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Who’d you rather? Jon Snow or Jack Pearson?

It’s the goal of every producer in Hollywood, the dream of everyone who’s ever had an idea for a TV show – to not only create a hit show. No no. Creating a hit show is easy. But to create a WATER COOLER show – the kind of show that’s so good, so exciting, so twisty-and-turny, that people MUST talk about it the next day. Let’s list some of these shows.

But before we do, let me put the needle on the record of some Barry White. Get a good vibe going. Oh yeah, can you hear Barry? I can. Okay, let’s get to that list…

Lost

Breaking Bad

True Detective

Walking Dead

Game of Thrones

This Is Us—

SCRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATCH

I’m sorry. Run that last show by me again. This is Us??? A show about family with no dragons, no drug dealers, no serial killers, no zombies, and no Others. The show is just about… people? How did a show that ONLY explores interpersonal relationships become so addictive? And what can we learn from it that we can apply to our own TV writing?

Water cooler shows used to be common. That’s because only 30 shows aired a week and even the lowest rated shows did better than the highest rated shows today. Everybody was watching the same stuff so, chances were, you’d want to discuss the latest episode of Seinfeld with your co-worker the next day. Today, with 300+ shows a week to choose from, everybody can pick their own little weird show to watch. And that means writing a show that a lot of people watch and that generates widespread discussion has become almost impossible.

Every network wants the next Game of Thrones but what does that even mean? You can’t just make another swords and sandals dragon show or else it looks like a cheap version of Game of Thrones. The same thing happened when Lost was big. Everyone wanted the next Lost. But you couldn’t replicate Lost. It was too unique.

Enter “This is Us,” the most unlikely water cooler show of them all. And maybe that’s our first lesson of the day. Whenever there’s a mega-hit show, the collective industry response is to try and copy it. But what you’d be better off doing is finding something that’s the opposite, which is what This is Us is.

But that doesn’t explain how this show got so buzzy. Once again, the show relies solely on internal and external character conflict to drive episodes. So how can it possibly compete with a show that spends 25 million on movie-level battles every other other week, or kills off multiple beloved characters in a singular blood-curdling wedding? It seems impossible.

For those who haven’t seen This is Us, go watch the pilot right now. I’m serious. Stop reading this and watch the pilot, because it’s one of the best written episodes of television ever. Also, it’s impossible to talk about the show without indirectly spoiling the pilot. And I need to get into the pilot to explain why this show is so buzzy. Okay, did you watch it? Are you sure? Cause every sentence going forward is a spoiler. You’ve been warned!

For those who don’t have the time, This is Us follows “triplets” Kevin, Kate, and Randall Pearson. Kevin is a handsome successful sitcom actor who decides to quit his show to pursue theater in New York. Kate is his extremely obese manager whose entire life revolves around trying to lose weight. And Randall, who is black and was adopted by the same parents of Kate and Kevin, is an extremely smart and successful businessman with a great family.

The show, however, doesn’t just cover the triplets in the present day. Half of every episode is dedicated to 30 years ago, where we show their parents, Jack and Rebecca Pearson, going through the struggles of being a young couple trying to raise three kids.

There is one more major plotline, which is that Randall seeks out his biological father, William, who left him at a fire station that night that Jack and Rebecca adopted him. Randall learns that William is dying, and extends an invitation to move in with him and his family, where he learns about William’s unique life as a struggling artist/addict.

thisisuspresstour

Okay, now that we’ve got the basics, let’s get to why this show, which, once again, is just about people, is able to compete on the same buzzworthy plane as Game of Thrones. We’ll start with the number one reason, which I’m guessing nobody here picked up on. If you did, kudos to you. Cause it took me awhile to figure it out.

This Is Us’s PAST-PRESENT structure allows it to introduce sexier twists and turns than your average character-based show.

Case in point: The pilot. This is Us hides the fact, with clever directing, that Jack and Rebecca’s storyline – they’re at the hospital about to have triplets – is happening in the past. It also hides the fact that Randall, who’s black, is in any way related to Kevin and Kate. This allows them to throw a quadruple-whopper at us in the pilot’s climax. Jack and Rebecca’s storyline is set in the past, one of their triplets dies during birth, Jack and Rebecca decide to adopt Randall, who was dropped off to the hospital during delivery, which, of course, means that Kevin, Kate, and Randall are all siblings in the present. Wow! Now that’s writing.

