Vintage Cop Shows – Why Is The Cop On The Job?


I recently had a question from a reader about how different Character Types do the same job OR how the same Character Types might do a job differently.  This previous post answers both questions.  I love questions from readers.  Be sure to submit yours.

Three cop shows changed forever how police work is depicted on television. Each show was original and iconic in its own time. Each remains an example of emotional storytelling at peak intensity and engagement. Let’s look at Hill Street Blues, Homicide: Life on the Street and NYPD Blue and the lessons that can be drawn going forward.

Hill Street Blues redefined the cop/crime genre through intertwined partnerships that combined police officers’ stressful work lives with the conflicts in their private lives. Very few investigations or interrogations were ever featured on the show. Instead, each episode charted a “day in the life” of the precinct from the early-morning roll call to a late-night rehash of the day’s events. This recap was usually in the bedroom with lovers Captain Furillo and Public Defender Joyce Davenport. Hill Street Blues focused almost exclusively on the interpersonal relationships between the core cast members. The show also introduced a more “documentary” look and feel to the genre. Real-life personal issues and situations were explored in a raw and more explicit manner than previously depicted on earlier shows such as Columbo or Kojak. Real-life street slang was used throughout the program.

Homicide: Life on the Street exploded television racial stereotypes with multi-dimensional complex depictions of African Americans. The show was set in Baltimore, a predominately black American city. The storylines managed to cross racial barriers that were previously taboo on television. Homicide also broke many of television’s editing and narrative continuity rules. Jump cuts were numerous and unpredictable shifts in the narrative marked it as one of the most unconventional programs at that point in the genre. With a sharp unflinching honesty about race, prejudice and violence, the detective’s job is depicted as repetitive and emotionally draining. The show examined the enormous toll that policing took on individuals and on partnerships.

NYPD Blue was set against the backdrop of urban decay in New York City. Career cops were depicted as complicated, complex and often deeply flawed human beings. Although the show featured risky adult material, most of the stories were about families and the terrible emotional aftermath of violence. Less attention was paid to the crimes than how the crimes affected the relationships in the core cast. NYPD Blue was really about one man’s journey toward redemption. Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) began the show as a drunken abusive racist cop who is about to be thrown off the force (for good reason). Seventeen years later, he’s earned the top position in the precinct and, although still Andy, is fit to lead.

Each of these classic cop shows focused on the “Why” of the human cop story rather than the “How” of the crime story. That’s what made them successful. And that’s what separates these shows from the current generation of procedural cop shows like Law & Order (and all its varieties). But even in the Dick Wolf Law & Order universe, “Why” each person does the job is based on the individual’s very clear Character Type. For example: Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston), over many years on the show, still wrestles with the same questions of ethical principle vs. political expediency and law vs. justice. His “Why” is clearly driven by the Power of Conscience.

In a one-hour drama it is only possible to do one thing well– procedure or personal relationships. There isn’t time to do both well. There currently is lots of procedure on television. Perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to swing back to emotional personal relationships in cop shows.

Clear true emotions travel. They connect with the audience and move them week after week to watch a show. The definition of “to be entertained” is to feel something. In the classic cop shows discussed above, the mechanics of “How” a crime is solved is so much less important than “Why” the cops are doing what they are doing and “Why” they are affected by the job. If there is no “Why” it’s just cops going through the motions, which can make a story feel by-the-numbers and hollow.

The “Why” provides the passion and inter-personal conflict between the individuals in the story (and all the internal conflict within the character). Too often writers simply project their general idea of being a cop and the mechanics of “How” to put the cops through their paces— Instead of being specific about “Why” one particular individual is a cop.

There are four basic categories of “Why” anyone becomes a cop (or anything else for that matter):

1. It’s a job. Being a cop is solid union employment and a way to make a living or support a family. The cop does what is expected and punches out. The cop puts in the time and is concerned and responsible on the job. But he or she doesn’t take the job home and retires as soon as is feasible.

2. It’s a career. Being a cop is a good opportunity for advancement. The cop is working to achieve something else. The job is a means to an end (rising through the ranks, running for political office, becoming a consultant etc.) It is a stepping- stone to something else and worth the hard work and extra effort to achieve a larger goal.

3. It’s a vocation. Being a cop is a life mission or a higher calling. The cop is there to make a difference, have an important impact or change people’s lives. The work is a consuming passion for the cop. There is no dividing line between work and personal life. Work is the cop’s life.

4. It’s a mistake. Being a cop is not a good fit. The individual is a cop for the wrong reasons or the wrong motivations. Or the reality of the job doesn’t conform to the idea of the job or the fantasy of being a cop. In any case, the individual puts in the time and effort, got the job and now is trapped.

Any kind of employment, but particularly policing, has a variety of people who look at the “Why” of doing the job very differently. All individuals naturally assume their “Why” is the most valid reason or, if everyone else was honest, is the real motivation “Why” anyone works at the Station House or Precinct. This is a great opportunity for personal conflict in a story. Too often in cop shows (or shows featuring any profession) everyone is doing the job for the same reason. That isn’t the case in life and it shouldn’t be the case in your drama.

