Last year was a year of self-discovery and important realizations – It was also a year of almost too much TV watching. Seriously, I watched so much TV last year that after a point I began to see things. Don’t worry – I haven’t completely lost it yet. I meant that I started to see patterns. I started to see that almost all TV shows are comprised of the same old plot devices with slightly differing variations.
Now let me go ahead and share with you – the anatomy of a hit TV show.
- We begin with an interesting context and a protagonist we can all root for. We need a good context that can base our story on because that’s really the only thing that sets our story apart. The protagonist is also equally important because they’re the anchors of the story and typically the people cast in these roles are well known actors who are likely to draw the audience in.
- Now we add in the first and most important plot device – star crossed lovers. These couples (and we need around 3-4 per show) are MFEO but they take seasons and seasons to get their stuff together. Meanwhile suckers like me will tune in every week to see if they’re finally together. I swear I will stop watching Nashville if Deacon and Rayna aren’t finally together next week. (or so I tell myself!) The reason we need a few of these couples per show is because when the main couple is finally together and therefore boring we need a new couple to add spice, drama and sexual tension.
- Where we have couples, we have to have infidelity. Most of these couples will criss-cross and cheat with impunity . The way to spot an upcoming transgression in the plot is when unlikely characters exhibit unusual, un-explained and sudden chemistry. We can also predict such behavior when said characters get together and drink too much for their own good. The transgressions are good plot devices because they take the story in new directions (as break ups always tend to do).
- Where we have infidelity, we have unwanted pregnancies (typically from a single sexual encounter) and illegitimate children. If a lead character’s story seems less than fulfilling then give him an illegitimate child who suddenly shows up or make someone pregnant. For added effect, make someone cheat and then get pregnant which means a few additional episodes can be devoted to the big question on everyone’s mind – “Well, whose is it???!!!”.
- Next, we’ll give some of these characters their very own deep, dark secret. Maybe it’s a murder they committed, maybe they’re running away from their past like Don Draper, maybe it’s an unwanted pregnancy like in #4 above or maybe it’s their sexual orientation – the possibilities are endless. Once one secret is out in the open, a new secret takes over and gives us new reasons to tune in to the show.
- There’s so many more plot devices I can think of but I’ll end with the most convenient one – sudden death. When they fail to grab the ratings or when they refuse to renew their contract – just kill ‘em. These sudden deaths will get people talking, tweeting and sometimes making reaction videos on YouTube – all great publicity for the show.
Maybe you already know all this and that’s why you don’t watch TV. If so, congratulations to you because despite knowing what I know now, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to quit watching TV. Zoning out in front of the TV (preferably with a bag of sweet and salty snacks) is a family trait that’s deeply embedded in my genes and unlikely to be kicked off anytime in the near future. So wish me luck as I wait for next week’s episode of Nashville – Deacon and Rayna better bring it!
Photo Credit – https://unsplash.com/@sveninho