, I brace for an avalanche of negativity.

(Quick side note to illustrate this point: When my article about the 'Jersey Shore' appeared on the AOL front page for eight glorious hours, I was told to "please die" a dozen times. At least they were politely wishing for my death.)

The problem with this is that when you start anticipating negativity, it's hard not to try to avoid getting it in the first place. You start qualifying your opinions, toning down your language, trying to see the other side of things -- all great things if you're building a bipartisan committee or trying to avoid a lecture from Atticus Finch, but terribly boring if you want to entertain people.

If you don't believe me, try listening to the Pat Boone cover of Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' and see if you don't start bleeding from one ear. The former was safe and boring and forgettable, the latter will still melt your eyeballs.

TV producers are people, just like TV bloggers (ahem). That means they're just as susceptible to this aversion to negative feedback as the rest of us.

Before the Internet, the only real interaction a TV producer had with his fans were letters. Fan letters are easy to ignore because of how time consuming it is to write one. Once you factor how hard it is to write something on paper, find the right address, pay for a stamp and then actually mail the thing, you realize that whoever took the time to do all that is obviously insane.

Blogs like this one have made things made fan interaction both easier and more complicated. Instead of the odd Unabomber types writing angry letters, you now have the whole world writing about TV. Consider this: There are literally hundreds of thousands of words being generated each and every week just about our national karaoke contest! But it doesn't stop there -- every show gets written about. You have people who refused to write a 500-word essay about 'Hamlet' in high school immersed in a 12,000-word debate about whether Ellen is as good as Paula or if House's romance with Cuddy makes sense for either character.

For the most part this is a great thing. Fans have a place to congregate and TV producers can't take a week off because even a single sub-par episode will unleash the "Jump the Shark" Kraken all over the Internet.

This feedback becomes a problem, however, when it changes the direction of a show's creative vision. This brings us back to the mistake of Nikki and Paulo.

Nikki and Paulo came into existence because the producers of the show noticed a lot of online complaining about how the other survivors were left out when the main cast was off having its adventures. Then, when the two were introduced in the third season as an answer to that question, the same people who were complaining about the lack of a Nikki and Paulo immediately started complaining about the existence of Nikki and Paulo. Then, when the producers gave the people what they wanted by killing off Nikki and Paulo, the episode was met with scathing reviews.

Here's what we learn from this: People don't know what they want.

So that's why as sites like TV Squad find new and better ways to infinitely slice the pop culture pie, I sincerely hope that not a single TV creator reads or reacts to what we're writing. I want them to follow their vision whether I like that vision or not. As 'Wire' creator David Simon once said: "Forgive me, but the audience is like a small child. If given what they wanted every day, it would be ice cream and cake and seven hours of daytime television."

TV creators should be like our parents: doing their best to provide for us, but not bending to our every need.

Now, having said that, I realize that you, the reader, will all but demand for me to do the logical thing and end on some kind of strained Christina Hendricks breast-feeding analogy. But giving in to that would be kind of missing the point, wouldn't it?

(Jay Black is a writer and comedian who really hopes you enjoy this column. To find out more about Jay or to check out one of his live shows, visit his website at www.jayblackcomedy.net.)

[Follow @jayblackcomedy on Twitter]

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Rock

Writers are egomaniacs. If they all had their way, their work would never get edited. They think they're infallible geniuses, but most of them need fresh opinions from others setting them straight on what's wrong with their work.

You read/hear so often about writers having their scripts gutted by studios into unrecognizable trash. But go online and find first or second drafts of scripts for quality films--they're clearly inferior to the finished product. Hell, even films that aren't very good usually weren't good to begin with.

With TV, you really think there's that much diversity of opinion amongst the writing staff? They'd never get anything done if that were true. As for David Simon--I don't think he's the best mind to turn to on this subject...his claim to fame is making great shows that nobody watches. THE WIRE, TREME, GENERATION KILL...brilliant? Maybe. Combined audience? Good enough to barely be #1 on the CW.

May 21 2010 at 12:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
den

While I hated Nikki and Paulo, I loved their death episode. I thought it was pretty well done.