Layered onto “Why” someone is employed as a police officer (it’s a job, a career, a vocation or a mistake) is the “Why” of the individual’s Character Type. Looking down on nine different police officers toiling away long into the night it might be easy or convenient to believe they are all working hard for the same internal motivation or with the same value system and world view in mind. Every one of the Nine Character Types sees the world very differently, believes very different things about how the world works, and sees the primary role of a cop from a unique perspective.

1. Power of Conscience cops believe policing is a duty and a responsibility to make the world a better place. Doing the right thing is crucial to these kinds of cops. Their struggle is what is the higher duty or the most right—law or justice. (These two principles are not the same thing). Hill Street Blues‘ Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel) is this kind of character. Howard Hunter (James B. Sikking) is the comic version on the same show. Homicide’s Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) is also a Power of Conscience character. Rylan Givens (Timothy Oliphant) is a more recent example.

2. Power of Will cops believe policing is a matter of strength and the ability to dominate the situation. The use of power is crucial to these kinds of cops. Their struggle is what actually constitutes strength or power— excess or restraint. (Does compassion and tolerance make you stronger or weaker?) NYPD Blue’s Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) is this kind of character. A more recent example is Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) on The Shield.

3. Power of Ambition cops believe policing is a matter of winning or losing. Appealing to other’s self-interest is the way to get things done. Their struggle is with short cuts vs. the long hard patient slog—results or process. (If no one else plays by the rules why should they?) Hill Street Blues‘ John “JD” LaRue (Kiel Martin) is a Power of Ambition character. A more recent example is Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) on The Wire.

4. Power of Love cops believe policing is caring for others and helping them succeed. Compassion and understanding is crucial to how they get the job done. Their struggle is when to employ “tough love” or just give up on someone. (When does empathy or understanding simply enable bad or destructive behavior?) NYPD Blue’s Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) is this kind of character. Another example is Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) on Hill Street Blues.

5. Power of Idealism cops believe policing is a matter of individual style and personal excellence. Use of unique talents and refusing to buckle under to stupid bureaucrats is crucial to their method of policing. Their struggle is how to maintain their individuality and still be part of a larger organization. (When does being a maverick or a rebel cause more harm than good?) Homicide’s Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) illustrates the Power of Idealism character as a cop.  A more example is Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) on The Wire.

6. Power of Reason cops believe policing is a matter of keeping personal self-control and maintaining the social order. Objectivity, expertise and a depth of knowledge are crucial to getting the job done. Their struggle is to connect with their own emotions. (When is objectivity actually alienation?) Dexter’s title character (Michael C. Hall) is one of the best recent examples of this kind of character on the police force. Monk’s title character (Tony Shalhoub) is the comedic example.

7. Power of Truth cops believe policing is a matter of uncovering secret agendas and avoiding hidden pitfalls. Establishing trust, knowing who your friends are and being attuned to conspiracies are crucial to getting the job done. Their struggle is to accept the ambiguity of the job and the possibility of never finding real certainty. (Is the “truth” a moving target or something fixed and certain?) Homicide’s conspiracy obsessed Steve Crosetti (Jon Polito) is this kind of character. Hill Street Blues’ loyal to the core Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) is another example.  Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) on the UK version of Wallendar is a more recent example.

8. Power of Imagination cops believe policing is a matter of listening to your instincts, following hunches and special intuitive clues. Often access to what others cannot see or hear or a quirky special kind of insight is crucial to doing their job. Their struggle is how to interpret their unusual intuition or how best to communicate it to others. (Do they take me seriously or do they think I’m crazy?) This kind of cop is rare on television. Hill Street Blues’ Michael (Mick) Belker (Bruce Weitz) is an uncouth ruffian version of the Power of Imagination character.  A more recent example is police consultant Allison DuBois (Patricia Arquette) in Medium.

9. Power of Excitement cops believe policing is an adventure and a thrill ride. Their charm, good-humor and ability to get themselves in and out of traps is crucial to how they do their job. Their struggle is in following orthodox rules when it is so much more interesting to play fast and loose, improvise and shoot from the hip. (Are we having fun yet?) Beverly Hills Cop’s Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is the quintessential example of this character.

The “Why” of policing combined with Character Type creates a variety of complex and interesting individuals. It would be possible, for example, to create four very different Power of Conscience characters depending on whether they view policing as a job, as a career, as a vocation or as a mistake. Their values and their world views would not change but their attitudes would clash. For example: How these characters define their “higher duty” or what is the “most right” is hugely influenced by the reason they are on the job. Those different perspectives provide enormous potential conflict. Here is the breakdown:

1. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a job would probably believe the higher duty is owed to family. This cop would follow the rules, be conscientious and not take the job home.

2. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a career would probably believe the higher duty is owed to the organization or society. The higher the cop rises, the more effective the position becomes to do good and improve the larger situation. This cop would be relentless in seeking opportunities to advance a larger moral agenda.

3. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a vocation probably believes the higher duty is owed to the victims of crime. This cop’s passion would be justice for the victims and punishment for the criminals. His or her personal life would be consumed by this life mission.

