Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Star Trek / Loveboat Mashup And Soulmates Part IV

This series of posts illustrates the thinking process inside the writer's mind. The exercise here is to target an audience and develop a jaw-dropping TV Series premise from a very vague concept.

I recommend reading previous Parts first.




As requested by some readers of this blog, I'm breaking this very long (abstract) post into parts to make short posts. If you don't like this approach, do please let me know.

I do want to tell a story in Parts VI & VII a story that could become a TV show. But first, follow this thinking, argue against it, find the flaws, find different data, concoct your own Concept, and generate your own premise as we work through this. This is an exercise, like a pianist practicing scales to prepare for a concert. Writing is a performing art. This is the exercise that makes the performance smooth.

-----Part IV--------

So our objective is to "mashup" or combine to the point where they can't be separated, two elements, Star Trek and The Loveboat -- both old TV Series that just can't make it in today's market.

And we have a target audience described in Part I of this series of posts -- hard SF readers and writers for whom "Philosophy" is not a science.

As I've discussed previously, writing is one thing, selling something else entirely.

When you first draft, you write for yourself, you write what you want, and maybe you include a lot of side-bar scenes that don't advance the plot but that let you sink into the characters and just wallow.

Some of that material can be trimmed off, then added back on the plot-line to add depth.  Some writers do all that in their minds before ever putting hands to keyboard.  Others have to rewrite and restructure until they create something sellable from their fully fleshed out universe.

The process is vitally important only to those learning to do it, finding their own method (no 2 writers do it the same way.) It's the end result that matters.

But here we're going to fix one eye on the intended (or hoped for) audience, or part of it, and the other on what it takes to generate a "concept" -- hopefully "high" enough to make into a TV Series.

So what does the intended audience look like?

We need a wide demographic that is defined enough for advertisers to salivate over.  Typically that's going to be teens old enough to have disposable income, up to and maybe including college age people up to buying a car, conducting a serious romance, possibly traveling.

Young people yearn to "be older" and the twenty-somethings haven't yet become afraid of aging, but may be considering it.

To hit that demographic, this product has to be marketable both on air/cable and online -- and then by DVD with extras.  It has to have game-potential, especially for the online game base such as run by USA Network for Burn Notice (be a spy) or White Collar (be a thief). And hopefully, producers looking at it would see the feature film potential, 3-D potential, etc.

OK, so what's the story in one sentence?  What's the pitch?

We're looking for a "concept" that would not put off the hard-SF crowd, would engage their scientific curiosity but still at the same time tell a whopping good Romance story to those who are absolutely convinced that Soul Mates don't exist because there is no Soul and anyone who thinks Love Conquers All hasn't read The Cold Equations.


Remember "The X-Files" -- it didn't really start out looking like a Romance but oh-boy.

The producers discovered which episodes got the best ratings and started playing the Relationship until there was no place for it to go but up.

One Agent is convinced there's a scientific explanation for everything that does not include crackpot notions like aliens from outer space, the other is determined to catch the aliens who abducted his sister (i.e. he fits her definition of crackpot).

That's called CONFLICT, and it's the essence of story.

Look carefully at Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels.

The Terran Empire controls a galaxy spanning civilization, worlds upon worlds.  It treats its employees somewhat as the British Empire did - sending them here and there, assigning them to backwaters if they don't perform.  To the Terrans only science is real.  Magic, godesses such as Shara a Darkovan deity, and even ESP is nonsense.

Darkover is the backwater, the cultural nut the Terran Empire can't crack.

Why is that?  On Darkover, ESP is the everyday science that they use instead of technology, for everything from mining the scarce minerals of the planet to running a telegraph system.  But not everyone can do these things.  The Talent is genetic and dying out.

So the novel series conflict is the clash of civilizations with different definitions of reality. Those definitions generate personal ethical and moral behaviors which likewise clash.

For Terrans, nobody is responsible.  Everything is done by committee. The government enforces order, even by major warfare -- personal weaponry includes guns and bombs.

For Darkovans, who once polluted their planet with a nuclear war conducted by magic alone, the Compact rules their personal ethics.  They allow no weapon that can do harm without putting the user within reach of the victim (i.e. guns and even bows and arrows are disallowed). Everyone must take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for the results of their own actions - each and every one, but most especially those Gifted with ESP, the power of the gods.

The novels tell the story of the collapse of Darkover under the crush of the Terran Empire, and how that collapse changes the Empire. It is a sad story, an inspiring story, a story of real people you can never forget even though none of them ever lived even though all of them are you.

So what do we see studying all this?

To formulate a popular, gripping story that speaks the language of a target audience you need to plumb the depths of the teen-angst and new-adult angst that arises from a clash of philosophies the audience is living in.

Your story, your Star Trek / Loveboat mashup, must arise from the problems your young demographic is wrestling with, and every crop of young folks wrestles with exactly the same thing -- breaking away from the inconvenient misconceptions their parents demand they adopt as the touchstones of their lives.

So we need to look at 2 generations at least, 40 years of philosophical history at the very least, to discover what the next current crop of advertiser-targets will have roiling in their subconscious minds.

I'll leave off there until Part V of this series. But meanwhile, study the TV Series titled Mary Tyler Moore.

It's comedy -- but illustrates what a TV show must do in order to touch a nerve.

Think about Mary Tyler Moore in conjunction with any cross section of 2010's most popular fantasy novels.  As you know, I review the field and have read a very wide cross section of 2010's fantasy and SF too.

Manhattan publishing has hit a stride with mass market fantasy and that tells you a lot about the market if you know how to reverse-engineer the data.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. "It's comedy -- but illustrates what a TV show must do in order to touch a nerve."

    I was a little too young to "get" MTM so I clicked on the link and read the Amazon review.

    This caught my eye as a possible answer to the question of what a TV show must do:

    "At this point, the characters are pretty much one-note. Mary is cute and perky, Lou Grant hard-boiled, Rhoda brash, Phyllis flighty, and Ted Knight's vainglorious anchorman Ted Baxter idiotic. But what beautiful music they all would make in seasons to come."

    In other words, the combined magic of writing great characters and then casting the right actors.

    But if it's that simple, then SpongeBob Squarepants would also have made a good example. In fact, I can see SpongeBob as coming closer because his world is already more alienistic than Mary Tyler Moore's.

    And who wouldn't want to see SpongeBob succeed at romance?! :D