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- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"P" is for "Primetime"

Have you had a few days?  Have you had time to let it settle down?  If not to understand it, at least to accept it?  Maybe you've given it a rewatch to see if it's better with expectations lowered down to reality?

Television characters occupy a unique spot in the pantheon of our subconscious.  All fictional characters occupy a strange place, in that they're not real, and yet they raise emotions in us, they make us care about events that never took place and people who never existed.  They allow us to project ourselves into strange situations, and unlike real people we can never disappoint them.

Television, though, is a unique medium.  A character in a movie is someone we may idealize, but ultimately they'll never be more than a few hundred lines, a few hours of running time, and though their feats may be great, worldchanging even, their scope is limited.  A television show, though, comes to us every week, for most of the year, and sometimes for a great many years. 

In the sense that I have a "relationship" - one-sided though it may be, and ethereal though it may be - with Homer Simpson, I have had that relationship with him for twice as long as I've been married to my wife.  Homer has been a part of my life - albeit, only for a half hour once a week - since I was seven.  I've watched The Simpsons through every era of my life, when I was in joy, when I was in pain, and watched them go through their joys and pains.  I feel like Homer is my friend.

But he's not.  He never can be.  He doesn't exist.  As much as I can sympathize and empathize with him, he'll never be able to return the favor.  We'll never have a conversation, he'll never offer me advice, except obliquely in his conversations with others.  (In the case of Homer, of course, that's probably not such a bad thing...)  I'll never be able to offer him comfort or even to buy him a beer.

I think what separates television as a medium from film and writing, if I were to boil it down to a word, is anticipation.  Yes, there's anticipation in waiting for a movie to come out, but once it's out it's out, and you can own it and watch it any time.  A novel you can anticipate the ending of the story, but the only limitation is how fast you can read.

With TV, though, I have to wait seven days, to the dot, to find out what happens next.  Sometimes longer.  Sometimes two weeks when there's a holiday, sometimes months when there's a cliffhanger season finale.  In the micro sense, there's the anticipation of a three- or six-act story broken up by minutes of commercial.  A masterful television show uses commercial breaks to raise the stakes and raise anticipation so that you're dying to know what happens next.  And then, in the macro sense, it makes you want to tune in next week.  And then, in the even more macro sense, it makes you want to tune in next season.

Television is about anticipation.  Yes, I've only shared 90 actual hours with Don Draper and crew.  But I've done it over the past seven years.  And how much of that time have I spent dying to know what happens next?  That setup means that television characters live in your consciousness for much longer than any other character.  A movie character is there for two hours.  A novel character might be there for longer.  But a television character can begin to feel like an old friend.  As I mentioned above, I've had "relationships" with TV characters that have lasted longer than friendships.

You know what a background app is in your phone or your computer?  It's something that's constantly running, even if you don't notice it or think about it, like, say, anti-virus.  A good television show is like a background app.  No, you're not constantly consciously considering it, but it's always there in your subconscious, simmering.

This week we said goodbye to an old friend.  Since this post has gone on a bit longer than I thought it would, I think I'll wait until Friday to get into the trials and tribulations of the Sterling-Cooper crew.  And just like that, I leave you in desperate antici...

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