2009 Emmy Nominee Analysis

Emmy-statue-etbscreenwritingNominees in major categories for the 61st annual Primetime Emmy Awards were recently announced by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the protagonists’ Character Types in the nominated dramas. The list includes: Big Love, HBO; Breaking Bad, AMC; Damages, FX Networks; Dexter, Showtime; House, Fox; Lost, ABC; Mad Men, AMC.

The reason each of these shows is successful is the clarity and consistency of the major characters. Each protagonist is written with authenticity and “feels real.” The storylines track the characters’ major life questions and the audience is compelled to watch how the drama unfolds.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the Emmy nominated shows and protagonist Character Type.

Big Love is the story of Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton), the head of a polygamist family of three very different wives (and three sets of children). Bill is a decent God-fearing man who tries to be a good husband and father. He is a quintessential Power of Conscience character. Bill’s stoylines and the dramatic throughlines of the show revolve around questions of “what is the higher duty,” “what is right, just and moral” and “how much wrong-doing is permissible in pursuing what is right.” Bill is caught in circumstances where he must continually decide who and what to put first in a long list of conflicting demands and duties. His nemesis has been Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton), a Power of Will character who will stop at nothing to expand his territory and control of the Juniper Creek “family.” Bill is challenged to uphold his own moral standards and personal integrity while fighting Roman.

Breaking Bad follows protagonist Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a chemistry teacher diagnosed with Stage III lung cancer. He is given two years to live. Walter “has a brain the size of Wisconsin” and uses his scientific expertise to cook and sell crystal meth. He is a Power of Reason character. Like the title characters in Dexter and House he is alienated from his career, his family and his life. He is filled with a sense of his own superiority and a bitter contempt for others. Even after an improvement in his diagnosis he still seeks the release and intensity of feeling that comes from his criminal activity.

Damages tracks the relationship of a young lawyer, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), with her brilliant but ruthless boss and professional mentor, Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). The setting is the law firm Hewes runs in New York City and various cases the firm handles involving double-dealing, duplicity and conspiracy. Ellen is a Power of Truth character and the series is about “who can you trust,” “what is really going on” and “who is betraying whom.” Nothing is what it seems and it is folly for Ellen to fully trust anyone.

Dexter revolves around the life of Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a serial killer who is also a crime scene forensic expert specializing in blood spatter patterns. Dexter is brilliant but alienated from his feelings and doesn’t even feel completely “human.” He is a Power of Reason character and continually wonders if he is a “man or a monster.”

House chronicles a brilliant, superior and very alienated Doctor House (Hugh Laurie). He is an unparalleled expert medical diagnostician. House is a Power of Reason character like Dexter and Walter White. He is contemptuous of humanity in general and dismissive of any sentimentality or warm human feelings toward others. Others on the show quite frequently wonders if House is a “man or a monster.”

Lost is about a group of people marooned on an island after an airline crash. The survivors, led by Dr. Jack Sheppard (Matthew Fox), try to make sense of their predicament. The island is filled with mysterious forces that can’t be explained and which erupt at unpredictable moments. It is chaos. Jack is a Power of Reason character, a man of science. The survivors defer to his expertise. Jack starts the show alienated from his wife, his father and the patients in his practice. His stoylines and the dramatic throughlines of the show revolve around questions of “How can I make sense from a world gone mad?” “Do I have enough information to understand the situation?” “How can order be restored from chaos?” “Will I be overwhelmed (emotionally or otherwise)?”

Mad Men follows protagonist Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a man with a shadowy past who stole another soldier’s identity at the end of World War II. Don is a Power of Truth Character. He is an ad man, a master illusionist, twisting words and images to suit clients’ sales pitches. He has trouble discerning the truth about himself, his wife and his target marketing audience: (“What if women want something else? Inside. Some mystery wish that we’re ignoring?”) He works in a cutthroat environment where duplicity, betrayal and infidelities are everywhere. He doesn’t fully trust anyone including himself.

That’s a quick line up of the Emmy Nominees. Each show has a clear, sharply defined protagonist at the heart of its story. That’s the key to success in any series or feature film. Each character in the nominated shows is a complex fully formed human being. Each character “feels real.” Each character is true to his or her type. Defining Character Type is a first step in creating great characters.

Bones – Reason & Love

bones-etbscreenwritingI have become obsessed with the Fox Television procedural series, Bones. It’s a show with an excellent mix of crime of the week stories and emotional stories between core cast members. The core cast is exceptionally well-defined and Character Types are extremely clear. It’s smart, funny and a fascinating world to watch.

Each episode features an FBI case requiring the identification of long buried or hidden human remains. FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) teams with a forensic anthropology team lead by Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel). The show is loosely based on the work of real-life forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, who is a producer on the show.

Bones is a classic Power of Reason character. Brilliant, analytical, cool, stand-offish and socially awkward.

Agent Booth is a classic Power of Love character. Compassionate, warm, engaging, funny and genuinely sweet.

The two are wonderful foils for each other. Their unfolding attraction has been paced beautifully over four seasons. There is a lesson here for all Romantic comedy writers. The two characters exchange gifts to complement and complete each other. These gifts are personality traits missing in the other, differing points of view necessary to solving the case and critical skills or abilities lacking in their partner. Neither character in the partnership can accomplish the story objective alone. They actually need each other.

In developing any partnership, romantic or otherwise, ask yourself: Why do these two people need each other? What is missing in each person? How do they attract and repel each other? What Leap of Faith must they make to be fully and completely together? What does each fear in the other? What does each person fear most in themselves? How does each person force the other to peel off the mask and reveal what is most vulnerable, secret or shameful about them? How does each person help the other heal?

Sister Rose on Without A Trace

without-a-trace-etbscreenwritingThe television series, Without a Trace, is a classic Power of Truth story. A good friend, Sister Rose Pacatte, wrote about a recent episode “Miracle Worker” in her blog. http://sisterrose.wordpress.com/

My comments about her post are in (parenthesis).

Sister Rose writes:

Did you see Without a Trace last night? I thought it was extraordinary – about a weeping statue in a pub, the people who find it, and an authentic and touching look at sadness, faith, lack of faith, doubt, hope, love and mercy.

(Laurie: This episode explored profound Power of Truth questions like: Who can I trust? Did I see what I thought I saw? What is really going on here? Who is hiding something? Am I being deceived? What do I really believe? How can I be absolutely certain? What does it all mean?)

