Friday, June 18, 2010


by Pat (now going by Patricia) Gulley

Laurissa’s blog last week got me thinking about this business of seeing the same plot used by several TV shows all within a week or two of each other. I’ve seen this for years and have wondered about it. Is it all the same writers using pseudonyms writing all the shows? Is it one writer coming up with an outline and a slew of contract writers coming up with the variations? Where have we heard that idea before? Oh yeah, quite a few Best Selling Authors of Crime Fiction. Or do they all get together over a beer and decide on a concept, feeling it is currently a newsworthy item and the great unwashed will benefit from them putting it up in several places to be viewed from different perspectives?

That last question leaves me in major doubt of such altruistic concerns. Production companies, movies or TV, are focused on one thing: making barrels of money. Yes, barrels, because well liked, minor money makers are considered failures and TV networks cancel them with little or no concern for the write-ins to save them. Okay, once in a while another network might take the show up. Stargate is an example going from Showtime to the SF channel, and SF did very well with it. Or should we be saying SyFy? (Comment-barf).

Sure we hear about independents who want to make great films about important things, but the problem there is: by whose standards is it important or great? So they take a whack at it, and that’s why movie rental companies will always have a slew of movies 85% of which are duds.

Okay, that all sounds like digs, so getting to the heart of the matter, there are no new plot ideas. There are concepts (as Jenny pointed out) and plot and character driven ideas will make them new and exciting and create something to care about. If you like a show’s characters, and they try to handle that ‘same old dreary concept’ then it will be more interesting because we like the character.

Long thoughtful think about that………And, sorry to sound negative, but I’m afraid that more often then not, that leads to something else that has surprised me of late. A show I loved from the start, watched faithfully, couldn’t wait for the new season to start, and suddenly realize that I couldn’t care less anymore. What happened? Well, the concepts have been seen a dozen times before, the plot and twist variations weren’t that different or exciting and the character seemed to be going through the motions with a lot of false outrage not in keeping with the protagonist’s original character. And we won’t go into the fact that over a couple of seasons we don’t really have that character anymore, we have a new version reflecting the persona of the actor. It just becomes wearisome.

As I replied to Laurissa, one has to wonder if publishers or film producers really want new ideas. They claim they do, but it is risky. Tried and true works for them in overworked plots and concepts, or remakes. But if you really do have a desire to come up with something new, again I say, try reversing the overworked concept. If aliens and alien invasions are the overworked concept with millions of plot variations, then try for humans are the original molecule of intelligent life in the universe. It will have to be as exciting as inventing a new world of intelligent aliens and heroes for a never-ending war with humans. I’ve talked this over with a few SF nuts, like me, and it never went anywhere. We couldn’t produce an interesting story line; it seems more like reporting on efforts and progress, with a lot of unfulfilled hope. Or, they always led to ‘Millions of years later, when all hope had been extinguished, and humans had evolved into so many other variations, war broke out……Or, billions of years later, when humans had populated a few million galaxies, another intelligence was found and war broke out soon after. Okay, we didn’t exactly put major effort into this, and maybe a better writer could think of something, but it was considered an uninteresting story line. On the other hand, it someone did write an interesting story and it was well received, what do you want to bet…..well you get the picture.

So if you did truly come up with something new, I mean Brand new, (I’ll bet you’d be exhausted) do you think you could sell it? Truly good salesmanship is required to get something new out there, and if you don’t have the heart for that then I guess you need an agent that does. And getting an agent, I’m sure, is fodder for another blog.

Comments, please!!!!


Martha Reed said...

Hi, Patricia. Great blog post - I've noticed that too, sometime with titles - and I know that's marketing but remember when suddenly we had two or three movies about magicians (like The Prestige) all come out within weeks of each other?

I couldn't help thinking at the time that some writer had made their pitch to a studio and been rejected and then the studio decided to hire another writer to come up with a screenplay. Not quite plagiarism, is it since you can't plagiarize an idea? Or perhaps the same writer pitched the same genesis idea to different studios and collected more than one paycheck? How's that for multi-tasking?

Joyce Tremel said...

There really aren't any entirely new ideas. It's all in the execution.

I think many TV show writers get their ideas from news stories--that's why so many of them (especially crime dramas) are so similar.

Laurissa said...


Great post!Well said. I've wondered exactly the same thing about whether or not it's the same writer, writing for two different shows.

Also, you make a good point about whether or not truly unique ideas are actually desired by producers.

Lately it seems like if one "spy show" is doing good in the ratings then the production companies decide to give the viewing audience three or four spy shows/movies to the point where the audience (meaning,me lol) becomes bored with spy themes.

Gina said...

Pat(ricia) -
There are no new ideas. Almost every plot has already shown up in the work of Shakespeare or the Bible. What passes for new is a often just an unusual combination of old ideas. Anne Rice broke new ground with Interview With the Vampire. Angst-ridden Louis was a far cry from the clearly evil Dracula and Nosferatu. Neither vampires nor soul-searching were new, only the combination, and now vampires are everywhere you look, even being portrayed as good guys. Witness the Cullens. George Romero took zombies -- up till then just animated corpses who stomped around looking stiff -- and made them into cannibals. Neither zombies nor cannibals were new, but the combination sparked a whole genre of low-budget horror flicks, and everyone now assumes zombies have always eaten human flesh.

Joyce Tremel said...

Gina, you should have mentioned that you were actually a Zombie in a George Romero movie!

Gina said...

Joyce -
Will I never live that down?
Actually, it was a lot of fun being a zombie, one of the high points of my "movie career."

Patg said...

Wow a movie career, Gina. Hey, just to have it to hand down to your grandkids is a hoot.
Yes, ideas demand variations, and since vampires came up, I'd like to say that even though I watch them all on TV, the notion that a 90 or 150 year old vampire could love a teenager is the biggest imagination stretch existing today.
Oh well.

Jenna said...

A lot of the crime shows on TV get their ideas from life - 'ripped from the headlines' - so I guess maybe that accounts for some of the overlap. Something happens out here in the real world, several script-writers run with the idea, and four months later, we're watching shows with the same theme. Other than that, I have no idea.

As for coming up with a truly novel idea (no pun intended), I'm not sure that's possible. It's all out there somewhere. It's the combination of things that is fresh and new. Take Harry Potter. Classic concept, pretty much biblical, but the way JK Rowling put it together was brilliant, and brand new, at least at the time. Sure, there'd been fantasy books before, and too many bad copies after, but right then, it was fresh and different. That said, I don't think publishers in general are looking for anything too different. They want the same thing that they know they can sell, but with enough of a twist that it isn't exactly like anything else they're already publishing. And it's a slim line to have to walk. So easy to topple over into cliché...

Anonymous said...

Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap. That is the sound of Pat hitting the nail on the head again.

Living in the shadow of "the industry" I know there are writers out their with interesting and exciting ideas, it is the clueless with the pocket strings that don't allow these writers the opportunity to expose ideas and characters. Same old, same old is safe. SOS.

Jo P

jeane daly said...

Hi Patricia
I agree with you. Two good examples are the Mentalist and Castle. Even the main characters are quite similiar, witty, charming, and have all the answers. It's bad enough there almost carbon copies, but now their reruns are barking at our heels.
Jeane Daly