4. A Power of Conscience cop who see policing as a mistake would probably believe the higher duty is owed to one’s self. Policing can be a murky business where there often is no right answer and true justice is hard to find. This lack of clear-cut black and white or right and wrong would probably be an unbearable burden on this individual– giving rise to external moral outrage and internal guilt or self-loathing. How can I be good or worthy in a cesspool?

Creating an ensemble which clearly addresses “Why” the cop is on the job combined with Character Type provides an endless source of internal and external conflict. Making use of the full variety of human experience in specific combination creates memorable partnerships, unforgettable enemies and extraordinary individual characters.

A Bug’s Life & Revolution in the Middle East

A Bugs LifeI watched Pixar’s A Bug’s Life last night and was struck by the similarities in the story to what is happening in Egypt and all around the Middle East.  The film is a powerful statement of “there are more of us than there are of them.”

Whenever a ruthless dictator and a few brutal henchmen seize power and squander the resources of the community, they rely on fear, intimidation and violence to keep and maintain the repressive status quo.  Once the community wakes up and realizes its own inherent power, it can’t be stopped in its demands for freedom and autonomy.  It is usually the young who lead the way.

In the real world, the community may have to take several runs at the oppressive regime over an extended period of time but “you cannot stop an idea whose time has come.”  In the Middle East we see a surging hunger for democracy and a desire to end the repressive exploitation that has kept so many people poor, overworked and paralyzed by fear.

Here is my commentary on this wonderful Pixar film released in 1998 and well worth another look today.


In A Bug’s Life, an island colony of hard-working ants is exploited by a dictatorial grasshopper thug, Hopper (voiced by Kevin Spacey).  Hopper and his vicious henchmen extort most of the colony’s food each summer. The ants are left with very little time to gather what meager provisions that are left.

Flik (voiced by Dave Foley), is young ant who rebels against the traditional conformity of ant society.  He is an individual thinker and an odd-ball eccentric.  Flik is a Power of Idealism character.  These characters want to find their special place in the world, be extraordinary in what they do and are often called to some great destiny (usually as a freedom-fighting warrior/leader).  They are misfits, mavericks and rebels. These characters reject popular opinion or the demands of authority to maintain and assert their own unique individuality and break through the accepted conventions of society.

All the other ants in the film march in lock-step following exactly the ant that went before.  They panic when the “line” is broken by a randomly fallen leaf.  Flik wants to do things differently.  He’s invented a threshing machine to make grain collection faster and easier.  He goes off on his own to do his own thing. None of the other ants want anything to do with him.  Because he’s young and still learning, Flik’s inventions tend to end in disaster.

When Flik adds his pile of food to the offering for the grasshoppers, he accidentally dumps everything into the stream. The grasshoppers arrive and are furious to find that their tribute booty is gone.  They double the extortion price and the colony will most likely have to work themselves to death and starve when their last food reserves are taken.


Flik offers a radical idea.  He will leave the colony, find a band of warrior insects and lead a rebellion against the evil grasshopper regime.  Everyone thinks he is crazy but they send him off on what they see as a suicide mission, mostly to get rid of him.  They don’t want any problems or delays in their desperate attempts to gather more food for the grasshoppers.  The only ant who believes in Flik is Dot, a youngster who is the littlest member of the ant royal family.

Dot (voiced by Hayden Panettiere) is a Power of Imagination character.  Like all of these kinds of characters, she is innocent and naive.  Power of Imagination characters are childlike in their beliefs.  They are often overlooked small and gentle souls who believe against all odds, trust against all conventional wisdom and have faith against all experience or reason.  Dot has absolute unwavering conviction in Flik’s abilities.  She watches for him and when he returns she says:  “Flik you came back. I knew you could do it!”

Any rebellion against the status quo requires true believers in the impossible.  In the recent rebellions, it has been the women (the mothers, grandmothers and daughters) who have quietly been providing food, water and medical attention to the protesters, believing with simple unwavering conviction in what here-to-fore has seemed impossible to achieve.  I am sure some women probably fought but the pictures mostly have demonstrated the quiet resistance of the women who believe in the fight their sons, brothers and fathers are waging.


Princess Atta (voiced by Julia Louis-Drefuss) is a Power of Truth character.  She is nervous and slightly neurotic, always doubting and second-guessing herself.  She hems and haws until Flik is beaten badly by the grasshopper overlord, Hopper.  When Flik refuses to back down, even in the face of certain death, she finally finds her courage and helps rally the ants.  The community’s powerfully linked arms, realization of their own inherent power and superior numbers overwhelms the grasshoppers.

As we are seeing in the rebellions unfolding in the Middle East, you can’t stop the power of a united community.  When people link arms and keep coming, eventually, and often at great cost, a repressive regime topples.  The simple truth is always: “There are more of us than there are of them.”   The following clips expresses the philosophy of despotic thug regimes everywhere and how the community, when powerfully called to action, eventually triumphs.

Enjoy and watch some simple entertainment that contains a potent message and lesson we all need to learn over and over again.  Find the clips here:

NFL Leadership Styles – Can You Help?