Using the statue (character) of St. Therese, a French Carmelite nun (1873 – 1897) in the episode was so appropriate because she had her own dark night of the soul and she is known for this. The episode, entitled “Miracle Worker”, was a story with layers of dark nights for some of the usual characters (especially Jack played by Anthony La Paglia and Samantha played by Poppy Montgomery) and a teenage girl, her uncle and her father.

The mercy and rays of light that come from faith and wanting to believe play out in very believable ways. It is a complex episode that was deftly written and rendered. I think this long-running show, now in its 7th season (CBS, Tuesdays, 10pm) deserves thoughtful attention because of its consistently human and catholic themes (little “c” and sometimes big “C”). This episode offers much to talk about around the water cooler – and in sermons and homilies too.

“Miracle Worker” is a perfect example of the sacramentality of television and cinema stories: the outward expression of inner realities.

A friend of mine who is a spiritual director told me back in 2002 that she thought Without a Trace is a Good Shepherd show: the FBI characters, despite their flaws, go in search of the lost, often at great personal cost. As they search for others, they search for their own core self, for meaning that transcends their lives.

(Laurie: This classic Power of Truth narrative territory. These stories begin with a obvious question, mystery or crime. During the course of the investigation a larger truth is revealed. In this case, about faith or the lack thereof. In the end, the investigator discovers some truth about him or herself).

Last night’s “Without a Trace” was Episode 12: “Miracle Worker”. I couldn’t find the entire episode online but there are clips. It may run again on Saturday: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/without_a_trace/

(Laurie: Thanks Sister Rose for permission to reprint your post.)

Mad Men – Art vs Commerce

Mad Men ETB StorywritingMad Men has had wide-spread critical acclaim, won numerous awards and has become a cultural reference– but it has a very small audience.  The show is not widely popular with television viewers.  This struggle between art vs commerce and high brow vs low prestige mass entertainment is a dilemma writers and producers wrestle with continually.

The question boils down to:  What audience do you want?  Once you target the audience the question becomes:  What does that audience want?  High brow audiences look for a very different experience than mass appeal audiences.  In fact, the very things that attract one audience repel the other.

This is not to say art is better or worse than commerce– they just are DIFFERENT.

What exactly are the differences?  What is necessary to attract a wide audience?  Below are a couple of articles on Mad Men I have annotated that get to the core of the art vs. commerce divide.  My comments follow.

LA Times: The TV Hits That No One Watches
By Scott Collins

Mad Men” was the most-honored of any drama series this year, a surprising achievement given that it represented AMC’s first real stab at traditional series development. It was only the latest stop in “Mad Men’s” astonishing trip from a spec script hammered out by a moonlighting TV writer to cultural phenomenon, critics’ darling and Golden Globe winner.

…Too bad, then, that about 98% of Americans have never watched the show. In fact, whatever the interest in this acting showdown or that snub, this year’s Emmy nominations may be most notable for underscoring a growing cultural trend: the yawning gap between what critics and industry veterans cherish and what the rest of the public actually watches.

It’s the relentless narrowing of what was once, in a pre-Internet era, a mass culture, a shift that mirrors what’s happening in movies, books and other art forms.“In terms of nominations, it is a very elite group,” said Shari Anne Brill, an analyst at New York-based ad firm Carat.

Referring to today’s most-honored TV shows, she added: “They get an upscale audience; they just don’t get a mass audience. ”Scripted series, from “I Love Lucy” to “Dallas” to “Friends,” traditionally netted some of the biggest audiences in television history. But now TV’s comedies and dramas are, with a sprinkling of exceptions, becoming expensive diversions for the cultural elite, akin to opera in the 19th century or foreign films in the 1960s.

Critics may love shows such as “Mad Men,” FX’s “Damages” (seven nominations) and HBO’s “The Wire,” but not many other Americans have caught the fever. Even popular network dramas such as ABC’s “Lost” and NBC’s “Heroes” have far fewer viewers than comparable series even a few years ago.

Instead, the TV masses tend to flock these days to major sporting events– such as February’s Super Bowl telecast on Fox, which drew a record audience of 97.5 million– and live reality shows such as “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars.” The latter were Emmy-nominated but mostly in the relatively low-prestige “reality competition” category.

http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jul/18/entertainment/et-emmysmad18

My comments:  What makes these “low prestige” show so compelling to audiences?  They are immediate, urgent and authentic. Yes, these shows (and their contestants) are also manufactured, manipulated and managed.  But the contestants, in any situation or challenge created for them, respond by revealing their true characters.

They are real people struggling, failing or overcoming obstacles in real time.  They can’t help showing us who they truly are– that’s what every human being does under extreme pressure.  Over time these contestants’ facades are stripped away.  The audience sees everyone at his or her most vulnerable.  Strengths and weaknesses are exposed. The contestants fall and battle to rise again.

Forget the shiny floor or the flashy lighting.  In these shows something is at stake.  There is struggle, pain, and disappointment but most importantly there is hope.  If your football team falls to take home the trophy at this year’s Super Bowl, there is always next season.  If your favorite singer or dancer is defeated there still is joy in seeing a new star emerge.  And you can pick a new favorite next year.

Another key factor is that these “low prestige” shows are entertainment the whole family can watch together.  This is viewing that isn’t dark.  It isn’t edgy.  It doesn’t “push the envelope.”  And then at the end, there is a sense of affirmation, joy, triiumph or even redemption.

Contrast this with Mad Men and it’s dark relentlessly downbeat tone and stylish but rather empty lives. The characters seem to drift through the story much like the cigarette smoke that fills their homes and offices.  There is little flesh and blood urgency and little worth fighting for.  There is pervasive disillusionment, detachment and disappointment.  Each of the characters is distanced from their emotions (and from us as viewers). The show is stunning in its careful attention to period detail.  It looks beautiful and is beautifully written.  It is also as slow, measured and somber as a classic Requiem Mass.

The Hollywood Reporter
Mad Men Bottom Line: All Pitch and Windup with a Soft Delivery

By Randee Dawn

…(I)f the pieces are in place for “Mad Men” to break big, why does its center feel so hollow? Watching characters indulge with relish in what today are vices has a transgressive quality, yet it’s all done with an insider’s wink to the audience. A fawning tone would grow just as tiresome, but who can identify with characters from whom even the writers seem to shrink?

