TV and the bad writing epidemic

A few days ago,  via twitter,  I saw an article showing a letter that David Mamet wrote for the writers of the Unit, which serves as a master class on good writing for film and television.  You can see the article here.

There are little gems here like:

– Any time two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of shit.

– Any time any character is saying to another “as you know”, that is, telling another character what you, the writer, need the audience to know, the scene is a crock of shit.

– Remember you are writing for a visual medium. most television writing, ours included, sounds like radio. the camera can do the explaining for you. let it.

This is great stuff.

After reading this article, I watched a couple of the shows that I watch regularly: Flash Forward and V.  Both of these shows I’ve been watching not because I find them particularly gripping, but rather because I want them to be good television (also, I admit to watching V because of my fond memories of the 80s miniseries).

Unfortunately, both shows fall victim to the very things that Mamet is warning against.  I have often watched an episode and thought to myself “something is bothering me about this scene” but not been able to put into words what was not working.  Mamet’s words point out exactly what is wrong.  Both of these shows could do with a good read of the Mamet letter in question.  In fact, pretty much every TV drama writer should read over Mamet’s letter and take it to heart.  The shows will be better for it.

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