However, even after the gig is up on the hidden past storyline, This is Us still uses it to deliver dose after dose of surprises. For example, at the end of the second episode, Randall, Kate, and Kevin’s parents stop by the house. “Grandpa and Grandpa are here!” Randall’s daughters excitedly yell. We open the door to see Rebecca…. but she’s not with Jack. She’s with Jack’s best friend. Cut to black. End of episode. WTF. This is a twist you can only pull off inside of this unique PAST-PRESENT format. And This is Us goes back to that well again and again (mostly to success, but not always).

It’s funny, when I looked up at my list of water cooler shows, I noticed there are two others that use this exact same format – Lost and True Detective. So there’s obviously something writers have discovered that’s like this little miracle worker for twists. Nobody had figured out how to do that for a character-driven show yet, though. So kudos to Dan Fogelman, the creator of This is Us, for doing so.

From there, This is Us utilizes good old fashioned solid-writing to make sure you love it. In television, your primary job in the pilot is to make us either a) fall in love with or b) be intrigued by each and every character. If you can accomplish that, it’s an investment that pays dividends for a loooong time. We’ll endure some bad episodes if you’ve given us characters we love. And This is Us has some bad episodes. But I don’t care. Because I want to see if Kate’s going to prioritize her relationship over her eating issues, if Kevin ends up with the playwright, or how Will, the biological father dying from cancer, is holding up.

This is Us also utilizes a cheap, but effective, tool for keeping its show buzzworthy. It’s not afraid to kill people. Or, when it isn’t killing people, it’s coming damn close to it. When you look at all those buzzworthy shows – Walking Dead, Game of Thrones – they love to kill off characters. And look at the time tested TV genres – cop shows, medical shows – death is basically built into their DNA. This is Us understands that just having a bunch of people lollygagging around, sharing jokes, isn’t enough. There had to be the threat of death hanging over each episode to give the show weight and generate discussion.

In closing, let me offer you some TV writing advice. And this extends to the feature world as well. I have no problem with writers capitalizing on trends. If you’ve got a Game of Thrones like show that takes place in a completely different setting and feels new and fresh, that’s a powerful marketing tool for you when you go out and pitch it. “I’ve got the next Game Of Thrones” does perk up some ears. However, remember that TV producers hear “I’ve got the next Game of Thrones,” all the time. So going in the completely opposite direction, like Dan Fogelman did with This is Us, may be just as lucrative.

  • https://twitter.com/Angry_Cyborg Angry Cyborg

    NO WAY. First you BASTARDS. “Bitches” is kinda cliche, right?

    • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

      “Bitches” is NEVER cliche. For a while there was a user here who went by the avatar, “Bitches!”

      They is ALWAYS room for your personal style, Angry Cyborg. Hopefully after being first, you’re a little less angry now.

    • Citizen M

      A new member of the First Family of Scriptshadow.

      Welcome, brother/sister/xster/mechster [strike the inappropriate ones]

  • klmn

    Carson, did you ever see the old series Kung Fu? That used the past/present format, with Caine’s present adventures in the West as well as his earlier life in the Shaolin temple.

    • carsonreeves1

      No, I’ve never seen it! Is it good?

      • klmn

        Yeah, you should check it out to see if you like it.

        • PQOTD

          He’s evidently not the right vintage, k. I remember seeing it when it first came out, all those decades ago…

        • Poe_Serling

          You put it out there… and now the higher powers are making
          it happen.

          It was just announced that they’re developing a new Kung Fu
          series with a female lead.

          Hey…

          Mention something about a Creature from the Black Lagoon
          remake and let’s see what happens over the next few hours.

          ;-)

          • klmn

            Yeah, I’d like to see a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake, as well as a Pinstriped Primates series.

            We might as well throw THEM into the mix too!

          • Poe_Serling

            Some kind of time travel element, monkeys, a stunning
            ending… all the basic ingredients needed for a [x] genius
            rating.

            Oh wait…

            That sounds like the plot to Planet of the Apes.

            How can’t that be Carson’s all-time favorite film?

            Or least a future “10 Screenwriting Lessons You Can
            Learn From” article.

            I better post this under my real handle:

            Jo King.

            ;-)

          • klmn

            You know, he wasn’t exactly a monkey, but the caveman Alley Oop did a lot of time travelin’. Here’s a panel.

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/54b8f9f2cd54d835269350bcb948ca68e857256fca7adcc0d81593361b7a9aac.jpg

          • peisley

            The creature in Del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ is supposedly inspired by the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

      • Citizen M

        Grasshopper, the gift of Kung Fu is given only to him that gets on his butt and takes it.