…There’s much to admire about “Mad Men,” and much worth tuning in for. But so far, it’s all soft sell. At one point, Draper advises a cigarette exec (John Cullum) that they’ll promote his product’s “toasted” quality,” thus ushering in the era of pitching lifestyle over product, the birth of selling nothing. Unfortunately, at this stage, “Mad Men” is giving its audience pretty much the same thing.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/television/reviews/article_display.jsp?&rid=9514

If you are a fanatic fan.  Here is a great site analyzing each episode along with PDF episode scripts.  High art or “low prestige” mass audience. It is your choice.

http://spectv.wordpress.com/resources/

Ugly Betty – 2008 Premiere Disappointment

america_ferrara-2Ugly Betty made its 2008 season premiere last week. The show is about the travails and triumphs of Betty Suarez, a bright and eager but beauty-challenged young career woman. She is a working-class Mexican-American girl from Queens employed at an ultra-sophisticated New York City publishing company, Meade Enterprises.

According to Neilson figures, last week’s premiere was “down by 1.39 million viewers and down 15 percent among adults 18-49 from it’s year-ago season-opener.” In fact, the show premiered only marginally up from its low of last season.

This signals growing dissatisfaction with the story and further declining numbers. Here’s what I believe went wrong with the season premiere (and what danger signs it sends for the rest of season three).

Negating the Conflict

Betty returns to Queens from a cross-country vacation trip to “discover herself.” She’s assembled a big book of ideas. Near the top of the list is to get an apartment in New York City. With only minor obstacles and a few easily overcome setbacks that’s what she does in the course of a single episode!

This very quick choice and resolution seriously damages one of the most important emotional aspects of the show. When Betty lived with her struggling Mexican-American family in Queens she commuted between two very different worlds. The powerful pull of both worlds is the conflict at the heart of the original story concept.

In the season premiere, we also find out that Daniel has left Mode Magazine. He has been demoted to Player Magazine. Player seems to a publication for boy-men who retain a perennially adolescent-level interest in sex, vehicles and games.

This change of venue further weakens the essential conflict at the heart of Betty’s story. Player Magazine is not the icon Mode is—It seems almost to be a joke. Player and its staff reads as buffoonery whereas Mode had more bite as sharp satire.

Poor Change of Venue

Betty Suarez, as portrayed in the series, is a Power of Love character. Stories driven by the Power of Love (romantic or not) are about assimilation. Betty’s story is fundamentally about triumphs and tragedies of being caught between two worlds.

At Mode Magazine our heroine was right in the middle of the epitome of Anglo culture. Mode is depicted as a powerful arbiter of beauty and success. Betty came to work each day armed with her Mexican immigrant values of family, community, hard work and sacrifice. Two sets of cultures, attitudes and beliefs immediately were at war.

Over the course of an assimilation story (or a love story) the parties are continually forced together. As they are compelled to interact with each other, they exchange gifts. Each has something the other lacks or offers something new or really useful to the mix.

Mode Magazine offered Betty a gateway into the dominant Anglo culture and all the status, success, wealth and acceptance that assimilation brings (the American Dream). Betty brought honesty, authenticity, devotion to family and real care for others to a slick stylized world that has lost much of its heart and soul.

The change of venue to Player Magazine offers none of the iconic contrasts that made Betty’s story so powerful. Instead, the change amps up secondary character conflicts at the expense of what should be at the center of the show. Betty is no longer at the center of Mode and the focus further shifts to lesser characters.

Diminished Central Focus

The central focus of Ugly Betty should be Betty herself. Supporting cast should do just that—support Betty’s story. The show is not about Daniel Meade’s (Eric Mabius) exile from Mode, Wilhelmina Slater’s (Vanessa Williams) baby surrogate drama or Claire Meade’s (Judith Light) new magazine launch. These storylines are only of interest if they push Betty’s story forward. They should never pull focus away from Betty.

Betty is our heroine. She is the title character. The audience identifies her as the center of this story universe. Every plot line, dramatic twist or comedic situation should revolve around or reflect back on Betty. Each circumstance and situation should sharpen and clarify her essential dilemma and further illuminate her emotional journey. If a storyline does not do that it should be reframed or jettisoned as quickly as possible.

Instead, as complex story lines are developed they move the story away from Betty. The audience’s connection with her journey weakens and they begin to lose interest in the show. It doesn’t matter how outrageous, surprising, or interesting a storyline is, unless it reveals Betty’s journey more clearly, it is a diversion that dilutes the emotional focus of the show. The more the dilution, the faster the audience dwindles.

Missing the Mark

A show’s tone is always a question of balance. In the premiere, the balance strays too far off the mark. Too high a premium is placed on outrageous behavior and outlandish situations. When humor is based on situations, the situations have to continually get crazier to raise the stakes.

As the show becomes more flamboyant or more outlandish, the tone threatens to overshadow and overwhelm the show’s sincerity and heart. Humor that is generated by extreme circumstances or bizarre situations doesn’t dig deep. Settling for the cheap easy laugh can, over time, seem simply cartoonish.

It is Betty the audience cares most about. Her appealing warmth, generosity and authenticity are the reasons the audience tunes in week after week. They want to know her better. They are worried about her out there in the wide world. They are eager to see how it will all work out for her. Remember: If we aren’t worried about a character’s sanity, safety or soul we aren’t compelled to tune in.

The tone and style of the show is only useful if it makes Betty seem more “real” and makes her personal dilemmas feel more urgent and pressing. Betty needs to drive the show and not merely react to the outrageous goings-on. Betty seems adrift at Player Magazine and so am I as a member of the audience. (I don’t think I am alone in this feeling.)

Small Moments Make Big Comedy (or Drama)

Power_of_Love ETB ScreenwritingThe setting, the tone and all story elements in Ugly Betty should help to spotlight Betty’s internal conflict. Her conflict should be revealed in the small everyday decisions that demonstrate who she is and who she wants to be. The storylines should go to the core of what Betty’s essential struggle is with herself and with others.  The problems at issue for Betty are the classic quandaries in any Power of Love story (or any story about assimilation, romance or partnership).

.

These story questions are:

Who I am vs. Who you want me to be?

How much of myself should I change to be accepted or to get along with you?

How much should I expect you to change?

What happens if I grow and change too much?

What happens if I don’t grow and change enough?

