Our cable bill is — well, never mind what our cable bill is. Throw in the digital package with 12 HBOs (10 of them in English) and the broadband internet, and all I can say is, I’m glad we’re moving in a couple months. (We got the first seven months of service at a reduced rate.)
On the other hand, what do we watch? Movies and HBO. Tonight in screenwriting class, we briefly discussed the difference between writing for TV and the movies, but we didn’t get too far into the third way — the TV that HBO and other premium-cable channels are remaking, while network TV throws any old reality crapola up there. (Sorry, I still can’t get into “American Idol.”) David Milch, the creator of HBO’s latest series, “Deadwood,” was interviewed in the NYT Sunday, and this is, in part, what he said:
David Milch is at least partly responsible for the cop drama as we know it. As a writer on “Hill Street Blues,” and then a creator of “N.Y.P.D. Blue,” Mr. Milch helped turn a just-the-facts genre into one heavily streaked with racial tension, sexual longing and moral confusion. And yet, at a recent interview in his Upper West Side apartment, Mr. Milch, now 59, spoke with regret about what he and his peers had wrought.
As Mr. Milch describes it, the “secular order” of TV crime-solving satisfies viewers by suggesting that “problems are soluble with enough knowledge, with enough forensics, and with an hour’s time.”
“Every time I want to throw up when I watch one of Dick Wolf’s shows, you know, because everything gets solved so neatly,” said Mr.Milch, who also noted the overly tidy endings of “C.S.I.” on CBS.
Milch echoes what David Chase, the “Sopranos” godfather, said in the same paper a few weeks earlier:
Q: How is “The Sopranos” different from the rest of television?
CHASE: The function of an hour drama is to reassure the American people that it’s O.K. to go out and buy stuff. It’s all about flattering the audience, making them feel as if all the authority figures have our best interests at heart. Doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists: sure, they have their little foibles, some of them are grouchy, but by God, they care.
I just watched the “Deadwood” rerun, and as usually happens, it’s growing on me. The queer dialogue — 19th century speech patterns woven with many Lenny Bruce-style obscenities — put me off at first, but your ear gets used to it, and after a while, you can’t imagine the folks in Deadwood spoke any other way. That’s because you get lost in the characters, who are all at least interesting, which is more than you can say for Lenny Briscoe these days. I started taking a TV writing class this term, and dropped it — too much work, and also because the teacher seemed to believe TV writing is best accomplished by headline-ripping. “As a writer, all you have is story,” she said; the characters belong to the lucky duck who dreamed the show up in the first place. Which is why, after a while, so much series TV starts to stink. You get the infamous Melrose Place Personality Transplant, in which characters start acting like different people from week to week, because the writers decided they needed to drive someone off a cliff this week, so by sweeps they can bring her back with a big scar on her head and a thirst for revenge.
To be sure, “Law & Order” avoids the personality transplant canard — opting instead to just fire and replace — but face it: When you get to the point someone puts up a random plot generator on the web, and it works, you’re way over.
Ahem: The body of a model is discovered in the bad part of town by a blue-collar man on his way to work. Lenny and Curtis initially pin the crime on Matey McYardarm, but after a scam is exposed, they arrest a misguided gang member. McCoy and Kincaid prosecute, but McCoy must deal with an old rival lawyer to win. The old DA looks annoyed and says “Advice is like castor oil, easy to give but dreadful to take.” Tom Selleck guest stars.