May 20 2010 at 6:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RI_red

Amen! Lost was ruined by the "fans". This show could have been an amazing show that went on for years and years. Instead it's rushing to answer certain questions at the expense of story consistency and the quality acting and production values that made us love it to begin with.

May 20 2010 at 2:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Z_008

I still love Expose

May 20 2010 at 2:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
malren

"Nikki and Paulo came into existence because the producers of the show noticed a lot of online complaining about how the other survivors were left out when the main cast was off having its adventures. Then, when the two were introduced in the third season as an answer to that question, the same people who were complaining about the lack of a Nikki and Paulo immediately started complaining about the existence of Nikki and Paulo. Then, when the producers gave the people what they wanted by killing off Nikki and Paulo, the episode was met with scathing reviews.

Here's what we learn from this: People don't know what they want."

Straw man much? People hated Nikki & Paulo because they were shoved into the framework and were poorly written. What people wanted was THE OTHER SURVIVORS TO GET SCREEN AND STORY TIME, not to create these two idiots that annoyed the crap out of everyone in both dialogue and performance.

You're flat-out wrong about this one, dude. They were not an answer to fan demand, they were a _mistaken_ answer to fan demand and a mistake that was smartly and quickly rectified.

May 20 2010 at 2:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ben

The writers killed off Nikki and Paolo before the season aired. It's not like they write 2 weeks in advance on a show like that.

May 20 2010 at 1:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hoshiforever

Here's my thing. The audience doesn't know where the arch is going. The audience is meant to see it piecemeal, and sometimes that involves seeing something that they don't like, but it works in the greater context.

Take for instance...the Chuck uproar. When you look at it, the relationships Sarah and Chuck started down, actually made more sense for them than each other. The creators told everyone to simmer down and trust them (not that they had a choice) and guess what?! Ten episodes later our hero and heroine are together.

The writers and producers that let the internet's limited view of the story line and arch are only hurting themselves.

This is part of the reason I'm getting more and more frustrated with shows that do mid-season breaks. B/c while it's all part of the same "season," it gives the writers time to change scripts, films things differently and generally eff up a good thing. Like Glee! The first 13 episodes were great, but they took that break, finished filming the back 9 and everything is 100% different. Obviously, not everything could have stayed the same, but it feels like a different season (like 3-4 years down the line, not 4 months later).

I have more and more respect for people like the makers of Dexter, who make their 12 episodes. Show them 12 weeks back to back and that's it. They stay true to what they want to do, and let the audiences take it or leave it.

(though, for the record, I enjoyed the Nikki and Paulo subplot...it really wasn't important, but it was a nice change...so what do I know).

May 20 2010 at 12:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chrissthomas

Good article Jay. It made me chuckle more than once. From another perspective, I think that the whole internet thing may be similar to letter writers only now lazy, crazy people get to share their opinion. Before it was only the highly motivated crazy people. Opinions are like &*$holes and they all stink, I once hear someone say. You can probably get a million different opinions on that episode and those characters. Personally, I enjoyed that episode. It seemed to me to be an off-the-wall creative episode. I was completely unaware of the "internet controversy" over the episode because I only started watching Lost before season six started. I agree that writers should just do what they think is best for the show without considering opinion too much because there is just far too much opinion out there. If they tried to sift through it, it could be crippling to the creative process.

May 20 2010 at 12:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Richard

They sure seem to listen the networks and ruined many a shows, so why not us the fans????? I am not saying they should do what we ask, but at least see if some of us have a point. Really this is a moot point as most episodes are already written and filmed before the fans even get a chance to say, WOW!! or what was that??? The shows I watch are becomeing fewer and fewer due to awesome first seasons then Networks getting involved and 2nd seasons start to suck or the writting gets stupid. Chuck is an example of this.... This season was not even close to the show I loved and enjoyed.... Better to have lost it than see what it has become... Maybe next season it will improve....

May 20 2010 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robbo

I only have one thing to say: Betty White on SNL. It was the most popular and funniest episode of the season. It was the highest episode in the ratings since 2008.

I think sitcoms and dramas should follow their original plans, but there are a lot of people on the internet who know what they like. If a tv show does something most people dislike, then they should either rectify it or lose ratings.

May 20 2010 at 12:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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