Will others tolerate my transformation or reject me?

What will I sacrifice for love or friendship?

Will you still need (or love) me if you aren’t dependent on me?

How independent and self-sufficient should I be?

This transformational emotional struggle is why the audience tunes in. It is a story as old as time. It is the universal bedtime story about the country mouse and the city mouse. Once this process of change begins, things can never be as they were. You can’t un-ring the bell. You can’t go back again.

Once Betty moves out she cannot move back “home.” In a powerful symbolic way she leaves her family further behind. This should have been a long slow build up that comes at great personal cost. Planning her move, telling her family and executing her move offered tremendous opportunity for an entire season of drama, conflict and humor; but which was summarily dispatched in a single episode! A key emotional story process was short cut and pushed to the side by outrageous situations having little to do with Betty’s essential dilemmas of the heart.

Too little Family Conflict

When Betty leaves her working class neighborhood to enter the more glamorous world of New York City and her professional career, her family is proud of her. But they must also be keenly aware that she is leaving them behind in the most fundamental way. Betty must inevitably be changed by her experiences. Even in the most loving families this change causes feelings of inadequacy, loss, rejection, resentment and jealousy in those left behind.

Changes in Betty should trigger changes in her family. What happens if Hilda (Ana Ortiz) or her son Justin (Mark Indelicato) steps up and takes Betty’s place in the family? What if Betty is the last to know about some important family business or is left out of a key family decision? Will Betty feel those same feelings of inadequacy rejection, loss, resentment and jealousy her family is experiencing? Betty’s role in the family was always as a caregiver. What happens when the role passes to someone else—because she isn’t there to fill it? Who is Betty Suarez then?

It is a mistake to make the Suarez family Betty’s safe haven and constant cheerleader. It takes endless comedic possibilities off the table. Comedy comes from pain. (“If it doesn’t hurt it isn’t funny”). If Betty is beleaguered on all sides it makes her situation much more painful and much funnier. Comedy makes characters more vulnerable not less vulnerable. Betty is not at risk enough with her family. Her family is too one-dimensionally “nice.” Families can offer loving support and intense opposition (and sometimes both at the same time).

Acceptance comes much too easily for Betty. The Suarez family is more understanding, patient, tolerant and well adjusted than any family I’ve ever met. The audience’s own families are much more chaotic, difficult and dysfunctional. Their families are filled with real, painful and intense conflict. Great comedy always comes from great conflict.

Acceptance in real families comes hard and at a very high emotional price. People really have to struggle to accept things, people or situations they don’t understand, didn’t plan for or didn’t ask for in the first place. The more the Suarez family struggles with acceptance issues between all members of the family, the more painful, and the funnier the story will become.

A huge emotional opportunity is being missed. Outside of a few very brief tussles, no one has any serious issues with each other in the Suarez family. There are great potential battles to be fought in Queens. These are the battles in which the audience is most keenly interested because they involve Betty directly and because they reflect the audience’s own personal battles. Although there is no place we are more at peace than with our family, there is also no place we are more at war. In families, kindness and cruelty go hand-in-hand. That’s what makes us so vulnerable with the ones we love.

Lackluster Love Interests

In the premiere, Betty is back to a buddy-buddy relationship with Daniel without missing a beat. Didn’t he miss her while she was away? How do we see that? Didn’t he realize anything about her while she was gone? Didn’t she miss him? How do we see that? Where is their more intimate personal reunion? That emotional story is virtually non-existent in the premiere.

Betty needs to have some romantic longings for Daniel. This is central to the original concept of the show (as a telenovela). In the premiere (and up to this point) the potential romantic sparks are few to none. These feelings can and should be concealed very deeply but they must bubble somehow below the surface.

In contrast, Betty needs a strong love interest in Queens. All of her love interests have been lightweights played more for easy comedic effect. What would happen if Betty met and fell in love with real neighborhood guy, a wonderful salt of the earth kind of man cast in her father’s mold? How would a man’s man of this caliber threaten Daniel’s relationship with Betty?

Falling for a guy as strong and loving as her father could make for a heart-breakingly difficult choice for Betty. Such a man might represent a real threat to Betty’s professional aspirations. He could provide a strong argument for her to find less demanding work closer to home in Queens.

Would Betty give up a wonderful marriage, children and a comfy Queens home of her own for a career in New York City? Would she be able to say goodbye to Daniel? Would she struggle to try to have a foot in both worlds? What happens if there is a crisis with Daniel and a simultaneous crisis with a man who loves her as she wishes to be loved? Which way would Betty turn? What would that tells us about her journey?

These relationship choices could provide an endless source of conflict and comedy. Right now there are no strong, compelling and believable counter-forces pulling Betty away from New York City and back toward Queens. Betty’s newest possible love interest, her next-door neighbor, pulls her toward the world of the big city, not away from it.

Strong oppositional forces are what make stories compelling, interesting and emotional. There is not enough push-pull between Queens and New York City. Betty’s essential conflicts haven’t been sharpened; they’ve been severely diluted. Unless choices are really really hard, they aren’t interesting and they don’t feel urgent and imminent. Unless choices are hard, the audience doesn’t care.

Based on the premiere there’s a lot in Ugly Betty that needs turning around.

Apply These Lessons to Your Story

1. Find the big drama (and big comedy) in the smallest moments and the simple every day choices and decisions your character makes. Squeeze every ounce of emotion and conflict out of those crucial defining story situations. Don’t be in a hurry to resolve these conflicts. Let them play out slowly.

2. Develop all story situations and conflicts to illuminate, support and demonstrate what is really emotionally at stake for your main character. All plot points should keep coming back to the character’s essential Story Questions. Each Character Type explores one set of these crucial human questions. Each set is quite different and distinct.

3. Jettison anything that pulls the focus too far away from your main character. Use secondary characters to intensify the conflict for your main character or reflect back on that conflict. Supporting players should do just that—emotionally support and/or clarify (through opposition) the main character’s journey.

4. Use tone or style to illuminate the heart and emotional authenticity of the story. Keep tone and style in balance with the story. If there’s a question, always go for the heart.

5. Find most of your conflict in your character’s core relationships. Keep characters in constant conflict with those they love. That’s where the stakes are really high. No can hurt us or help us more than those we love.