Sometimes it is really useful to look at the Character Types of real people to see how what they do or say defines them.  The SuperBowl and the magnificent victory by Green Bay and their young quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a great example to start off with.

I’d like to type all the major players in the NFL in terms of their leadership styles.  I’m looking for some help here– with quotations or a link to a video as an illustrations.  I did a similar article on Celebrity Chefs on TV and how their cooking and food presenting style reflected their Character Type  Can you help fill out the NFL roster and comment on your favorite players?  Interview or commentary links or player quotes are really useful as illustrations.  See the leadership definitions below.


Let’s start with Aaron Rodgers as a Power of Conscience leader.  Notice in his David Letterman interview below he talks about leading by example.  That is what the best Power of Conscience characters do.  He also talks about responsibility, duty, preparation, practicing hard and putting in the time to do the job well. That doesn’t mean he isn’t passionate about the game or inspirational– it just means that those qualities are not the primary attributes of leadership to him.

The Power of Conscience character leads by showing fairness, firmness, consistency, justice and providing a good example.  They believe the rule of law is humankind’s salvation.
The best Power of Conscience leaders are “servant leaders” who have  the humility to serve the greater good of others. Power of Conscience leaders teach their followers to be of service themselves.

The Power of Conscience character leads by showing fairness, firmness, consistency and providing a good example.   The best Power of Conscience leaders are “servant leaders” who have  the humility to serve the greater good of others. Power of Conscience leaders teach their followers to be of service themselves.

Here is Aaron Rodgers on leadership in his own words.

Dandy Dozen Movies FootballPOWER OF IDEALISM

Power of Idealism leaders are passionate and emotional leaders. They are inspiring and challenge their followers to give their all to a glorious cause.  They create a sense of special destiny and often link their mission to the grand heroism  or glories of the past.  These characters lead their followers into a lost cause or an impossible battle.  They know the odds are grim and victory is improbable but they charge in anyway.  What they are after is valor, honor and a grand and glorious legacy—the kind of immortality to inspire others in story, song or legend.  Who in the NFL leads in this way?

The player who comes to my mind is George Gipp.  In the film, Knute Rockne All American, Knute quotes George like this:

Knute Rockne: Now I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept to myself for years. None of you ever knew George Gipp. He was long before your time, but you all know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame. And the last thing he said to me, “Rock,” he said, “sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock,” he said, “but I’ll know about it and I’ll be happy.”


Power of Reason characters are more loners than leaders.  When they are  put in charge (or they take charge) they use their intelligence, expertise, knowledge and technical skills to lead (or sometimes to dominate) others.  They are most comfortable as experts or technicians.

These characters are not very skilled at interpersonal relationships.  They don’t naturally engage or charismatically inspire others.  They usually don’t like the genial chit-chat of team banter and camaraderie. Instead, these characters  attract followers with their problem-solving abilities, technical ability, specialized experience or practical know-how.

When Power of Reason characters want to take command they argue that they are the most experienced or qualified to lead.  They argue that they are in fact the intellectually or skills-based superior choice.  Who in the NFL leads like this?


Power of Ambition characters are most often potential leaders, protégés and young, upwardly mobile strivers.  They are impatient, high-energy individuals who want to get things done and who put a very high premium on accomplishment (right now!).  They are often willing to take short cuts and cut corners to get ahead.  They value fame, popularity and status.

These characters think well on their feet and are flexible and adaptable in a crisis.  They can talk themselves into or out of any situation.  When it serves their purpose they can fit in, with an almost chameleon-like ability, in any situation.  They can be witty, engaging, amusing and “great in the interview room.”  They are very charming and personable, if rather boasters and braggers.

The fictional player who fits this type is Brian “Smash” Williams’s (Gaius Charles) on Friday Night Lights.  He is talented, arrogant and likes taking short cuts and avoiding hard questions.

Smash Williams: Takin’ it like a man, Matty. You know, avoiding the calls, ducking out, hidin’ in the bushes.


Power of Will characters bring many wonderful leadership qualities to the NFL community.  They are decisive and authoritative.  Others naturally look to them to them to take charge.  They are strong, bold and  forceful leaders.  These characters stand out from the crowd with a commanding presence.   Their philosophy is “win or die.”  They see the world as a battlefield where only the strong survive.

Power of Will characters motivate others through the sheer force of their personality and their innate toughness and charisma. They are big dynamic characters who can “fill up a room.” Each wonderful quality of Power of WIll leadership has a set of corresponding Trouble Traits.  Decisiveness becomes rashness when a leader fails to delay action long enough to fully consider the consequences of an action or doesn’t have the patience to listen to others.  Leadership that is unilateral and absolute or will not permit dissent easily slips into dictatorial megalomania and colossal paranoia.  Who in the NFL leads like this?

The person who comes to mind first for me is iconic Green Bay Coach, Vince Lombardi, who famously said:  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” He was a big larger than life leader who had incredible force of will.


Power of Excitement leaders make everything fun and can recast anything as a amusing game.  Their boyish charm and charisma can make them natural leaders. People gravitate toward these characters and follow them quite joyfully, rather like children who follow the lively, captivating music of the Pied Piper.  They have lots of natural or innate talent but often lack the discipline and drive to excel under difficult circumstances.

