This week I couldn’t resist pointing to the latest February sweeps effort by the writers of the hit TV series Grey’s Anatomy. If you watch the show, you know we were left hanging in the middle of a 3-part disaster sequence, our sometimes-fearless cast of young resident docs still dealing with various medical crises following a ferry crash. Viewers may be intrigued by some of the substories–the pregnant burn victim, for example–but how do they feel about the lead story involving Meredith Grey, the show’s namesake, having fallen into the sea and “died?”
The heated post-show debate at Pop Candy interested me, because it’s a strong reminder why the most-oft-touted writerly rules are important, unless your goal is to alienate consumers.
1. Keep it REAL.
“You have to do more than suspend belief to enjoy this show – you have to believe it occurs in some alternate universe.”
Did they run out of extras during production? This is a big city; this is Seattle. Where are all the emergency personnel?
“My husband (in Atlanta) is a fireman & he was screaming at the TV for the bad way they portrayed those scenes. It was even worse than most soap opera scenes.”
And why was the intern taking pictures using a 70s Polaroid instead of a digital camera that would produce jpgs they could easily share with area hospitals?
But nothing inflamed viewers like Meredith’s drowning.
“How did the guy with the impaled leg get into the water, not drown, and still climb out of the water…and she can’t even keep her head afloat??”
“This dude, with his calf sliced open like a honey baked ham, swims to the jetty and climbs it. There he is saved by a doctor who cannot survive a ten foot drop from said jetty, into the same chilly water. BOGUS!”
“How long was she in the water? How long not breathing?”
It did seem like an unreal amount of time for anyone to survive. And the aftermath? How did Derek find her so quickly in the water?
“I know it is a tv show, but it drove me nuts they paged all the ‘top specialists’ and 4 interns to Meredith’s side in the middle of a crisis situation at the hospital.”
The consensus among many:
“the show has officially jumped the shark.”
2. Avoid the Soap.
I feel manipulated and bored, was the general theme among viewers.
“Of course she’s not dead. Well, she is now, but won’t be next week.”
“I’m sure she’ll make a ‘miraculous recovery’.”
“She’ll spend some time with Denny and Kyle, and they’ll convince her to come back. With three minutes to spare, she’ll miraculously awake to Shepherd and Christina’s faces, while Kate Havnevik’s music soars in the background.”
So what will it be? A coma? Amnesia? A message from the dead?
“The out-of-body surreal experience plot device is really played out.”
Not only are folks fed up with the turn-away-from-the-light near-death plot ploys, they are sick of characters stepping up onto their sudsy boxes without then falling squarely on their annoying asses.
“Izzy’s ridiculous ‘I Believe’ Speech…sounded like something you’d get in a lame email forward.”
3. Take Risks, Create Surprise.
“Show me something I haven’t seen.”
Consumers want fresh, exciting and unpredictable stories. Always. They can smell an overused plot point halfway around the globe, and they want you to avoid all of them–at all costs.
Frustrated viewers were so ready to improve upon what they knew they’d receive from the writers that they began drafting their own endings to Meredith’s soggy tale, probably improving upon it immeasurably.
“The only way they can possibly salvage last night’s ending would be to kill off Meredith and then move on. Otherwise, we are going too far down the campy soap opera road.”
“It would have been really nifty and daring to kill the title character.”
“Maybe it was attempted suicide? That could be interesting.”
She could become a dead story narrator, ala Desperate Housewives, suggested some, and comment on characters from “the other side.” Or, said another brainstorming viewer, maybe she’ll return with a “sixth sense,” able to converse with the dead at any time.
I think all of two commenters felt as this one did:
“It’s network television, not the history channel. Just relax and enjoy!!”
4. Reveal Moments. Want to know what made viewers stand up and cheer? A ten-second bit played out between estranged friends. In those seconds we saw a simple touch on the arm as Sloan sat beside Derek, who was silently but clearly falling apart waiting to hear whether his loved one would live. There were no words, but Sloan’s message was heard: I know you hate me, but this is serious, this is real, and you need me. I’m here for you. And Derek nodded: Thanks. That moment, poignant in its authenticity, made men (the kind who watch football) cry. Says one viewer:
So while I desperately want to hate the show (and have found reason this year), I just can’t because of things like the Sloan-Shepherd scene this week. I just wish they would make more of it that real and heart-felt instead of the never-ending melodrama.
I’m not sure what the Grey’s Anatomy writers have in store for viewers on Thursday, but I hope they pull something original out of their collective hat. I have my own well of ideas. Maybe Meredith comes back from the Great Beyond with a message from Denny, and Izzy, learning she will see her former fiancee again once dead, takes her own life? At least it would make some bit of sense out of the “rock star’s” gushy speech and create memories for others to tease out in the coming weeks, perhaps leading them, finally, down new, untrodden paths. I think this might be the best part about a writer’s life–exploring all those fascinating shades of grey.
So what do you think? What can the writers do to save this storyline and series from campville?