    • Avatar

      God, that show was great. But, then again, I saw it as a kid on reruns…so maybe I was easily impressed.

    • RS

      Yes, Kung Fu is a classic. Probably watched all the reruns at some point. I think it was aired about the time I was born, but it holds up today. The action or fight scenes are certainly slow by today’s standards but story-wise and character remains interesting. I always tell my kids, who are running around and stepping all over everything, that they need to move, instead, like Caine did across the rice paper after he had learned the lessons of the temple.

      • Sean Reardon

        Kung Fu, Six Million Dollar Man, and The Cowboys was a great Friday Night lineup back in the day! Saturday = Love Boat and Fantasy Island.. Sunday = bath, pajamas, then Wonderful World of Disney (sponsored by Mutual of Omaha) and CHIPS :)

    • Poe_Serling

      The feature TV pilot for the show was just playing on some
      channel not that long ago.

      I think one of the many reasons it stood out back in the day –
      the soft-spoken and low-key mannerisms of the main character
      was the direct opposite of the usual rough-and-tumble heroes
      often associated with these type of shows reflecting the Old West.

      I’m kinda surprised that this property hasn’t made its way to the
      big screen yet.

      Over the years I know more than a few filmmakers have tried
      to get it into production.

      Perhaps soon…

      • klmn

        I’d like to see a movie version, or maybe a reboot of the television series. This time they could use a better martial artist than David Carradine, preferably a Chinese guy.

        Interesting that you used the term “rough-and-tumble.” That was an actual style of fighting in the Ohio Valley. Also called “eye gouging” or just “gouging.” It was no rules fighting, used to settle differences, sometimes just to see who was tougher. Usually the fights would come down to grappling, until one gave up after getting a nose bit off or an eye gouged out.

        And the tougher guys wouldn’t even quit then. There was one famous incident in a tavern at Paducah, Kentucky. The crews of two keelboats went at it, after a little bit of drinking of course. Before long the floor was littered with eyeballs and the fighters were down on their hands and knees, searching for one that fit so they could pop it back in and go back to fighting.

        That last paragraph might be a trifle exaggerated.

    • Erica
  • Lucid Walk

    I’ve noticed Carson adding new posts late at night instead of early morning these last two weeks. Is this the new norm? I ain’t complaining, just curious.

    • klmn

      Don’t tell anyone, but I have it on good authority that he’s turned vampire.

      • Avatar

        I have a theory that it coincides with the drive to in and out. He usually hits send in time to catch the final hour of in and out.

    • carsonreeves1

      It’s always shifting. Gotta keep you guys guessing. :)

    • Avatar

      I actually prefer it like this….because it keeps me on my toes to check in more often. Plus, it lets night owls participate. When it’s early morning, by the time I actually read it in the afternoon, everyone has commented and no one makes comments after 2 pm so I don’t even bother.

  • Scott Crawford

    For what it’s worth… there was a one-off TV drama (could call it a TVM) of Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time on Sunday on BBC 1. I enjoyed it, or not really enjoyed, but I was moved by it, but many people were put off by the time jumps. I could sympathise; they weren’t my favourite parts and evidently the writer was striving to copy the book ( which I’ve not read) and it’s themes,not all o& which came across clearly.

    Jumping about in time… doesn’t always pay off.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-41384350

  • Pugsley

    Love the way Dan Fogelman signs off at the end of the pilot script as “M. Night Fogelman” after pulling that big time twist. You can tell he was having the time of his life writing it.

  • Avatar

    How does Dan Fogelman have major success off his very first script and has never looked back? He wrote this little script that got the attention of some big wig….then he’s hired to do a project and they just kept giving him work. Now, he’s writing one of the biggest show on TV. Amazing.

    • carsonreeves1

      He’s definitely had some luck on his side. When I asked him about his quick success, he said he thinks it’s because his scripts are really easy reads.

      • Avatar

        I admit I am a little jealous. Gurus tell us kids that you need to work hard on your craft to make it someday. This guy picks up a basketball for the first time and enters the NBA right away. :)

        • carsonreeves1

          It’s true but you can never measure yourself against the exceptions or you’ll go crazy. The good news is hard work and dedication almost always pays off.