Power of Excitement characters rarely are happy in a leadership position.  They do not like the responsibility, follow-up and attention to detail that real leadership requires.  If it’s not interesting, amusing or enjoyable these characters get bored, don’t show up or make a quick exit.  Power of Excitement characters excel at  instigating and finding interesting opportunities, but don’t always count on them to bring any crucial item in on schedule.  Is there anyone in the NFL like this?


Power of Love leaders rarely like to be out in front in a take charge position.  They prefer to exercise their control as the “power behind the throne”.  Power of Love characters usually “lead” in supportive roles.  They are great mentors and excel at providing encouragement and emotional support.

Power of Love characters view leadership as serving others, being of practical use and creating the sense they are indispensable.  These characters get real satisfaction from pushing others forward and seeing them do well.  They tend to bond with individuals more strongly than the team as a whole.  Who in the NFL leads like this?


Power of Imagination leaders are able to sense the deep internal connections that bind and unify all of us.  They lead by bringing together and inspiring others to see this bigger picture, this sense of common purpose or a larger universal mission.  At first glance, these assembled individuals might seem to be contentious or have little or nothing in common.

Power of Imagination  characters inspire united action by convincing disparate individuals that:  “We’re all in this together” and “If we work together we will all achieve something important or worthwhile.”  They are often gentle, shy or unassuming individuals who are the glue that holds a team together.  Who in the NFL leads like this?

favre vikingsPOWER OF TRUTH

Power of Truth characters often use an initial affable and friendly approach to solving problems, pursuing goals and leading others.  These characters don’t tend to be natural leaders. They don’t generally gravitate toward the front of the group.  They tend to be too suspicious, anxious, self-doubting and second-guessing to expose themselves to the front and center scrutiny of others.

Brett Favre is this kind of leader.  I wrote an analysis of him in an earlier post.  Power of Truth characters value loyalty and commitment very highly, but they can be very unsettled and indecisive. They can become self-doubting and suspicious to the point of paralysis.  At that point, they no longer trust their own instincts.

Brett’s is legendary for his retirement indecisiveness. In their darkest moments, these characters worry that they can’t believe anyone or anything.  They suspect everyone is lying to them and every situation is not what it seems.  They constantly look for little clues to confirm their doubts, suspicions and anxieties.  These characters continually test and probe when operating out of fear. They insist others constantly prove themselves.  They try to read the secret meaning in, or second-guess every move, every action and every decision made by others.

I’d love to fill out these profiles in leadership with your favorite NFL nominees.  It’s most useful if you have quotes or links to interviews or commentary that backs up your choices.  Please comment below or on my FaceBook ETB Page.  Please share it with your football-loving friends so we can get a dialog going.

Power of Imagination


Power of Imagination characters see the world as or make the world into a miraculous and magical place.  They can access what others can’t.  Their reaction to this unique perception is affirming and all embracing.  They never doubt their vision, special insight or call from beyond.

These  characters are launched on a quest when something in the wider world is disrupted, thrown out of balance or is causing danger or deep divisions.  They are reluctant heroes who are pushed into their roles by larger circumstances.  Greatness is usually thrust upon them via a special message, personal intuition, vivid vision or supernatural imperative that calls to them in some deeply powerful way.

In calling others to heed their vision, these characters naturally collect diverse individuals who share a common purpose despite significant outward differences and even conflicting agendas or opposing points of view.  Their goal to keep the potentially divisive group together and to restore harmony and balance to the world.

A character driven by the Power of Imagination used to be a fairly rare character in film and television. More recently, these Character Types are more common. Power of Imagination  characters are the naifs, innocents and eccentrics, seemingly the last person anyone would think of as a hero. They are, in fact, the classic mythic hero or the reluctant hero that Joseph Campbell and Chris Vogler describe.

Power of Imagination ETB Screenwriting

Character Examples

Film examples include:  Horton in Horton Hears a Who; Luke Skywalker in Star Wars; Frodo in The Lord of the Rings; Amelie Poulain in Amelie; and Lt. John Dunbar in Dances with Wolves.  For more movie examples see the Power of Imagination blog posts.

John Locke in Lost; Alison Dubois in Medium; Ned in Pushing Daisies; Phoebe Buffay in Friends; and Hiro Nakamura in Heroes are great television examples of this Character Type.  For more television examples see the Power of Imagination blog posts.

Power of Imagination eBook

The Power of Imagination Character Type eBook explains how these characters are alike and how each character is made individually distinct. It Imagination help you develop unique, original, evocative and authentic Power of Imagination characters that fully explore all the contradictions, reversals and surprises of a fully formed human being.
Discover the Power of Imagination character’s specific goals, unique emotional obstacles and very distinct responses and reactions to any opportunity, challenge or threat. Create this character’s Immediate Tactics, Long-term Orientation and Strategic Approach in a way that is recognizably “true” at every step of the story and during every moment of screen time. The audience Imagination instantaneously recognize and relate to your character because your character is complex, three-dimensional and “feels real.”
This eBook is thorough analysis of the Power of Imagination Character Type in his or her many guises and roles as a protagonist or a member of a larger ensemble. It is packed with numerous examples from film, television and even real life! Examples from scores of scenes and dozens of quotes from film and television characters clearly illustrate this character’s motivations and psychological dynamics in a story.

