Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Scooby Doo Syndrome

Scott D. Parker

How do you explain the often idiot choices of network television executives to a none year old? Easy. Use Scooby Doo.

My boy has a serious Scooby Doo love right now. With the DVDs we can get from the library, On Demand, the DVDs he got for Christmas, and the ones still playing on TV, there's a constant stream of Doo at our house. Naturally, the boy asks the obvious question: how come all five members of Mystery Inc. Are not in all the different versions of the show? Perceptive lad.

Big fancy answer: because the vicissitudes of a fickle public causes network execs to overanalyze the ratings and make the decision that Something Has To Change.

Short, truthful answer: Because once a formula is successful, it's mimicked by just about everybody else until the original source becomes a cliche so much that it is the one that's changed to catch up with those other shows whose very existence is owned to the original show.

You know what I mean, right? Scooby Doo debuts in 1969 and is a hit. Josie and the Pussycats, Speed Buggy, and others follow. After a few years, SD drops in the ratings because while it was the original, it now appears a cliche compared to all the other pretenders. So what's the executives' natural response? They changed the original by bringing in Special Guest Stars. Now, don't get me wrong: it's kinda cool to see the Mystery Inc. gang teaming up with Batman and Robin, Laurel and Hardy, and their doppelgangers, Josie and the Pussy Cats. But, after awhile, it, too, turned stale. Enter Scrappy-Doo. Exit Fred. And, well, things just went downhill from there.

Here's the irony with the modern versions of the Scooby Doo movies and TV shows: somewhere along the road, the network executives realized that the initial idea didn't need to be tweaked. Thus, you get throwback cartoons with all the modern sensibilities but original concept is firmly in place. The late and lamented "Tom and Jerry Tales" had this concept in spades.

And the fans cheered this nostalgic return to form.

Our mystery and crime entertainment is not immune to this fickle change in attitude. It's everywhere. Let's take "CSI" for example. The CSI shows burst onto the scene to great ratings. If it ain't broke, the executives don't change a thing. Perhaps they've learned their lesson. Until rating start to slide and people complain that it's the same show week in and week out. What's wrong? Quick! Get a new cast member! Stat! Then, just like Fred, original cast members start to leave. The first thing viewers do? Complain that it's not like it used to be. What? But I thought...?

We not-yet-published authors--and the rest of authordom, to be honest--fall into the Scooby Doo trap, too. We chase trends and try to fix things that are not broken. Tell me: how many books are out there about vampires? I don't know, but I've read few of them. But you know there are a good number of authors who bang out novels and stories to try and capture the vampiric zeitgeist. Only many of then will arrive to the party too late. They'll be left standing on the outside looking in, reams of manuscripts crumpled at their feet.

In my own ideas and imaginings, I've tried my best to steer clear of writing something That People Will Love. More than one (all?) writing coach sums up the process of starting a project: write something you would want to read. Recently, my mother gave me a story idea. I liked it, and started running with it. Soon, however, the story started shifting into something more along the lines of what I like. That's natural, you know. Her original concept probably would sell more books. But that's not what drives me to write. And, heck, I'm the writer. I have to entertain myself first.

I appreciate the opening paragraph of Patricia Highsmith's Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction:

The first person you should think of pleasing, in writing a book, is yourself. If you can amuse yourself for the length of time it takes to write a book, the publishers and the readers can and will come later.

I'd like to think so. Do you?

Songs of the Week: American Idol contestants

My wife and I are Idol newbies. This is our first season to watch, and we're digging not only the incredible talent on stage, but the honesty and humility that Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez are bringing to the show. Highlight of this week:
  • Jacon Lusk - "God Bless the Child" - This will blow you away.
  • Tim Halperin & Julie Zorrilla - "Something" - Remember: these are amateurs, they just don't act like it. I wanted the entire song.
  • Casey Abrams - "Georgia On My Mind" - My personal favorite of the bunch, so unique. It's probably the jazz that gets me.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am strongly tempted to watch American Idol to see what it's like but two nights a week puts me off.