Monday, March 19, 2007

Something To Do With Death

David Bishop at Vicious Imagery has flagged up an article in Broadcast magazine in which director Jon Sen tries to put his finger on the reason the British viewing public still plumps for US drama over the spate of recent home-grown successes.

Apparently set off on his own to track down the answer after members of an earlier fact-finding mission went over to America and returned with the amazing answer: “they've got more writers and they shoot on 35mm film”. Marvellous.

Sen puts one reason down to American programme makers understanding that their audience is loyal to characters over plot. That may be a sensible answer but I think there is something more to it than that: regular bloodshed.

Flicking idly through the pages of a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly (issue 925 with the Ugly Betty cover to be precise), I came across a brief article about the TV networks’ recent sweeps in the US. Will Dixon can obviously explain this a whole lot better, but the sweeps weeks is when the networks pull out all the stops to grab as big an audience as possible. And it’s all to do with setting advertising revenue for the next year. Or something.

For instance, years ago while The X-Files would spend episodes noodling around with their creature-in-the-crapper scenarios week after week, come the sweeps they’d liberally spunk money all over the production and come up with another big multi-part instalment of their ongoing illogical alien invasion saga. This year the dramas from CBS opted for a ratcheted up body count.

Ignoring the episode synopses – because they won’t have played over here yet – during February sweeps The Unit came out top with a body count of 63. Criminal Minds, starring Mandy Patinkin, racked up a reasonably impressive 32 bodies. Cold Case came third with 17, closely followed by CSI: Crime Scene Investigation with 16.

With CSI:NY, CSI: Miami, NCIS, Numb3ers, Ghost Whisperer (no observations about shooting your load any week of the year permitted), Close to Home, Shark and Without a Trace getting in on the act, the total number of homicides amounted to 191! (The report happens to mention, for anyone wondering about these things, that the total of actual homicides in Los Angeles and New York so far this year only comes to 112).

We know that over here the likes of Waking the Dead live for regular, gruesome deaths, and the abiding colour scheme of Messiah is claret. But writers should go that one step further by taking, say, the thermometer out of the nurse’s hand in Holby City and replacing it with a Sig Sauer SP2022.

In fact, for full bullet-blasting action, liberally hand out the Heckler & Hocks across the whole schedules. (Blunderbusses, of course, for the period dramas). We may even find out that there really is a place in a man’s head that if shot will blow up.

To make full use of this post’s title, the new mantra should be: When in doubt, go Sergio! Lock and load!


At 6:09 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

Death sells...wish it was sex sells (and it does, just not so much on network tv), but death sells.


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