          • Avatar

            Thanks. That’s really good advice. But, in the future, I think if I hit it big, I am just going to pretend that I had picked up screenwriting just the week before and wrote it on a whim a la these Dan Fogelman/Diablo Cody savants. :)

          • Malibo Jackk

            Heard a pro mention that some screenwriters have done that.
            Hollywood would like to think you’re a natural talent.

          • peisley

            Here’s something on Fogelman that might ease everybody’s envy. “Fogelman cut his teeth in Hollywood, at age 20, compiling research
            reports on guests as a production assistant on “The Howie Mandel Show” in the late ’90s and later wrote TV show blurbs for the TV Guide Network — finding time to write scripts in his off hours.” He did a short film in 2003, then a short-lived sitcom on WB in that same year. So, he paid some dues. Not as much as some and more than others. Point is, he started early, kept in the business at any level he could and worked on scripts whenever possible.

      • Malibo Jackk

        Kinda confirms where I think scripts are going.

  • Zero

    Can sitcoms be water cooler shows anymore? Since Friends & Will & Grace stopped, and to a lesser extent Community, none have been as noteworthy as they used to be.

    I guess sitcoms need another element to be noteworthy. I’ve been hearing a lot about The Orville recently.

    • carsonreeves1

      A lot of people love The Big Bang Theory. I think that’s the only one right now.

      • Scott Crawford

        Big Bang is an easy watch; if you miss an episode, no biggie, while if you a miss an episode of Thrones…

        This is a really good guide to why Big Bang is so popular:

        http://www.vulture.com/2014/05/big-bang-theory-ratings.html

        • Malibo Jackk

          Thought this was interesting:
          “Many times, the best characters are the
          worst people on the planet. Sheldon is constantly insulting the people
          that he loves and we just accept it gleefully, because he doesn’t
          understand. He’s an innocent,”

        • august4

          Thanks for posting…. Great article on Vulture!!

    • Justin

      It used to be Modern Family for me. Heard about it all throughout High School despite having no idea what it was.

    • Avatar

      It seems like most of the talent has flocked to TV drama. I remember TV sitcoms were like the dinosaurs that dominated and roamed the landscape. You had the best sitcom of all time Seinfeld, there was Cheers, Friends, TGIF shows, Married with children. I can’t even stand the sitcoms out right now….just resort to streaming the old ones.

  • PQOTD

    OT: Hef’s gone to the greener pastures in the sky. Or maybe he’s warming his hands at Uncle Lucifer’s fireplace.

    Either way, bunnies everywhere will be in mourning.

    He did cameos here and there, if I remember rightly. Beverly Hills Cop?

    • Avatar

      I think they were pretending to be into him. After a while living that bachelor life at 80 started to look sad.

      • PQOTD

        If he wasn’t so damned rich, he’d just have been a sleazy old man.

        • Avatar

          I read some expose where a lot of that was for show….the girls had their own agenda; had secret boyfriends that were a lot younger; just wanted to live an easy life. Life is hard with a day job…it’s a lot easier to just live in a mansion and get a car and stipend inside a house with a full kitchen staff.

          • PQOTD

            So, if you look pretty but have no job skills, no dignity and no sense of loyalty, just find a rich old sleazy guy to sponge off.

            It says a lot about how superficial our society is when that’s regarded as a win-win all around.

          • Avatar

            There was that news about his last girlfriend who made an escape…then, later, I guess when she realized how hard it was out there came back to Hef…and he married her. I wonder what her explanation was to him. Life is hard….I notice a lot people come here for the easy glam life. The 7 girlfriends were more pormotional…they had to appear with him and follow a certain set of rules…but turns out a lot of them were dating outside, with guys that were not 86 years old.

          • JasonTremblay

            It seems to have worked for Melania.

    • carsonreeves1

      I’m sure someone’s got a Hef biopic written that will be set up tomorrow!

      • PQOTD

        Damn – too slow off the mark!

      • Scott Crawford

        Brett Ratner wanted to do an authorised biopic for donkey’s; don’t know who wrote the script.

        • Avatar

          I bet the biopic’s going to make him seem like this out of the box pioneer in the sexual revolution and how he was a champion of free speech.

          • Citizen M

            He was a misunderstood intellectual who put serious articles by respected writers in a magazine, but had to include pictures of naked girls to attract a readership.

          • Scott Crawford

            Maybe instead of a biopic they could focus on Alex Haley’s work for Playboy.

          • PQOTD

            Isn’t it odd how Time, etc, got away with not doing that?

