A few weeks ago I picked up a Boxee Box (which is the best thing on earth), and have started to marathon the entire series of The West Wing. Its a series that undoubtedly can be described as one of the best written shows in television’s history, even though some of the stand-alone episodes can, at times, feel empty of emotional arc. The series is at its best when doing multiple-episode arcs that are less about the ‘issue-of-the-week’ and more about the character relationships, but the thing that stands out the most about it is the point of view of the series.
Point of view is one of the most important things that a showrunner can bring to a series. Aaron Sorkin has described the West Wing himself as a bit of his own wishful thinking and every single element of the series reflects that. Every character, every plotline, is about people trying to do their best for the betterment of the world. Its a positive show, and what’s amazing is how this positivity doesn’t detract from the overall conflict and stakes of the series.
Friday Night Lights possesses a very similar point of view. Eric and Tammi Taylor are the heart of the series and through them the audience has the utmost faith in the potential of the kids of Dillon Texas (and thus, the world). I have very little doubt that the series will end with the East Dillon Lion’s winning their State Championship but that doesn’t mean I won’t be on the edge of my seat the entire time. Its about the people involved and the personal journeys along the way. Ultimately, both Jason Katims (showrunner of FNL) and Aaron Sorkin possess the belief that people are mostly good and breathe that message into every aspect their series.
A show that I caught up on last spring, AMC’s wildly popular Breaking Bad, is the exact opposite of this point of view. Cable networks have a tendency to go cynical when it comes to their original series and you can’t get much more negative than Breaking Bad’s second season. Despite how well-written, acted and directed it is, Breaking Bad became a show about terrible, un-redeemable people. It creates a world where everyone is only concerned with themselves and are willing to kill anyone who stands in their way. Yes, its a great show, but bleak as hell and sends a really awful message about the world around us. Vince Gilligan, showrunner of Breaking Bad, is showing audiences a very specific, very bleak, and probably very realistic perspective on the world of meth dealing, but ultimately it is a creative choice that, in some way, reflects his own perspective on the world.
So screenwriters, when you’re creating a pilot script, don’t just consider what the world of your series is, consider how the world of your series is. A strong series has a very specific outlook on the world and a strong showrunner must hold true to that point of view at all costs.