Monday, October 10, 2022

Back in the saddle on the streets

First - this was supposed to be posted two weeks ago. I wrote it but then forgot to press PUBLISH. 

Yeah, my brain (as we say here in Glasgow) is mince. That's ground beef for you guys across the pond.


 I've been revisiting some old TV favourites recently, both shows that as a boy I loved and others of more recent vintage.

Don't worry, I'm not going to say that telly was better back then because it really wasn't. It was of its day and when you watch these shows you have to try to rekindle the spirit of the times, when things were simpler and everything was in black and white.

The majority are westerns, series that I lapped up avidly in the early 1960s. Yes, I am that old. They've not been seen on British telly for many years but they are getting an airing thanks to the Talking Pictures channel, which is a must have for movie buffs. Where else will you get classic series nestling alongside Brit flicks from the 40s to the 70s, Hammer movies in their Eastmancolour gorey and seldom seen US movies from the 60s and 70s?

It was shows like 'Cheyenne', 'Maverick' and 'Sugarfoot' that instilled in me my love of westerns and all three are being screened.

Yes, the storytelling is stodgy compared to today but there was a conciseness to it that is lacking in an age when we're urged to watch three episodes of a show before it gets into full swing. How many times have we been told 'Stick with it, it gets better'? Who can be bothered?

And there's the star power. James Garner had the charisma wattage to counteract the energy crisis while Clint Walker may have been wooden enough to provide a home for squirrels and I'd forgotten how boyish Will Hutchins was in 'Sugarfoot' (whatever happened to him, I wonder?). But both he and big Clint were both watchable. At least for me.

They haven't unearthed episodes of 'Bronco' with Ty Hardin but I'm keeping my fingers, and my shooting irons, crossed.

Then there's 'The Saint', with former Maverick star Roger Moore  getting togged up in some cool suits, driving an even cooler Volvo and cocking an eyebrow like a pro. Again, the storytelling is tight, not a wasted scene. It was get in, get the job done, get out again.

And the fight scenes, although not realistic, were pretty good. I watched one recently which featured some unusual moves which were decidedly not Marquis of Queensberry approved. Simon Templar held a bad guy upside down and bounced his head on the floor!

Rog was another one with charisma to spare. He could act, although he seldom was given the chance, but my goodness he did what he did with tremendous style.

A more recent series I've caught up withy is 'NYPD Blue', and frankly it has never been bettered. Big things were predicted for David Caruso on the back of this series, which he left in season two. Despite a few movie roles, those big things never did really materialise, which is a shame because he had the knack of getting to the heart of a scene. Eventually, he did hit the big time with CSI: Miami. Frankly, nobody took off, and then put back on, a pair of sunglasses like him.

Dennis Franz was the breakout star of a show, playing a drunken, racist and quite possibly corrupt cop who changed into a tough but tender detective over the course of the seasons. The show itself broke new ground on network TV for its language and its flashes of nudity. It all seems tame now, thanks to the likes of HBO, but in its day it would make Roger Moore raise both eyebrows.

I'm loving this welcome opportunity to watch from the very beginning.

But what has all this to do with a writing blog?

I'm glad you asked that.

I learned my craft not simply by reading books but also by watching these and many other shows and each, in turn, has influenced my writing. 

The western series, movies and books I read gave me the idea of the lone protagonist, righting wrongs. When these characters move into another town at the beginning of each episode, they found normality being upended and that taught me at an early age that it doesn't matter how civilised the world becomes, there will always be someone wishing to subvert it, either through self-interest or just plain evil. 

Of course, as I grew older, I found that there were politicians the world over who make it their mission to  do the same.

'NYPD Blue' showed me that you could stylise your dialogue, and get away with it. The backdrop and plotlines could be realistic, but the way the characters speak to each other can carry a level of artifice and still sound genuine.

But also, watching these series from the early black and white days of TV to one from the 80s, exemplified how storytelling changes. In the older shows the main characters are static. They do not grow, they do not transform. From episode one to episode 200, they remain the same.

But by the time 'NYPD Blue' came along, that was being tossed out of the window. The masterful 'Hill Street Blues' paved the way, to be honest stealing the idea from soap opera, but 'NYPD Blue' perfected it and led to the shows we have today.

That some of them are so intent in being depressing is another matter.


Charlotte Hinger said...

Douglas, our newest Type M'er, Johnny D. Boggs, is a fabulous western writer. It's no wonder he has won so many awards. Check out his books.

Anna said...

Another good western show from the old days, with plenty of nuanced writing: Gunsmoke.