          • Kirk Diggler

            Was Time publishing short stories from Mailer, Dahl, Bradbury, Vonegut, Kerouac, Fleming, Atwood, Nabokov, Marquez and the like?

            I think he deserves credit for promoting the often overlooked art of short story writing.

          • PQOTD

            Now that I didn’t know. Probably ‘cos I never read it.

          • PQOTD

            Kinsey along with Masters and Johnson were the real pioneers.

    • Scott Crawford

      They did a movie, Miss March, with Robert Wagner playing Hefner and when Hefner found out he agreed to do it himself and they reshot those scenes.

      A less flattering portrayal was Dabney Coleman in Dragnet (though how much of that is Hef and how much other pornographers I’m not sure).

    • Nick Morris

      Greener pastures, perhaps. But no one can say he’s in a better place. :)

    • RS

      I think James Franco did a cameo of Hef in the movie LOVELACE. Total bomb of a movie, but they played him pretty sleazy in that. I’m guessing any Hef movie will sort of portray him as a trailblazer or misunderstood by the cranks, like the Larry Flynt movie. There’s got to be a good angle to explore, but I get the feeling if anything gets made it will be all too predictable.

      And in the vein of Citizen’s comment, the title of any Hef movie (besides HEF) should be I READ IT FOR THE ARTICLES.

  • Oscar

    The secret sauce of the water-cooler moment is very simple:

    Everything is soap opera.

    Shock reveals and cliffhangers, surprise relatives, who’s sleeping with who mysteries, killing off a regular, bringing them back miraculously years later… it’s all potboiled soap going back to Charles Dickens serials.

    The only difference is how you dress it up. Swords and sandals, cops and robbers, zombies, dragons, invisible islands. This Is Us sounds like it just ditched the pretence and went all in as a primetime soap, not unlike Desperate Housewives.

    If you can surprise your audience, make them gasp with something they didn’t see coming (however cheap), you’re on to a winner.

    • brenkilco

      Absolutely. Even traditionally episodic shows must have encompassing season long arcs that bind everything together. And it shows how schizo today’s audiences are. Supposedly too ADD to absorb deliberately paced narratives in a movie theater, yet at home willing to sit through a ten hour mystery in Swedish just to find out if the guy who mutilated the old widow is the same one who’s leaving threatening notes for the alcoholic police chief whose wife is having an affair with……..

      • Oscar

        Indeed. Wonder if we’re overdue a backlash to the never-ending mystery serial arc that feels very fatigued and overplayed. Personally I just can sit through yet another variation of Twin Peaks. I’m gravitating more and more to anthology shows like Master of None and Black Mirror that just tell a story without the tease, or even the seasonal versions like AHS and Fargo. I can’t spend another 5-10 years of waiting to find out whodunnit or what’s in the box.

        • garrett_h

          Maybe I was like completely stone cold drunk off my ass watching Master of None, but I don’t see how it’s an anthology? It’s a pretty standard, linear storytelling. They don’t reboot every episode, or every season. Unless I just missed something…

      • Omoizele Okoawo

        People haven’t changed. I don’t think that today’s audiences are too ADD. It’s just that entertainment is easier to access now than ever before in all of history. When Star Wars came out if you wanted to watch it you had to go to a theater to see it. Now if you can watch that stuff at home for free or through your Netflix account then it takes something really special to get people out of the house.

        Even what’s on TV has upped its game. Think of the old award winning detective/crime TV shows: Columbo, Barney Miller, Hill Street Blues, The Streets of San Francisco, Kojack, Starsky and Hutch, The Rockford Files; can any of these compete with Breaking Bad, Shield, True Detective, 24, or The Wire? Televiaion raiaed the bar to the point where going to the movies to watch a drama is a waste of time unless Hollywood either brings its A game to the table or they adapt a popular novel.

        • brenkilco

          When it comes to sharp, smart, genre film making I’m not sure Hollywood has an A game anymore. Between the would be auteurs and the mass market hacks there used to be be a dependable group of superior craftsmen. Not so much anymore. Nobody is looking for the next Sam Fuller or Anthony Mann or Don Siegel or Walter Hill. Hell, for that matter nobody’s looking for Walter Hill.

          • Omoizele Okoawo

            All those guys got wise to the fact that they could go to television, make a tv show like Fargo or Hannibal or Westworld or Mad Men and get treated so much better than when they’re working on movies, they don’t want to go back.