The Power of Imagination Character Type eBook explains how these characters are alike and how each character is made individually distinct. It Imagination help you develop unique, original, evocative and authentic Power of Imagination characters that fully explore all the contradictions, reversals and surprises of a fully formed human being.

Discover the Power of Imagination character’s specific goals, unique emotional obstacles and very distinct responses and reactions to any opportunity, challenge or threat. Create this character’s Immediate Tactics, Long-term Orientation and Strategic Approach in a way that is recognizably “true” at every step of the story and during every moment of screen time. The audience Imagination instantaneously recognize and relate to your character because your character is complex, three-dimensional and “feels real.”

This eBook is thorough analysis of the Power of Imagination Character Type in his or her many guises and roles as a protagonist or a member of a larger ensemble. It is packed with numerous examples from film, television and even real life! Examples from scores of scenes and dozens of quotes from film and television characters clearly illustrate this character’s motivations and psychological dynamics in a story.

Power of Imagination ETB Screenwriting

Comprehensive Analysis

The Power of Imagination Character Type eBook illustrates exactly how to create and differentiate this character based on his or her:

(1.) World View (beliefs about how the world works) What are the essential core beliefs that motivate a Power of Imagination character’s ordinary actions?

(2.) Role or Function (position in the story or role in the ensemble) What do the other players look to a Power of Imagination character to do or provide in the story?

(3.) Values in Conflict (competing values that push the character to extremes) What opposing choices or goals establish the Power of Imagination character’s moral code? What is this character willing to fight, sacrifice or die for? And why?

(4.) Story Questions (emotional journey in the story) What personal issues, dilemmas and internal conflicts does a Power of Imagination character wrestle with over the course of the story? What does this character ask of him or her self? What is this character’s Leap of Faith in an emotionally satisfying story?

(5.) Story Paradox (emotional dilemma) What is the duality or the contradiction at the heart of a Power of Imagination character’s story struggle? How is the character’s internal conflict expressed in actions.

(6.) Life Lessons (how to complete the emotional journey) What must a Power of Imagination character learn over the course of the story to make a clear, satisfying personal transformation? What actions lead to this character’s emotional salvation?

(7.) Dark Side (this character as a predator or villain) What happens when a Power of Imagination character’s actions are driven entirely by fear? How might or how does the story end in tragedy?

(8.) Leadership Style (what defines and qualifies this character as a leader) How does a Power of Imagination character convince others to follow? How does this character act to take charge and command?

(9.) Film Examples (the Power of Imagination character as a protagonist)

(10.) Television Examples (the Power of Imagination character as central to an ensemble)

(11.) Real Life Examples (historical Power of Imagination figures on the world stage)

Barack Obama – Three Factors of Character Type

small_obama ETB ScreenwritingI’ve written extensively on the differences in Character Type between John McCain and Barack Obama.  Both candidates’ response to the recent American financial crisis is further revealing of all aspects of their Character Types.

Today let’s take a closer look at Barack Obama’s response
A Character Type is made up of three key factors:

1. Immediate Tactics: This is how a character reacts to a specific challenge, opportunity or threat.  It is a character’s immediate tactical response or maneuvers to deal with a specific problem or obstacle in the short-term.

2.  Long-term Orientation: This is how the character views the world, sees his or her role in it and is what a character believes is true about life and love.  It is a character’s overarching personal philosophy and view of self.

3.  Strategic Approach: This is how a character goes about leading or getting things done over the long haul.  It is how a character works with others overall. It is how a character takes charge or commands to achieve a larger goal.  Strategy deals with the art of of obtaining a grand overarching objective.

Each of these key factors is motivated by the fight, flight or embrace/submit response.  These are the three possible biological reactions to anything.  A character can confront something (fight).  He or she can withdraw from something (flight).  Or a character can embrace or submit to something.

Each of these key factors is motivated by the fight, flight or embrace/submit response.  These are the three possible biological reactions to anything.  A character can confront something (fight).  He or she can withdraw from something (flight).  Or a character can embrace or submit to something.

Obama is a classic Power of Imagination character.

Interestingly, Obama’s tactical and strategic dynamics are exactly the same as McCain’s: Immediate Tactics (embrace) and Strategic Approach (withdraw). This combination manifests itself very differently because a Power of Imagination character’s overarching personal philosophy and view of self is poles apart from that of the Power of Idealism character like John McCain.

1. Immediate Tactics: Power of Imagination characters embrace an opportunity, challenge or threat as something to be communicated to others. Power of Imagination characters believe they have a big message, an important directive or urgent call from “somewhere out there” or somewhere “deep inside.” They know in their heart when they have connected with something bigger and more extraordinary than themselves.

These characters are then compelled to embrace others and share their perceptions. They want others to embrace the common good inspired by their vision. Power of Imagination characters are the most unlikely of messengers. They usually people who are normally overlooked. As a young black man, with only a two year tenure in the Senate, Obama is a very unlikely Presidential candidate.

