Scott D. Parker
You ever wonder why "The Wire" aired on HBO? Can you even imagine that show as a mainstream network television program? Nah, me neither. But here's the thing: I enjoy both.
I'm no expert, but The Wire seems to be the closest thing to real police work done on film. This past week, in doing research for my current book, I interviewed an HPD officer. I mentioned The Wire. Sure, he'd seen it and confirmed, in his opinion, that it was pretty close to the real thing. I asked him about jurisdictional tension--with HPD and among other organizations--and he pretty much confirmed what you see on TV: different departments get into a pissing contest at the drop of a hat.
For as engrossing as The Wire is, writing a novel or filming a TV show or movie that shows actual police as it's really done would be bo-ring. The officer kind of agreed with that, too, as I laid out my ideas for my story. Thus, you have to make cop stories filled with tension and excitement. Naturally, you veer off from the real to the fictional, from true sensibilities to the mainstream.
Is that a bad thing? I say no. A. Lee Martinez, SF author, wrote a piece yesterday in which he said that superhero comic books could learn a thing or two from superhero movies. The movies, Martinez wrote, have to appeal to a mainstream audience while the comics need only appeal to the "choir," er, comic book readers. It's rare when a comic book makes the mainstream news. It's usually for big events--death of a character (Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man)--or something like the upcoming relaunch of the DC titles. The general public might buy the one issue, but they likely won't return the following month. Why? I think comics have become too niche.
Same is true for crime stories, print and otherwise. The Wire, for all its accolades, is a rare tale that is true to its source material and beloved by critics. There are a lot of viewers who liked the show, but, of all the folks I know, only two have seen it. I don't think it's a good mainstream type show. It's niche.
There's nothing wrong with mainstream if you know what it is. The Wire was brilliant. My favorite TV show now? "Castle." The finale last season had me riveted. Same for "CSI: Miami." I enjoyed "Body of Proof" and "Harry's Law" and will return for a new season. The original "CSI" is getting a face lift by way of Ted Danson. I watched CSI from the get-go, but faded away last season. I didn't like the turn the show took. Wasn't to my liking. Now, with Danson, I'll give it another look. Some folks are grumbling that CSI is getting too light. Hey. That may be what is necessary to get more viewers.
I enjoy mainstream shows. How, might you ask? I turn off my brain. True, I'll comment on something if it's really egregious or predict a plot point a half hour ahead of time, but I try not to do that too much. My wife prefers it that way. It ruins the enjoyment of what's being presented: a nice slice of mainstream pie.
We writers get our ideas from all over the place. And we truly never turn our writer brains off completely. But said brains get in the way sometimes. Yes, David Caruso delivering his lines is cheesy. Yes, James Patterson's books tend to be the same kind of story over and over again (so I've heard). But that's the way mainstream is. We can accept it, or just get mad at it. The problem with getting mad is that we become more niche.
Does anyone else want a slice of pie?
Book of the Week: The Gentlemen's Hour by Don Winslow. I just started this sequel to The Dawn Patrol (my favorite book from 2008) and am immediately loving it. The lingo, the vibe of Southern California permeates every word in this book, and it makes me want to return to San Diego. That's out of the cards, but a return to the companionship of Boone Daniels and his buddies is money.