6. Make sure your story has sufficient oppositional conflict. There must be a strong push-pull for your character at all times. Create two very strong forces attracting your character. Then, put your character squarely between them. Tear your character apart in the push-pull of these powerful magnetic forces.

7. Create the hardest possible choices for your character. Make sure there is a very high price for any such choice. Make those choices hurt—badly! Otherwise, the choice isn’t meaningful or important.

Raising the Bar – Not Bochco at His Best

raising-the-bar-etbscreenwritingAccording to Media Post Publications: “TNT’s Raising the Bar (Steven Bochco’s new legal show) rocketed to a record-setting 7.7 million viewers in its early September premiere. But in the most recent outing–week four– the show’s viewer balloon has much less air–now down to 2.3 million viewers in its most recent outing (this past week).”

Why aren’t viewers more enthused? Want a quick take-away line: The audience needs to be actively concerned about a character’s sanity, safety or soul to be truly engaged.

Power of Idealism

Mark-Paul Gosselaar plays the show’s hero and nominal protagonist, Jerry Kellerman, a lawyer in the New York City public defender’s office. He is a classic Power of Idealism character. Kellerman is rebellious, passionate, intense, short-tempered and given to explosive dramatic grandstanding on principle. Think of a late-twenties, at the beginning of his career, John McCain with floppy (slightly greasy) hippie-length hair and a baggy suit. Not a pretty sight, and for my taste, an over the top portrayal. There’s too much flailing about and not enough deep smoldering danger, which is key to the most delicious angry young man characters.

Power of Conscience

Jane Kaczmarek, plays Judge Trudy Kessler, Kellerman’s nemesis with an Ann Coulter-style mean streak. Judge Kessler is a Power of Conscience character gone a bit to the Dark Side. She is smart, inflexible, harsh, a stickler for rules and proper conduct and very concerned with “judicial process.” She’d be much more interesting if her desire to rise in elective office were driven by duty and sense of mission rather than the desire for personal accomplishment. She’s a bit blurry right now. Hillary Clinton at her steely best would be a good model here.

Power of Ambiton

Melissa Sagemiller plays Michelle Ernhardt, Kellerman’s girlfriend, and a young prosecutor. She is a beautiful highly-motivated Power of Ambition character who will do anything for a “win.” She is willing to bend the law until it breaks, play fast and loose with the facts and wants to rise quickly in the prosecutor’s office. Not suprisingly, Ernhardt and Kellerman repeatedly clash but their arguments are predictable.

Not Enough Personal Urgency

Unfortunately, everyone is pretty much a stock character without the deep rich internal conflicts so viscerally present in Bochco’s sensational NYPD Blue. There is little personal urgency for any of the characters. The audience doesn’t need to worry for principal character, Jerry Kellerman, like they worried for Andy Sipowicz. The wrenching internal struggle for the character is absent and so the audience’s emotional bond is weak.

The setting has urgency and certainly, crime and punishment is always a high stakes arena. That’s not enough. The audience needs to be actively concerned about a character’s sanity, safety or soul to be truly engaged. The audience should be forced to tune in because personal disaster is always right around the corner. It’s like cheering for your favorite sports team– if you don’t tune in and personally “will” them to victory they could lose! And if they lose, then next time they need you all the more!!

Lack of Complexity

Equally problematic for Raising the Bar, are its rather pat simplistic stories. Everything gets wrapped up neatly in less than 44 minutes. I understand the need to have “stand alone” episodes for commercial reasons but short-cutting story and tidying loose ends in a hurry can cripple authenticity and credibility. Too often the show does this and doesn’t “feel” real. The iconic Law and Order, an endless replayed staple on TNT, does this much better.

The degree of “innocent” accused criminals also hampers authenticity. It is stereotypical to portray everyone represented by the public defender’s offfice as guilty. But it begs credulity to believe so many of those charged are somehow “not guilty.”

Most of the cases have a racial angle and reach for social significance, a Bochco trademark. But in Raising the Bar the really tough questions of racism and the wrenching struggle to protect the rights of individuals vs the safety of society are not tackled in a complex, emotionally gut-wrenching way. NYPD Blue had a much more intense, multi-layered and explosive take on racism that brought the topic alive and made it feel real and very urgent to the story.

At this stage, the show lacks sufficient authenticity and personal urgency to be a hit. I don’t feel compelled to tune in and it looks like many viewers who initially gave the show a look aren’t compelled to come back. Raising the Bar has a second season order but Bochco and company will have to dig deeper if they want a third season.

Values at Stake – Film

oskar-schindler ETB ScreenwritingValues are defined as a person’s principles or judgments about what is most important in life.

Competing values are neutral.  They are a simple (often one word) expression of a fundamental truth or an ideal a person holds dear.  No value is inherently better or worse than another.  For example:  Freedom and Security are two fundamental American values.

America sees itself as “the home of the brave and the land of the free.”  Lady Liberty is an iconic symbol of the nation.  But to survive, every nation (or person) must be secure in its person, property and borders.  Security is also a fundamental American value, especially in these potentially very dangerous times.

The question is:  What happens when a character (or country) is forced to make starker and starker choices in favor of one value over (or to the exclusion of) another?

How much freedom are you willing to sacrifice or surrender in order to be secure?  As citizens are pushed to give up more personal autonomy, liberty or privacy, when do they cease to be free? Alternatively, how much security are you willing to sacrifice or surrender in order to be free?  If safety measures are too often thwarted by civil libertarians can a nation be adequately secure?

As the risk rises and a nation (or person) is pushed to the brink, it is forced to chose one value over the other.  These choices build up over time.  A final definitive choice should negate or eliminate one value in favor of another.   The payoff to a feature film well and satisfyingly written is to show this kind of final climactic choice at the end of the story.

For example:  In Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler discovers war is the road to riches.  His Jewish accountant pads the factory payroll to save people from the camps.  At first, Schindler resists then, as he gets to know the factory workers, he gives away his watch, then his ring and then his cigarette case in making deals to shield them.  Schindler makes his final value choice when he gives his last trunk of money to protect those workers who are now finally and fully “his” responsibility. Schindler finishes the film penniless and dressed in the rags.  In a Power of Conscience film, like Schindler’s List, the values at stake are Personal Well-Being vs. Moral Responsibility.

In series television, this choice is paid off more slowly and over multiple episodes or seasons.  A television series shows how this choice is made through incremental action, over time, leading to a climactic series finale.