Despite their improbable chances, the power of their idea, message or inspiration forces these characters to gather others in some kind of common quest or group journey. These characters want to simply embrace and be a part of the group but, in the end, they are thrust forward to take on the hero’s role.

In the recent US financial crisis, Obama took a background role. He quietly worked the phones trying to bring members of Congress together in some kind of compromise. He only came forward when forced by John McCain to attend the Presidential level meeting with Congressional leaders. Afterward Obama said: “It is a mistake to interject Presidential politics into sensitive negotiations.” McCain characterized Obama’s low key unifying tactics as not providing bold enough leadership.

2. Long-term Orientation: Power of Imagination characters see the world as a vast web of interconnection. They take an inconspicuous background role in order to embrace and validate others and more effectively weave together collaborators who ordinarily would have nothing in common. They stress that whatever personal differences there may be, a common purpose should unite the group.

The Power of Imagination character’s philosophy might be stated: “We must be inspired to work for the common good and the welfare of the whole.” They believe: “All for one. One for all.” They value unity, cooperation and collaboration above all else.

Barack Obama often uses the words “we” and “us” in his campaign. “America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.” “Now is the moment for us to come together and put the fire out (of the financial crisis).” “We have a daunting task ahead of us.” He sees leadership as being an exercise in building relationships and using teamwork.

These characters’ worldview can make them seem impractical, quixotic, dreamy and disorganized. Their extreme aversion to conflict and confrontation often inhibits setting appropriate boundaries, standing their ground and making difficult choices. At their worst, Power of Imagination characters dither, compromise, and endlessly discuss needed decisions for fear of offending someone or not including everyone in the decision-making.. At their best, they bring people together to work toward a common goal.

3. Strategic Approach: A Power of Imagination character’s overall method of working with others toward a goal is to step back or withdraw for the good of the group. These characters don’t want to impose themselves on others too stridently. They are extremely patient and are willing to work through thorny problems or difficult issues by listening to all sides. These character don’t particular seek individual credit. They much prefer to be subsumed in the team. Their challenge as leaders is to step forward decisively and make the hard potentially divisive decision on their own.

Obama’s actions during the financial crisis seemed cool and distant. He doesn’t exhibit a lot of passion, a sense of urgency or boldness. His Immediate Tactic: Embrace along with his Long Term Orientation: Embrace combine with his Strategic Approach: Withdraw creates a measured approach which is directed at patiently building consensus.

McCain sees a challenge in terms of a personal call to step forward as an individual hero. Obama sees a challenge in terms of bringing people together as a unified group. If this were a romantic comedy sparks would fly as the two characters exchanged gifts and filled in the missing pieces in the other.

#ThinkpieceThursday – McCain and Obama: Character Consistency in Storytelling

Obama Mccain ETB ScreenwritingThe U.S. election drama has me riveted.  It is an amazing opportunity to see two Character Types play out their roles on the world stage.  Here are two articles that demonstrate how consistently Character Types are viewed.  The same basic qualities are highlighted in nearly every analysis and review of the candidate’s campaign performance.

Here is what the co-author of McCain’s memoirs said about the stories McCain loves and how they connect with his own story:

The John McCain (as he describes himself in) “Faith of My Fathers,” for example, bears more than a little resemblance to the fictional Robert Jordan of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Mr. McCain later celebrated (this Hemmingway hero) in another book (about himself) with Mr. Salter, “Worth the Fighting For,” which was named for a line of Jordan’s dying thoughts. (Jordan) was “a man who would risk his life but never his honor,” Mr. McCain wrote with Mr. Salter, a model of “how a great man should style himself.”

Each book is heavy with premonitions of mortality. Robert Jordan and John McCain each confront great tests (the temptation to escape a doomed mission for one, the offer of early prison release for the other) in the service of a lost cause (the socialists in the Spanish Civil War, the Americans in Vietnam). And in accepting his fate, each makes peace with his father and grandfather.

Mr. McCain’s admirers, like Mr. Timberg, have often puzzled over what drew him to Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage.” It is a convoluted psychodrama about a young man with a club foot; he seethes with resentment over his disability and nearly ruins his life in the thrall of a waitress-turned-prostitute who rejects him. But the character’s final realization could fit almost as well near the conclusion of Mr. McCain’s memoir: “It might be that to surrender happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories.”

“That explains it,” Mr. Salter said when he heard the line. “Perfect McCainism.”

The full New York Times article can be found at:

Power of Idealism characters have a sense of doomed destiny.  They reject the offer of ordinary escape (and a happy life) in favor of the valiant, but doomed attempt.  They embrace glorious defeat (or death on the battle field) in order to live out their own scenario of courage and personal honor.

Here’s what a recent article by a conservative New York Times columnist said about Obama:

“(O)ver the past two years, Obama has… shown the same untroubled self-confidence day after day. There has never been a moment when, at least in public, he seems gripped by inner turmoil. It’s not willpower or self-discipline he shows as much as an organized unconscious (or I might add the collective unconscious). Through some deep, bottom-up process, he has developed strategies for equanimity…

They say we are products of our environments, but Obama, the sojourner (on his quest), seems to go through various situations without being overly touched by them. Over the past two years, he has been the subject of nearly unparalleled public worship, but far from getting drunk on it, he has become less grandiloquent as the campaign has gone along.

