Friday, August 26, 2011

The importance (or not) of dialogue in television

My brother finally started watching Mad Men a few weeks ago and just powered on through every single season - yes, it's that addictive. But it got me thinking about the place of dialogue in television.

The writers on Mad Men amaze me in how they use minimal dialogue on the show, but the few words they have their characters speak convey everything necessary. And as a writer, let me tell you, it's always harder to get across what you want to say in fewer words, unless those words are chosen carefully and deliberately, as they are in Mad Men.

I wrote a paper in college - my senior thesis in fact - in which I quoted someone who said that the fewer "channels" used in a piece of art - a channel being words, graphics, music, visual, etc. - the more artistic the thing is. And my editor at work is always telling me "show, don't tell." Now, that's hard to do with words. But television is visual, so it's easier, yet it's surprising how few shows actually "show and don't tell." Amy Sherman-Palladino, who created the show Gilmore Girls, always said how proud she was about how long each episode script was due to the amount of dialogue her characters spoke. But that was the tone of her show, and it worked for it. A show like Mad Men is, in my opinion, art, and a show like that should be a show you have to watch. I multitask a lot and will "watch" a show while checking my email or vacuuming or whatever, but Mad Men I have to sit and watch or I'm lost. But even a comedy like, say, Friends was a show you had to watch, because there was so much physical comedy in it. Show, don't tell.

I watched the movie Limitless last week with the boyfriend and he loved it, and it was more decent than I expected, but I was almost completely taken out of the movie by the voiceover. First, it wasn't done well (although to be fair, a lot of actors don't know how to do a good voiceover - just watch the first season of Grey's Anatomy, although Ellen Pompeo definitely improved). Second, it was CONSTANT. I could've listened to that movie on my iPod and had the same impression. Movies, like television, are a visual medium, and it's lazy story telling to depend so much on a voiceover.

Anyway, I'll step down from my soapbox now. It's just a pet peeve of mine that I had to get off my chest, but mostly it just really made me miss Mad Men and get impatient about the show's return - soon, please!!

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