          • brenkilco

            But long form TV and two hour features are very different animals. And if TV, or however we label home media content these days, has never been richer, well, the movies have clearly suffered. It should be noted that while there’s a lot of interesting stuff on Netflix its occasional stabs at original movies tend to suck.

    • garrett_h

      This is spot on. Give them soap!

      Carson actually left off two major water cooler shows from recent memory, both of them soaps: SCANDAL and EMPIRE (I loved TD but I’d take it off the list for both of those – doesn’t fit the bill here).

      It goes back to the whole sitcom thing. Where people say, sitcoms are popular because you can walk into the kitchen, come back, and get the joke. Or turn your brain off for 30 mins, not give much effort, and have some laughs.

      Same with cop and medical dramas. They run down the plot every 15 minutes, sometimes seemingly after every commercial break. “This is the guy we picked up in Act 1?” “Yeah, this is him. He’s the killer.” “I don’t think so.” “We said we were gonna interrogate him, right?” “OK let’s do it.”

      Same goes for these soaps. You don’t need to know the minutiae if you don’t want to. All you gotta know, is that someone died, we’re looking for the killer, and the widow is banging the pool boy now. And you’re in the water cooler club! No need to discuss the “blink-and-you-missed-it” moments. As long as you got the major plot points, you’re set.

  • ChadStuart

    I seriously do not understand the obsession with this show. Now, my wife and I have no problem with saccharine or sentimentality in movies or television. And that’s not our issue with this show. But after seven episodes, we were done with it.

    Why? Because the characters are all so one-damn-note. They’re more like half a note, really. Every storyline about the fat girl was about her weight. The actor was all about his ego. And the adopted brother was all about being adopted.

    And the writing was incredibly lazy. The seventh episode had a character go on a drug trip so he could talk to his dead daddy to figure out his life. That’s seventh season writing, not seventh episode. If you can’t figure out a conflict-based scenario for a character to move past an issue, one that involves the other characters of your show, then you’re not really trying.

    This show only has the gimmick going for it. All that’s keeping it going is the mystery of what happened to the dad character. That’s all.

    “Mad Men” was a show largely about characters that was water cooler. Its central character was complicated with a rich history who made unpredictable choices. His character was thematically tied into the premise of the show, and it was brilliant (for the first four seasons, at least).

    “Handmaid’s Tale” is riveting television based on a haunting book that needed the extra room of a series to breathe.

    “The Crown” is another show that’s just about characters but is involving and deeply textured. The episode where Winston Churchill is having his portrait made is astounding. You wouldn’t think you could make an episode of television where a character is sitting for a portrait interesting, but it’s absolutely mesmerizing. Its “gimmick” is that it’s a bio pic but done on television, and when you get into it you realize it was the only way to effectively do it.

    I would put the worst episodes of either of those shows against the best of “This is Us”, and they’d smoke it.

    • Brainiac138

      I think while Mad Men, Handmaid’s Tale, and the Crown benefit from the critical praise, most people who are not REALLY into tv storytelling just don’t watch them. I remember talking to friends about how great all the characters in Mad Men were and my friends just thinking that the show would be boring. Also, I’ve had trouble getting people to watch Handmaid’s Tale, as a common result is “why would I watch it when as a country, we are living it.”

      But, for all the reasons Carson describes, people just can’t get enough of GoT and This is Us. I don’t think either one is as good as the other shows you talked about, but man have they hit a nerve with the viewing public.

      • Avatar

        I still haven’t watched Handsmaid Tale. Seth Meyers is right….there is too much tv and you can’t watch it all. That’s why you have to pretend to know what people are talking about.

    • Sean Reardon

      Not a fan either. I found it to be very predicable and way too network TVish. Sure, I see the attraction for the masses, I found the constant music that plays in the back ground really cliche and super annoying. I would think that same people who love Grey’s Anatomy etc…are also fans of TiU. Just binged on Ozark last week and loved it.

      • Avatar

        I actually liked 13 Reasons Why a lot more.

    • Stephjones

      couldn’t get past the first episode. wfm

    • Kirk Diggler

      “His character was thematically tied into the premise of the show”

      Indeed.

      Don Draper: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

  • ThomasBrownen

    Another water cooler show not mentioned: Downton Abbey.

    I remember walking past apartment buildings and looking inside during the season 3 (or was it 4?) premiere and seeing it on people’s TVs. It was an event. And then being in a restaurant listening to the table next to me talk all about Cora’s clothes and jewelry. Its fan base might not exactly mirror SS contributors, but it had a huge following. So Julian Fellowes is also up there in my list of “really cool people I wish I could understand so I could copy cat them.”

