Monday, July 18, 2011

Idle and Possible Pointless Thoughts on Storytelling and Old TV

So I've been watching old TV shows on YouTube and because I like to try to justify my time-suck activities, I will now draw a comparison between 70s action shows and writing. Ta da!

One thing I notice (besides the crappy music) is the use of copious and lengthy establishing shots. You know, like the camera will linger lovingly over the exterior of a hospital so that you, the viewer knows for damned sure that we're in the hospital now.

The director takes the viewer very gently by the hand and leads you along in this manner. It's quite sweet, actually, but it serves to seriously drag down the action.

Weirdly, though, back in 1976, I didn't notice it. It didn't feel draggy. But now it makes me want to scream. I wonder if this is symptomatic of a general shift in the way we live and think, with information instantly available at our fingertips, with life lived at a faster speed, we expect stories to move along at the same clip. Or maybe we've been trained to accept more abrupt transitions in stories. It's not just in establishing shots, either. In modern TV series, I think the viewer is expected to infer more than in older shows. You have to be able to keep up and fill in blanks on your own.

One thing you notice when you watch these things on YouTube--with the commercials cut out--is that the running time for hour-long series from the sixties and seventies is about eight minutes longer than hour-long series today. So maybe the precise editing is more about expediency than storytelling choices, making room for more commercials to offset increasing production costs.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting and it made me wonder if it's one of the things that drives the current popularity of YA fiction. YA--in general--employs a different pacing than adult fiction, a different focus and highlights different aspects of story. It "cuts to the chase" and maybe in our impatient new world, people are more comfortable with that.

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