For example:  In NYPD Blues, Andy Sipowicz choses to face his demons one by one.  He battles his temper and his rage. First he reigns himself in and gets sober, then he gets married, has a baby, reconciles with his eldest son, loses that son, loses his wife and cares for his remaining child. Over 17 years the drunken, racist, misanthrope we met in the pilot becomes, in a final leap of faith, a temperate respected leader of the men in his precinct. In a Power of Will series, like NYPD Blues, each choice involves the competing values of Impluse vs Restraint.

Getting back to our earlier example: How is freedom finally sacrificed? What is the tipping point?  Alternatively, what well-meaning policies deal security a fatal blow?   The audience wants to see how this final value choice is driven by faith or by fear.   They want to see how the character is pushed to extremes that provoke action that conclusively defines his or her character.

Values + Action = Character

The obstacles in a film or television series should create the kind of risk, peril or danger that pushes the character to take actions that define what is most fundamentally important or true in a character’s life. This is the case even in comedy.  There is no greater risk or peril than the vulnerability that makes a character funny.

The character should be forced to make a stark, definitive and active choice. As one value is ultimately chosen, the character finally negates or surrenders the other contrasting value.  What price is paid for the character’s choice?  What are the consequences for the character?  The more expensive the price, the more dire the consequences are for your character, the more compelling and urgent your story will be for your audience.

I am still hard at work on my books about the Nine Character Types.  Stay tuned! And email me to get on a Special Offer List.

Values at Stake – Televison

sipowicz ETBScreenwritingValues are defined as a person’s principles or judgments about what is most important in life.

Competing values are neutral.  They are a simple (often one word) expression of a fundamental truth or an ideal a person holds dear.  No value is inherently better or worse than another.  For example:  Freedom and Security are two fundamental American values.

America sees itself as “the home of the brave and the land of the free.”  Lady Liberty is an iconic symbol of the nation.  But to survive, every nation (or person) must be secure in its person, property and borders.  Security is also a fundamental American value, especially in these potentially very dangerous times.

The question is:  What happens when a character (or country) is forced to make starker and starker choices in favor of one value over (or to the exclusion of) another?

How much freedom are you willing to sacrifice or surrender in order to be secure?  As citizens are pushed to give up more personal autonomy, liberty or privacy, when do they cease to be free? Alternatively, how much security are you willing to sacrifice or surrender in order to be free?  If safety measures are too often thwarted by civil libertarians can a nation be adequately secure?

As the risk rises and a nation (or person) is pushed to the brink, it is forced to chose one value over the other.  These choices build up over time.  A final definitive choice should negate or eliminate one value in favor of another.   The payoff to a feature film well and satisfyingly written is to show this kind of final climactic choice at the end of the story.

For example:  In Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler discovers war is the road to riches.  His Jewish accountant pads the factory payroll to save people from the camps.  At first, Schindler resists then, as he gets to know the factory workers, he gives away his watch, then his ring and then his cigarette case in making deals to shield them.  Schindler makes his final value choice when he gives his last trunk of money to protect those workers who are now finally and fully “his” responsibility. Schindler finishes the film penniless and dressed in the rags.  In a Power of Conscience film, like Schindler’s List, the values at stake are Personal Well-Being vs. Moral Responsibility.

In series television, this choice is paid off more slowly and over multiple episodes or seasons.  A television series shows how this choice is made through incremental action, over time, leading to a climactic series finale.

For example:  In NYPD Blue, Andy Sipowicz choses to face his demons one by one.  He battles his temper and his rage. First he reigns himself in and gets sober, then he gets married, has a baby, reconciles with his eldest son, loses that son, loses his wife and cares for his remaining child. Over 17 years the drunken, racist, misanthrope we met in the pilot becomes, in a final leap of faith, a temperate respected leader of the men in his precinct. In a Power of Will series, like NYPD Blue, each choice involves the competing values of Impulse vs Restraint.

Getting back to our earlier example: How is freedom finally sacrificed? What is the tipping point?  Alternatively, what well-meaning policies deal security a fatal blow?   The audience wants to see how this final value choice is driven by faith or by fear.   They want to see how the character is pushed to extremes that provoke action that conclusively defines his or her character.

Values + Action = Character

The obstacles in a film or television series should create the kind of risk, peril or danger that pushes the character to take actions that define what is most fundamentally important or true in a character’s life. This is the case even in comedy.  There is no greater risk or peril than the vulnerability that makes a character funny.

The character should be forced to make a stark, definitive and active choice. As one value is ultimately chosen, the character finally negates or surrenders the other contrasting value.  What price is paid for the character’s choice?  What are the consequences for the character?  The more expensive the price, the more dire the consequences are for your character, the more compelling and urgent your story will be for your audience.

#TypesTuesday – Mad Men and Power of Truth

mad_men ETB Screenwriting

Here’s how AMC describes the show on the official website: “Returning for its second season, the Golden Globe®-winning series for Best TV drama and actor will continue to blur the lines between truth and lies, perception and reality. The world of Mad Men is moving in a new direction — can Sterling Cooper keep up? Meanwhile the private life of Don Draper becomes complicated in a new way. What is the cost of his secret identity?”

That’s a description of a classic Power of Truth story.  Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is a classic Power of Truth protagonist.  Note the tagline of the series:  “Where the truth lies.”

These kinds stories are about issues of loyalty and betrayal. They ask: What exactly is loyalty? What is betrayal? How do we betray ourselves? How do we betray others? Can you be loyal to someone and betray them at the same time? When should you let go of old loyalties and move on?  How is the ground shifting beneath you?  What is real and what is an illusion? Who or what can you trust?

All these issues were front and center in the first season.  They had a real urgency and the potential for disastrous consequences.

Over the course of initial 13 episodes we learned Dan Draper isn’t who he seems.  He is leading a secret life on a number of levels.  He stole another man’s identity in Korea (by switching dog tags with a dead officer).  He is cheating on his wife.  He is a slick master of illusion in an industry that thrives on selling half-truths and the manipulation of perceptions.  As the season progressed we worried and waited for hammer to drop.

Mad Men has authenticity working for it in even the smallest details.  Everything on the sets, in the background, what the people wear, how they talk, what they talk about is absolutely true to the period. As important as authenticity is, a series can’t survive on authenticity alone.

