If we learn writing through reading, we learn screenwriting through watching. Whilst I think the importance of a good film shouldn’t be overlooked, TV is becoming big-budget business too. There will always be low-budget shows that are cheap to make and can be made by the bucket load to fill gaps, but there are also some really great shows out there that can teach us about plot, characters, and more. Here are some of my favourites.
Watch for: Plot and Characters
I’m only on season two of this show so things may have changed, but since the show is still incredibly popular, I’m going to assume that it hasn’t. (Also please don’t spoil it for me by posting spoilers!)
Carrie Matheson is a brilliant woman that just so happens to have bipolar disorder. It gets in the way sometimes, but it is also part of her brilliance. It’s part of what makes her character stand out, and also what makes the writers and Claire Danes so brilliant. It addresses her mental illness accurately and sensitively, not pussyfooting around it but not treating it like she’s an alien to be probed, either. The people around her love her regardless. Some days she struggles more than others.
The plot is also incredibly complicated and weaved well, leaving you on the edge of your seat. The tiniest detail can mean something.
Watch for: Dialogue
Gilmore Girls was notirous for it’s 77 page long scripts compared to an average of 40something for most shows of the same length. The characters spoke quickly but with gusto and character. Each character is unique and has their own way of speaking. There are also many pop culture references and you may need a dictionary by your side (I learnt some of my favourite, slightly obscure/uncommon words from Gilmore Girls, including two of my favourites: moxie and snafu).
The Good Wife
Watch for: Actions speaking louder than words
There are many scenes in The Good Wife where a character doesn’t need to speak to convey how they’re feeling. There’s a particularly poignant one where Alicia looks at her husband just after finding out he’d lied to her. No words are exchanged, but so much is said between them.
Watch for: Adaptations and characters
I’ve fallen increasingly out of love with Sherlock as the show has gone on. However, I cannot deny the brilliance of the characters and how Holmes and Watson have translated into the twenty first century. The stories have been adapted to various degrees of success and it’s bought the legendary character to a whole new audience.
Watch for: Plot and relationships
This is one of the few series for me where the transition between seasons is seamless. There’s no jumpiness or sudden change of direction that doesn’t fit. The characters are consistent and each action causes a reaction that may not get them this season, but just might in the next. Each season has an arc that is tackled in some most episodes whilst each episode has its own arc, too.
There are also realistic relationships between Neal and his friend Mozzie, and a (happy!) marriage between Peter and Elizabeth. It’s rare in a TV show for a marriage to be written about happily and for the couple to be supportive of each other, where issues are caused by outside circumstances and not each other.
Watch for: Plot, characters and relationships
I won’t lie: I’m in love with Scandal. I wish I’d created Olivia Pope. She’s perfect because she’s flawed. She’s intelligent, intuitive, sassy, fashionable, hardworking, driven, manipulative, vulnerable…all traits that add up to a well-rounded character.
Not only that, but it has beautifully crafted relationships of every kind: multi-racial, gay, arranged…the relationships are as conflicted and complicated as the characters. Just like in real life.
What shows would you recommend to other screenwriters to improve their skills? What shows have helped you? Let me know in the comments below, on Twitter or on Facebook—I’d love to know what shows to watch next!