    • Scott Crawford

      For the first season, sure, but the second nearly killed it. And by the end…

      OT: I hate this new iOS update. Keep typing wrong.

      • RS

        I did like DOWNTOWN ABBEY, but when they killed the husband in that dumb car accident and had both husband and wife on death row it started to get really silly. Classic example of a TV series not knowing where to go so having to come up with more ridiculous incidents to try to keep viewers interested.

  • Poe_Serling

    I can’t say I watch a whole lot of the current TV programming, but when
    I do my top contenders are:

    Modern Family and The Middle

    >>Modern Family

    You have sorta grouchy Jay, goofy Phil, super smart Alex, trying to be the
    cool kid Manny… and on and on.

    Pretty much characters that viewers have seen a million times in a ton
    of other shows.

    Why it works for me: the writers do a topnotch job with the comical
    interplay and banter among the cast.

    Plus, It seems that the actors have a genuine affection for one another
    and it comes across on the screen.

    Just based on the written words on the page, it’s probably next to
    impossible to know at first if the performers down the line will have
    that little extra chemistry to make things really pop for the audience.

    Would’ve the pairing of McQueen/Redford clicked as much as Newman/
    Redford in Butch and Sundance?

    Perhaps… but maybe not. I guess we’ll never know for sure.

    >>The Middle

    On first glance just your typical family sitcom.

    Why it scores entertainment points with me?

    I think the writers really capture the ins/outs of small town living and
    making do with what you have at any given moment.

    The dryer door is broken… don’t have the cash to get it fixed right, so
    you prop something against it to keep it closed.

    Little touches like that kinda hit home as real slice of life stuff.

    I just saw the other day this upcoming season is the show’s farewell
    tour.

    It’ll be missed… at least by me.

    ;-)

    • Justin

      Modern Family is one of my favorite shows. I think the reason it’s such a success is because the child actors are so great. Immediately fell in love with them, and the show used them to their fullest potential.

      My top contenders:

      Sherlock (Pre-Season 4)
      Modern Family
      (Others I can’t remember right now)

      • Thaddeus Arnold

        I tried watching Modern Family early on and didn’t find it funny. I also loathed them stealing the documentary idea from The Office. I’m a big champion of those who do something original and loathe anyone who just mimics them.

        The Middle has a far superior cast of child actors. They really did well with that casting.

        • Justin

          To be fair, I’m sure The Office wasn’t the first mockumentary series. Just off a quick search for mockumentary style TV shows, there were a handful of others before The Office — if it’s true, then The Office mimicked other shows.

          • Thaddeus Arnold

            There’s nothing new under the sun.

            The Office is the one that did it successfully, made it popular and spawned copycats. I loathe copycats.

    • ShiroKabocha

      Modern Family is very enjoyable, but The Middle is far superior.

      Funnier, with much more likeable characters, and a much much stronger cast led by Heaton and Flynn, who’d previously starred in two of the funniest, longest-running sitcoms (Everybody loves Raymond and Scrubs respectively). The young actors are just pitch perfect. The show also benefits from focusing on a smaller core cast. And as you mentioned, its main interest and difference is its “small town slice of life” feel, with the working class / lower middle class family. The Middle is not as sharp as Malcolm in the Middle :) which is still the best sitcom ever produced (the tone / spirit is different here, more “feel-good”), but it’s still a worthy successor.

      BTW, have you watched Superstore ? Very good sitcom with memorable, extremely likable characters. Pretty sure you’d enjoy it too :) And they finally figured the right part for Scott Baio’s doppelgänger, I mean, Ben Feldman. Jonah is definitely a character that suits him.

  • Avatar

    How many here have actually seen This is Us? I know a lot of people that haven’t. Watercooler shows back then, everyone saw it – Seinfeld, Friends, etc. Now, even the buzziest shows have people who have not gotten around to seeing it.

  • Omoizele Okoawo

    That This Is Us is successful isn’t that much of a surprise. In its day, Thirtysomething was a very popular family drama and Kevin Olin who starred in it and directed a few episodes is producing TIU now. There is always space for a show like TIU with no special effects or crazy costumes, just well done dramatic storytelling. It’s just that after a while your TV would get populated by so many clones of it because of how cheap it is to make them the audience would get tired of them and the studios would have to come up with something else to get the viewers attention. An argument ould be made that the Sopranos was a Thirtysomething clone where the family you followed was set in the mafia as opposed to middle-class America.