The story also needs a sense of urgency.  It’s this urgent dramatic thrust that is missing in the second season. Don seems to have settled into a feeling of utter weariness and discontent.  He’s increasing disenchanted with his job.  He seems bored and depressed (taking the afternoon off to stare laconically at a French New Wave film at the cinema).

This doesn’t make for compelling or urgent viewing. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the second season opened to a series high of 2 million viewers.  People were curious after all the Emmy nominations.  But a significant percentage didn’t stick around to see a second episode.  Viewership plummeted to 1.3 million the following week.

My prediction is that if the pace doesn’t pick up, if Don isn’t in real danger of his lies and shady past catching up with him, viewers just won’t care.

Right now, Don just seems depressive and cynical.  If he doesn’t struggle harder to conceal his secrets, if he doesn’t start paying a price for his double life, if we don’t see more active stories about loyalty and betrayal (with dire consequences) I predict the show will drop viewers.

Another example of a Power of Truth character and show is The X Files and Fox Mulder.  That show’s taglines were:  “The Truth Is Out There,” “Deny Everything” and “Trust No One.”  These slogans with a slightly different context  could also apply to Don Draper.

You will find dozens of other examples and a full explanation of this Character Type in the Power of Truth eBook.

#WritingAdviceWednesday – Ugly Betty

ugly-bettyA Successful and Proven Format

The Ugly Betty (Yo soy, Betty la Fea) telenovela has translated successfully around the world and the recent American version garnered Golden Globe, People’s Choice, and Writers Guild Awards for best new series as well as a best actress Golden Globe for America Ferrera.

What makes the Ugly Betty format so successful with audiences world-wide? How can the US show avoid the story problems and resulting audience downturn that bedeviled the equally popular Lost and Desperate Housewives in their second seasons? This month I’ll look at the challenges Ugly Betty faces going forward.

Ugly Betty (Yo soy, Betty la Fea) is about the two lives of Betty Suarez, a bright but beauty challenged college graduate. She lands a job with the ultra slick Mode Magazine in New York City but lives with her struggling Mexican-American family in Queens. Betty commutes between these two very different worlds.

The Danger: Repeating the Mistakes of Lost and Desperate Housewives

Lost and Desperate Housewives were also highly original shows on ABC that had acclaimed premiere seasons. In the second season neither show stayed true to the essential story elements that initially captivated viewers. Straying from their emotional cores defused the power of each show. As a result, each show lost viewers and dropped in the ratings in its second season.

Is Ugly Betty in danger of repeating that mistake as its first season draws to a close? What are the first signs of this potentially problematic trend?

According to Nielsen numbers, the pilot started the show off at a high of 16.09 million viewers. Ugly Betty then settled comfortably into the 13+ million to 14+ million viewer range. In the last four episodes viewers have slid generally downward, dipping to 10.80, to 10.50, and 9.5 million viewers respectively then up slightly to 9.6 million viewers.

Does this signal growing dissatisfaction as viewers tune out? Why might the audience be disengaging from the show? How can this be corrected?  Here is my analysis:

1. Identify the Classic Story Elements

Betty is portrayed as a Power of Love character in the series. (In my view of television and film there are Nine Character Types, each with their own internal values, worldviews and emotional journeys.) 

Stories driven by the Power of Love (and all love stories, romantic and otherwise) are about assimilation.

Immigration stories are also assimilation stories: whether it is a story of Algerian immigrants in France, Indian families in Britain, Mexican immigrants in the US, or rural workers migrating to city jobs in China. These stories start the same way all love stories start— the two parties can’t stand each other! They view each other with mutual dislike and suspicion.

There is a clash of cultures, attitudes and beliefs. Each party fears the other will somehow overwhelm or destroy their core identity. This is what is at issue with banning of Muslim headscarves in France, controversies about Spanish language usage in the US and economic turmoil in China.

Power of Love stories ask, as Ugly Betty asks: How much must I change, adjust or compromise to accommodate you (or to fit into your culture) before I totally lose myself? How much can I demand that you adjust, change or compromise to accommodate me, before you lose who you are?

In Ugly Betty our heroine enters the epitome of Anglo culture and its defining arbiter of beauty and success, Mode Magazine. She comes armed with her Mexican immigrant values of family, community, hard work and sacrifice. Two sets of cultures, attitudes and beliefs immediately are at war.

Over the course of an assimilation story (or a love story) the parties are continually forced together and, as they are compelled to deal with each other, they exchange gifts. Each has something the other lacks or offers something new or really useful to the mix.

In Ugly Betty, Mode Magazine offers Betty a gateway into the dominant Anglo culture and all the success, status, wealth and acceptance that assimilation brings (the American Dream). Betty brings honesty, authenticity, devotion to family and real care for others to a world that has lost much of its heart and soul.

2. Sharpen the Central Focus

The central focus of Ugly Betty should be Betty herself. Supporting cast should do just that—support Betty’s story. The show is not about Daniel Meade’s (Eric Mabius) struggle to accept his brother’s new identity, Daniel’s desire to hold onto his position at Mode Magazine or a murder mystery. These storylines are only of interest if they push Betty’s story forward.

Every member of the audience looks at the world and sees himself or herself at its center. That’s why even ensemble shows should have one individual who is at the center of the story’s emotional universe. (Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City or Ray Barone, played by Ray Romano, in Everybody Lose Raymond). That person should define the world and the emotional playing field for all the other characters.

Betty is our heroine. The audience identifies her as the center of this story universe. Every plot line, dramatic twist or comedic situation should revolve around or reflect back on Betty. Each circumstance and situation should sharpen and clarify her essential dilemma and further illuminate her emotional journey. If a storyline does not do that it should be reframed or jettisoned as quickly as possible.

The transgender story of Alexis Meade, (Alexander Spencer Meade) played by Elizabeth Penn Payne currently is a distraction. As this story line pulls emotional focus away from Betty, the audience’s connection with her journey weakens and they begin to lose interest in the show. It doesn’t matter how outrageous, surprising, or interesting this storyline is, unless it reveals Betty’s journey more clearly, it is a diversion that dilutes the emotional focus of the show.

3. Clarify the Core Story Questions

All story elements in Ugly Betty should help to spotlight Betty’s internal conflict. The problems at issue for Betty are the classic quandaries in any Power of Love story (or any story about assimilation, romance or partnership). These questions are:

Who I am vs. Who you want me to be?

