Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Diane Gets Busy...And Bible Belting

Ms. Diane Kristine has been busy, not only providing us with some interesting interviews via her BlogTalkRadio podcast with Canadian TV directors Martin Wood and David Winning...LISTEN HERE...but also piecing together a nice TV writing post gleaned from her time in Banff spent with House's David Hoselton and Jeff Greenstein from Desperate Housewives.

One snippet that stood out for me was this:

Hoselton confirmed that House doesn't have a show bible, a document that supposedly collects the known facts of the series. "It's sort of a joke," he revealed. "Every now and then, somebody will say 'Where does Wilson live?' 'I don't know, it's in the bible.' "

Greenstein suggested show bibles are not particularly common or useful, given the collective memory of the writing staff and the availability of episodes and scripts online. "If there's one on Desperate Housewives, I haven't seen it." In fact, he hasn't read a bible for any of his shows. "It's probably a useful tool if you're a freelancer," he shrugged. "But the series bible to me is a relic of pre-Internet days. It's not necessarily a tool we worry about."

Pretty much every US showrunner I've spoken with over the past few years has echoed this sentiment, that TV series bibles are a thing of the past. There might be a pitch document that gives character overviews and the gist of the show and where it all might go, but once it gets rolling the 'bible' really only lives in the writers room and showrunner's head.

But here in Canada for some reason, bibles continue to be a broadcaster-required necessary evil. I suppose it helps the execs maintain some control over the creative process ("That can't happen, it's not in the bible!"), but it can truly stifle the natural progression of things.

Good TV series don't happen according to a hard and fast pre-designed plan...they evolve. Of course you need a jumping off point, but once production begins, actor chemistry develops and character relationships take on a life of their own...pitches that sounded great don't end up that way on the page...arcs that felt right don't play out as well as expected....budget crunches require a bottle show or a lot of studio shooting...and then there's the audience response to take into account. And by that I don't mean listening to the screeching of the Internet fan boy/girls...I mean getting a sense of what viewers are responding to once shows go to air (what they are digging and what they aren't) and then applying it to future episodes.

And most importantly, there's 'the rooms' response to produced episodes. If you are any good as a creative, you should be able to recognize if something is working or not. But that can't happen if the season is being mapped out in minute detail from beginning to end prior to filming even beginning. And if it wasn't working, it'd be so painful to keep adhering to the bible because someone upstairs kept saying you had to...and by upstairs I don't mean God, though some may see themselves that way.

I'd forgotten I'd written about this subject last year, but pretty much everything I said then still holds water now.

The only shows I worked on that had bibles that were truly helpful and continually updated were Mentors, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and The Outer Limits. Note that all these were anthology series of sorts...and unlike most shows today, they used to hire a lot of freelance writers. So the bible was primarily an overview of the 'rules of the show' and the continuing characters (if any), and then a synopsis of all the stories produced thus far (so the freelancer would know what not to pitch). That kind of bible made sense...but in today's day and age of most series being written in the room by the staff, not so much sense.

And for Canadian shows entering their 2nd or even 3rd season, it really really makes no sense at all.

Read the entire post by Diane HERE.


EDIT: And as usual, anything I say here McGrath says better (and longer)...go read the big guy riff on Bible bashing over at DeadThings.

1 comment:

M said...

I remember you teaching us the bible. Ha. But like you said I think in developing a show it is helpful but as the series moves on the only thing that matters is what will make the show good. I have come in late on a lot of long running shows and have never seen bible on them, documentaries and narratives. Also the bible's I have seen all vary on the show the strangest thing is the larger bibles have been the smaller shows. But I don't have that much exp.