    There is probably no better place to learn how to write drama that hooks people and keeps them coming back again and again than reading seasons of a show like TIU though, shows that have nothing to give but a carefully selected order of information you get about characters you like. That’s one of the things that pulled my vote away from the Club Lavender script this passed AOW; it didn’t feel like the writer understood how to place the facts that they had gathered from the huge amount of research that they had done to create drama like in the scene in the second episode that Carson mentioned where the audiences is left wondering what happened to the original father. And, no matter what TV show you’re referencing, from Breaking Bad to The Sopranos to This Is Us to Mad Men, if you don’t know how to use set ups to make your audience intensely curious about your world and your characters you won’t have the payoffs that they’ll keep coming back for.

  • Erica

    Sort of OT but not, Dust off those pilot script…

    Netflix to commit $500M over 5 years on new Canadian content.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/netflix-canadian-content-broadcaster-1.4309381 https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/41b8ae374058b8ede5c4bd91728d554f14002cbecef752b219d1da9d3ee619b1.png

    Hmmm, might be a good time for a Phobe remake! I made that movie for $250 dollars, could you image what I could do with $500 dollars, I mean ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

    • Nick Morris

      Hmmm. I wonder if these productions will be subject to CRTC’s can-con requirements…

      • Erica

        Not sure at this point, but I really hope we are not going to be limited to Little House on the Prairies. Not that it was a bad series in the day but most people thing of Canadian content as boring Documentaries about rivers and canoe’s

        • Nick Morris

          Right? Hopefully it won’t be an issue as I don’t think Netflix is bound by the same archaic regulations that most Canadian broadcasters are.

          But if that turns out to be the case, then somebody had better damn well bring back The Littlest Hobo! :)

    • Scott Crawford

      In the 1970s, Donald Sutherland was making $500,000 a movie but when Canadian producers needed Canadian actors for Canadian government tax breaks on Canadian productions… Sutherland asked for, and got, a million dollars.

      • Malibo Jackk

        Yeah, but you can bet he bought a lot of American goods.
        (Love those Canadians.)

    • Thaddeus Arnold

      I’m waiting in the US for Kids In The Hall and SCTV to be made available. Two of the great sketch shows.

  • Andy Meyers

    There is one more hidden bonus to the split-timeline approach:
    Fast-moving story
    When you have all your stories in the present day, you have to spread your plot points around to extend the entire hour and they have to roughly match in how long they take in show-time (three days, for example). And you need to fill one hour with current active plot. When you can cut to the past…
    – You get more flexibility with time. Not all stories have to take the same amount of show-time. One can take place over years, and one can be in the present. In addition, you can cut back into the present time much later that you left it. That would feel awkward if all stories were present day.
    – You can pick the most dramatic parts of many years of character history into one past storyline
    – When you cut to the past, you only have to fill 40 minutes of story in the present. You can hit the most important points and then cut to the past.
    – The audience can handle 40 minutes at a single location but would get restless for a full hour. (Lost was the master of this, as it only had about half of each episode on the island. And even Lost had to be super-inventive about what this single location contained.)

    Any effective B-Story can have many of these benefits, but the past-storyline approach makes all these benefits more accessible.

  • Ninjaneer

    If you listen / read interviews with Hollywood insiders they say it’s really common and even encouraged for writers to make it seem like they’re a prodigy with overnight success instead of the truth which is that they put a lot of time and study into it.

    I like this video essay about how there are no film prodigies:

  • Thaddeus Arnold

    Dan Fogelman and Mandy Moore both worked on Tangled, one of my favorite animated films.

    The writing on that is so good. Disney really upped their game with that one, especially after films like Bolt.

  • Citizen M

    Have never seen “This Is Us”, but found the pilot script online, and I have to say, it kept me reading to the end. Great twist! Caught me totally by surprise.

    It was a very easy read. One reason being that although there are many characters to keep track of, Fogelman kept reminding us who was who, so it was no strain trying to remember them all.

    - KEVIN (our sitcom star)
    – Randall (our slick treadmill-desk NYC guy)
    – Kate (heavyset twin) etc.

    The dialogue is good. It’s not clever-clever, but it is smart, and not a line is wasted. It keeps things moving or revealing character.

    Basically, it’s about ordinary and rather likeable people dealing with important problems in their lives that potentially have a big emotional impact. I can see why people could get into it.

  • Jarrean