…It could be that Obama (as a president) will be an observer, not a leader. Rather than throwing himself passionately into his causes, he will stand back. Congressional leaders, put off by his supposed intellectual superiority, will just go their own way. Lost in his own nuance, he will be passive and ineffectual. Lack of passion will produce lack of courage. The Obama greatness will give way to the Obama anti-climax.

We can each guess how the story ends. But over the past two years, Obama has clearly worn well with voters. Far from a celebrity fad, he is self-contained, self-controlled and maybe even a little dull”

The full New York Times article can be found at:

Power of Imagination characters are humble and self-effacing quite naturally.  They seek greatness from others and draw their inspiration and power from the bottom up (rather than display it from the top down like John McCain does).

Obama’s grass roots campaign and masses of small individual donations also displays this Character Type’s bottom up view of things.  The danger is they are always collecting allies and consensus and avoid stepping out decisively or with passion on their own, ahead of the crowd, to really lead.  They can be a bit dull and do seem quite ordinary.  Their leap of faith is to move away from the unity of the crowd and make hard decisions that could be divisive.

Horton Hears A Who – Power of Imagination

Horton-hears-a-who-etbscreenwriting“On the fifteenth of May, in the jungle of Nool, in the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool, he was splashing…enjoying the jungle’s great joys… When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.” This Dr. Seuss rhyme, narrated by Charles Osgood, starts off the wonderful film, Horton Hears A Who.

Only Horton (Jim Carrey) can hear the noise but he is utterly convinced that it is a signal that someone is in trouble. His conviction that he can hear something no one else can hear makes Horton a classic Power of Imagination character.

The Power of Imagination character is someone gentle, unassuming and rather meek. These characters are the naifs, innocents, eccentrics and dreamers, seemingly the last person one would think of as a hero.

Horton is a gentle and slightly goofy elephant who leads a troop of children around the jungle exploring and appreciating the environment. He simply enjoys being part of the group. But Horton, as unlikely as it seems, is a hero inside. Greatness is thrust upon him via that special message only he can hear.

Power of Imagination characters believe absolutely in whatever is calling them. They never doubt the “reality” of their call, whatever form it takes (no matter how strange, unusual, mystical or incomprehensible). Horton’s seemingly absurd call from an invisible world is very threatening to Kangaroo (Carol Burnett).

Kangaroo is a rigid authoritarian Power of Conscience character. In her view, right is right and wrong is wrong. She is the moral authority in the jungle and can’t allow deviation from the norms of accepted behavior. She insists, “If you can’t see, hear or feel something it doesn’t exist. And believing in ‘tiny imaginary people’ is just not something we do— or tolerate around here.” She strictly enforces these rules “for the sake of the children.”

But Horton is undeterred by her scolding and threats. He believes, “A person is a person no matter how small.” He fully understands the risks as he travels to find a safe spot for the speck that contains Whoville. He tells the speck, “We must become invisible, travel silently, for there are forces that would seek to destroy us.”

Whoville is too small for Horton to see and Horton is too big for the citizens for Whoville to see. But each must believe in the other. Horton saves and transforms the Mayor of Whoville’s life and all Whoville citizens by the sheer tenacity of his belief in their world. The Mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell), with Horton’s help, empowers his small silent son, JoJo, to add his voice to the chorus. The Whoville collective cry is faint but clear. And finally heard by all.

Kagaroo is defeated by this demonstration of mutual faith and collective action. She slumps away in shame. Horton, being the Power of Imagination character that he is, can’t help but be inclusive. He extends a hand to her and she is welcomed back into the jungle family. Horton is celebrated for the hero he is.

Horton, the unlikely hero, joins other well-known and well-loved Power of Imagination characters in cinema.

These include young character such as:

Elliot in E.T., the younger brother who has a special kind of communication with the alien, and gathers his older brother’s friends to help E.T. get home.

Frodo, in The Fellowship of the Ring, a young hobbit who has a special connection with the One Ring, and leads men, dwarves, hobbits and elves in a quest against The Dark Lord Sauron.

Luke Skywalker, in Star Wars, a young farm boy who has a special connection with The Force, and leads a space pirate, a Wookie, a robot and a droid in a quest against The Empire and the Death Star.

Power of Imagination adults in cinema have a child-like ingenuity and visionary call. These characters include:

Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, who is intuitively drawn to Devil’s Tower after contact with a UFO and unites a band of like-minded people to make a pilgrimage to contact the aliens.

Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, who hears “build it and they will come.” He carves out a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field, is united with his father and helps the disgraced baseball player, Shoeless Joe Jackson, find peace.

As the formerly jaded author, Terry Mann, says of the cornfield: “Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children… And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters… People will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

The ability to unify others toward a common goal or cause and/or connect with magic, the miraculous or the metaphysical is the hallmark of Power of Imagination characters.