This Is Us Research…
I have always loved to watch TV, and read books. Yet both of these activities tend to be tinged with guilt. Probably because, for most of my childhood, whenever I was doing these things, I was avoiding other things I was supposed to be doing, practicing piano, doing my homework, sleeping. As time passed, and I became my own internal mother, it was easy to insert just about anything into the supposed to be slot. Cleaning, arranging my sock drawer, doing my taxes, spending extra time at work.
And when I became a writer, it got even better. Because it’s super easy to counter almost ANY activity with “should be writing,” and get a nice little guilt buzz from it. (At this very moment, as I’m blogging, I’m feeling guilty because I should be writing.) So, even though watching and reading are necessary components to what I do — I’m pretty much hard-wired to feel guilt.
There is, however, a (partial) guilt-loophole. This is, if I go to a meeting, and the producer or executive references a book or a show, then it’s like homework. It’s research. Watching or reading it becomes the thing I should do, which is awesome. I get to read comic-books, young-adult novels and books on eclectic subjects, all without my guilt-alarm ringing!
A couple of weeks ago, in a meeting, someone mentioned that a show I’ve been pitching has structural similarities to This is Us. I’d seen a few episodes early in the season, and — in the context of the conversation, felt like a slacker because I hadn’t kept up. So now, with permission, I launched vigorously into watching the rest… and fell in love. I binged-watched the rest of the season over about three evenings and cried so much I had to go buy a new box of Kleenex to get through the last night.
Part of what makes the show so effective is how it often parcels out emotional bombshells and surprising reveals very lightly in terms of its story-telling. No big set-up or announcement, just a passing reference to something the characters already know but the audience doesn’t. So there’s this tone of, Oh, by the way, did we not mention that… “These people you’ve been watching are siblings.” “This happened in the past, not the present.” “This person is dead.””This person was married.”
These reveals immediately prompt questions that don’t get answered right away — as they discuss in this Variety article.
It’s a really neat trick, and I’m planning to go back and study it when the season ends next week.
I like this quote from the article, where they talk about how the creator pitched the show:
He did say that over the course of time, he would always have those big moments and those big hooks and surprises and reveals, but that they wouldn’t have to be every week because once you’re invested in these characters, a smaller moment could feel as big as those huge moments once you’re totally engrossed in the stories of these characters’ lives and the decisions that they make.
Once you’re invested in the characters, and engrossed in their stories, a smaller moment feels bigger…
3 thoughts on “This Is US… I mean, RESEARCH”
I haven’t seen This is Us yet, but I wonder about how those small reveals compare with something like Mr. Robot or How to Get Away with Murder? Ok. Ok, I just kind of want everyone to see Mr. Robot, I admit:).
I am a Mr. Robot fan as well! I’d have to think about how the reveals are the same or different. Revealing information is cool ways is something common among the shows that hook us, I bet! But what are the different strategies?
Good question! I wonder if it’s in a writer’s guide somewhere. Good topic for the next class you teach:)!