How much of myself should I change to be accepted or to get along with you?

How much should I expect you to change?

What happens if I grow and change too much?

What happens if I don’t grow and change enough?

Will others tolerate my transformation or reject me?

What will I sacrifice for love or friendship?

Will you still need (or love) me if you aren’t dependent on me?

How independent and self-sufficient should I be?

Mode will change Betty and Betty will change the people at Mode. How much can each change before their core identities are lost? As Betty changes how does this create conflict within herself and within her family, who may not recognize, like, or want to accept the changed Betty?

This transformational struggle is why we tune in. It is a story as old as time. It is the universal bedtime story about the country mouse and the city mouse. Once this process of change begins, things can never be as they were. You can’t unring the bell. You can’t go back again.

4. Aim for the Heart

One of the best things about Ugly Betty is also potentially its greatest weakness. Mode’s glamorous setting and outrageous style is a fresh and funny counterpoint to Betty’s struggling family and her working class world in Queens. Her warm, genuine and caring character is wonderfully showcased against the cold, artificial and ultra-competitive world of Mode.

A show’s tone is always a question of balance. Right now it seems that the balance is straying too far off the mark. Too high a premium seems to be placed on outrageous behavior and outlandish situations. When humor is based on situations, the situations have to continually get crazier to keep raising the stakes.

As the show becomes more flamboyant and more camp the tone threatens to overshadow and overwhelm the show’s sincerity and heart. Humor that is generated by extreme circumstances or bizarre situations doesn’t dig deep. It settles for the easy laugh and, over time, can seem cartoonish.

It is Betty the audience cares most about. Her appealing warmth, generosity and authenticity are the reasons the audience tunes in week after week. They want to know her better and are eager to see how it will all work out for her.

The tone and style of the show is only useful if it makes Betty seem more “real” and makes her personal dilemmas feel more urgent. Betty needs to drive the show and not merely react to the outrageous goings-on.

5. Amp Up Family Conflict

The comedy in the show should come from true conflict between the characters.. A huge opportunity is being missed in the Suarez household. Outside of a few brief confrontations, no one has any serious issues with each other. There are great potential battles to be fought in Queens.

When Betty leaves her working class neighborhood and enters the glamorous world of her professional career, her family is proud of her. But they must also be keenly aware that she is leaving them behind in the most fundamental way. Betty will inevitably be changed by her experiences. Even in the most loving families this change causes feelings of inadequacy, loss, rejection, resentment and jealousy in those left behind.

Changes in Betty should trigger changes in her family. What happens if Hilda, played by Ana Ortiz, or her son Justin, played by Mark Indelicato, steps up and takes Betty’s place in the family? Betty will feel those same feelings of inadequacy rejection, loss, resentment and jealousy her family is experiencing. Betty’s role in the family was always as a caregiver. What happens when the role passes to someone else—because she isn’t there to fill it? Who is Betty Suarez then?

It is a mistake to make the Suarez family Betty’s safe haven. It takes endless comedic possibilities off the table. Comedy comes from pain. (“If it don’t hurt it ain’t funny”). If Betty is beleaguered on all sides it makes her situation much more painful and much funnier. Comedy makes characters more vulnerable. Betty is not at risk enough with her family.

In general, acceptance comes much too easily in this family. The Suarez family is more tolerant and well adjusted than any family I’ve ever met. The audience’s families are much more difficult and dysfunctional. Comedy comes from conflict.

Acceptance in real families comes hard and at a very high emotional price. People really have to struggle to accept things, people or situations they don’t understand, didn’t plan for or didn’t want in the first place. The more the Suarez family struggles with acceptance issues between all members of the family the more painful and the funnier the story will be.

6. Strengthen the Pull of Queens

Betty needs a strong love interest in Queens. She needs to meet a man who represents all the things she would miss if she leaves the neighborhood lifestyle behind. This love interest should be an appealing, warm-hearted and a hunky kind of guy. He should also be the kind of guy who would feel tremendously uncomfortable and completely out-of-place in her professional world.

Arthur, played by Kevin Sussman, had the discomfort factor but he wasn’t a strong enough pull on Betty’s affections. He was geeky, jealous and unfaithful. Choosing her career and losing Arthur was never a heart-breakingly difficult choice for Betty.

What would happen if Betty met and fell in love with another neighborhood guy, a wonderful salt of the earth kind of man cast in her father’s mold? Losing a guy like that could be a heart-breakingly difficult choice. Such a man could represent a real threat to Betty’s professional aspirations and could provide a strong argument to find less demanding work closer to home.

Would Betty give up a wonderful loving marriage, children and a comfy Queens home of her own for a career at Mode? Would she try to have both? What happens if there is a crisis with Daniel and a crisis with the man she loved?

These choices could provide an endless source of conflict and comedy. Right now there are no strong, compelling and believable counter-forces pulling Betty away from Mode and back toward Queens. Betty’s new possible love interest, Henry, played by Christopher Gorham, pulls Betty toward the world of Mode, not away from it.

7. Make it Specific

The show seems to define the Suarez family generically as Latino. Very little is made of the fact that the family is Mexican-American. There are rich comedic possibilities to be mined in fully exploring the foibles and follies of that very particular identity. Why bland their background out?

Why be generic when you can be specific? What makes Mexican Americans funny as opposed to what makes Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Colombians or Guatemalans funny? Why not exploit the rivalries, prejudices, reputations and stereotypes that exist between diverse Spanish speaking people? Great writing is about specificity. A great comedic opportunity is being missed here. Even better– It is one that is fresh to network television.

8. Shore Up the Audience

Ugly Betty is a wonderful show that can easily reverse any potential downturn. The show can gracefully sidestep the mistakes that rattled Lost and Desperate Housewives second season ratings. What Ugly Betty needs to do is to fully explore the show’s fundamental story questions, keep Betty front and center in any plot twist or story complication, make the tone secondary to the show’s heart and fully mine all the natural conflict on both sides of Betty’s world. Do that and the audience will keep coming back for more next season and beyond.

A very successful long-running Power of Love story was Everybody Loves Raymond. In that show, Ray also moved between two worlds. He was pulled between the world of his childhood family (and his mother’s demands and expectations) and the world of his own adult family (and his wife’s demands and expectations). Raymond was besieged on both sides for almost 10 years. The show was one of the most critically acclaimed sit-coms of its time.