Monday, August 26, 2013

Inspiration Monday: Blast From the Past

I have a guilty pleasure. Okay, truth be told, I have several, but the one I'm speaking of is my addiction to classic TV.

I'm not talking about catching up on the early seasons of Breaking Bad (which I seriously need to do). I'm talking about the really old stuff: black and white, cars with fins, laugh tracks, twin beds, talking horses, and kids named after beavers.

All through the 1990's, I lulled myself to sleep in front of the parent-approved, comforting glow of Nick-at-Nite. I remember every single one of these promos, and even now they make me smile. (I guess that's how nostalgia works, huh.)

Who doesn't want a friend like Ethel?
Sadly, Nick-at-Nite is a shadow of its former self, but I still love these old shows and have DVDs of them crammed in any nooks and crannies not already taken up by books. I've done some thinking about what makes them stick to the inside of my brain so well. They were made decades before I was born. Lord knows that they're not exactly the most complex storylines ever conceived. I've seen them a billion times, enough to quote them. The context is getting farther away from my personal experience and culture every single day.

And yet I can't get enough of them. I continue to enjoy them, I continue to belly-laugh at the same old jokes, cringe along with the protagonists when their schemes go sour, and get my heart warmed over and over again.

The Dick Van Dyke Show NEVER gets old.
I don't just like the comedies. I learned early on that I had a penchant for twist endings when I got hooked on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. Watching Dragnet and The White Shadow I figured out that times were tough all over...and they probably always had been. Of course, I usually followed those shows up with a chaser of Get Smart or Green Acres and that evened things out. Sort of.

I think the key to re-watchability, and what I'm trying to cram into my writing process, is in these shows' simplicity. It keeps them fresh and relatable. I don't actually think that life was, is, or ever will be as simple as it is portrayed on those old shows, but I think we all wish it could be, and that is something I can build on in my work. These shows, whether comedy or drama, were designed to be accessible to their audiences, which is an important point some authors seem to overlook. The formula for these old shows repeatedly demonstrates the absurdity in life, both the silly and the sinister, and how easy it is to flip a plot if you drop the right breadcrumbs along the way. It doesn't matter what you write, those elements can strengthen almost any project.

Here are some links to a few of my favorite shows. If you can carve out a few minutes, give them a look and see what works about them. Yes, most of them have silly, simple plots, but so do most things if you carve all the meat off and take only the bones. In the end, everything, even the most complex plot, has to have its bones. We recognize them, we see them holding up the stories as we see them holding up ourselves. Borrow a few, see how they fit in a different time and a different place. Put the meat back on them and shape them up. You might find that the good old days still have a lot of good to give.

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