5 Signs Your Show's Writers Have Run Out of Ideas

By Doug Norrie 2009-11-16 17:00:21 discussion comments
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If the main character just woke out of an episode-long dream sequence, then things have gone real bad in the writing room. Follow this helpful little guide to know if a television writer's creative juices have just stopped flowing. There are tons of them, but here are some real, real bad signs for any television show.

Get someone famous to kill a little time...

Nothing spells the death knell for a show like when it starts ridiculous celebrity cameos. I think the thought process here is, “we don’t have anything good for the characters to say or do, so let’ get in here. He/she can just kind of do some stuff because he/she famous. That should get the ratings up.”

Example – Stevie Wonder on The Cosby Show. They crash into his car, meet him, got to recording studio, listen to him sing, call it an episode. Shameless.

Characters time travel...

The ultimate cop out. Time travel is such an insanely bad idea in television shows that I don’t even know where to begin. It offers unlimited possibilities, scenarios, and situations that are undermined by the idea the characters can just go do it all over again if they want.

Example: Heroes (more season 2 and on but they had this problem from the beginning)

We find out the whole episode was just a dream

Ugggh. You can usually see it coming. The main character is in such a weird and unlikely place that with five minutes left you can’t help but think, “Either this is going to be a ‘to be continued’ or else it is a dream.” Both terrible options.

Example: This happened in every Friday show ever made – Family Matters, Full House, Step By Step, etc. Also, I thought this device was awful in The Sopranos.

Characters all go on a vacation somewhere...

This is the classic, maybe we’ll think of something funny/interesting if we just have a new setting. The cast getting a little bland? Let’s have them tell the same jokes, but this time they are all in Jamaica together. They can be sarcastic/smarmy/ditzy on a beautiful, tropical island rather than in their apartment. Bonus for writers: may get to shoot on location.

Example: Friends ( a number of times) - London, Ski trip, Beach House, Tropical Island

Characters play in a high stakes poker game to decide something...

This is relatively new and frankly what sparked this list to begin with. In some ways, I wish poker never became popular because now I know a little more about and can tell it is never tackled accurately in entertainment. The characters just end up playing in the most ludicrously, impossible situation ever like royal flush beats four aces.

Example: FlashForward. Bad sign considering this show just aired its 8th episode. I could have actually just made a list from what the FlashForward writers do on a weekly basis, but what fun would that have been?

Anyone else have any other particularly bad writing examples?
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