A Writer’s Responsibility?

In the comments for Podcast #32, Armando asked a question that I think can support its own thread:

“…what responsibility, if any, does an artist have to his audience? Do Ron Moore, David Eick and the rest of the creative team at BSG really need to worry about alienating audience members through their story choices? Artistic integrity would argue that no, they don’t. This is their work as artists (albeit based on somebody else’s work) and it is their creative prerogative to take their characters and stories in the direction they need to go. Artistic integrity and artwork are little more than vanity, however, without an audience which posits, therefore, that indeed RDM, DE and the rest of the writing/production staff at BSG do have a responsibility to their audience and should treat their characters/stories in such a way as to not alienate them (and in a commercial medium like television, alienating audience members means loss of revenue which could lead to cancelation).”

Storyknife and others have begun responding, so check out the comments link, but let’s continue the discussion here. I bet there are a lot of people on the site who have valuable insights on this question.

34 Responses to "A Writer’s Responsibility?"
  1. Audra says:

    (Reprint of my comment from Podcast #32)

    Wow, Armando, great question. I think I agree with storyknife that there’s got to be some middle ground – particularly in television, when the success of the show depends so much on ratings. Sometimes it’s irritating to have to consider such things when creating art, but unfortunately, I think, they must do it at least some of the time.

    For example, killing off Admiral Adama or Laura Roslin may have at some point made a great dramatic event, but if either of those characters were truly “gone” from the show, it’d probably be a disaster for BSG all around. I’d like to say the same about Katee Sackhoff, but at some point they have to prove to the audience that it’s not all safe and predictable. I suspect this is what keeps a lot of us coming back – the writing is smart and we’re never quite sure what’s going to happen.

    On the other hand, I can respect it if artists want to create art for art’s sake, with no feedback or criticism or ratings. In fact, it might be kind of therapeutic. But in TV, I’m not sure it’s possible. Who’d give you a contract if they knew you didn’t care about audience response? It would have to be AMAZINGLY good stuff.

    Ultimately…I think I’m back where I began: in the middle. Despite the feel-good value of creating something just for yourself, I think most art should communicate something, or create some kind of connection with people. It’s not mandatory, but it’s the best way, IMHO.

  2. lacrossman says:

    To take the devil’s avocate point of view ( my favorite side), I don’t know the writer’s have any responsibility to the audience. It is one of the things that makes TV in this day and age exciting. Nothing is worse than when a show puts the main characters in a ridicoulously dangerous situation week in and week out and they escape without a scratch and without consequences. Despite what people think, the writers have made a connection with the viewers. That connection has not changed now that they may have killed off their favorite character. Whether or not the viewers understand that connection is not the writer’s responsibility. If viewers choose to leave the show because their favorite character has been killed off, then I believe they are missing one of the points of the show. There is a reason they give a changing survivor count at the start of every episode. If my favorite character on the show was say Colonel Tighs wife ( who can argue with the swirl) people would say that it was silly that I wanted to stop watching the show because she was killed off. What makes Starbuck any different? Yes she is popular, but personally I thought that once they resolved the relationship issues with Lee and he chose his wife, her character was painted into a corner. The writers had made a decision to get away from space battle scenes and the “drunk Starbuck” scenes had become a little tiresome. I was a little happy that they blew her up. I think they will lose more viewers if they bring her back.

    My point is that just because the arc of the show has changed to a direction that the viewers can no longer predict, it doesn’t mean that the writers have abandoned the viewers. I believe it means that they trust the viewers and are asking the viewers to trust them. If it means that they are returning to the writing of episodes like “33” or “water” then I’m willing to give them that trust. Can you imagine how these writers have challenged themselves. No one wants to see a return to the original BSG where Starbuck and Apollo were constantly running through wave after wave of bombs and laser fire. So, the gods of unpredictability demanded a sacrifice. Better her than Adama is what I say.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I often see comments about the direction the story is going on other boards, and I find them amusing. Without a doubt, the storyline now IMO does connect with our present day real-world events and society – if one *thinks* about it. Therein lies the rub: the viewing audience has to be willing to do such and that often requires turning the hypothetical mirror towards ourselves. Needless to say, some folks won’t like the reflection or will want to spend the time to do so. They want to be entertained, not provoked or pushed to serious thought.

    I am reminded of 2 authors in hard copy who write the stories they want to because *they* exercise their own artistic license: Stephen King & JK Rowling. King’s ending to The Dark Tower Series and JKR’s killing of Sirius Black & Dumbledore in her septology all have plot points which weren’t popular. Didn’t matter though – both of them have made a killing even if all the audience didn’t like the way things turned out. While again they are hard copy writers, often I find that when you choose to watch a TV show’s full season’s episodes back to back, the *story* flows more fluidly than waiting week to week to watch it, which makes it more “hard copy” oriented than it would normally be. Thus, I expect that the twists and turns of the BSG characters (including Kara’s “supposed” demise” will have some merit as the story progresses.

    Further, there is precedent set for other TV shows and films whose writers exercise the same freedom for their art: Babylon 5, Lost, Heroes, Dallas, SG1 & Atlantis, Doctor Who, and the list goes on and on. And BTW IMO, none of them are in the same league with what I see from BSG – BSG is just that good.

  4. Elspeth says:

    Rebecca, I want to agree with you…And for the most part I do.

    With one exception.

    I cannot comment on Stephen King, but I did want to point out that Sirius Black & Dumbledore still were not Harry Potter himself. He is still alive…for now…we’ll see in what? July?

    I think it goes back to tradition. “Red shirts”. “Main Character Bonuses”. Or even deeper to cops and robbers, and most of our morality tales. We want to see the hero overcome, live, and thirve.

  5. Armando says:

    Wow, my very own thread! This is so fracking cool! I’m glad my comments are so thought-provoking. These four comments are INCREDIBLY thought provoking! I may be typing here for a while.

    Here goes:

    Audra: I think the middle ground is good, but it also involves the least amount of risk. After a while, a risk-less story becomes dull simply because of the lack of tension. Take, for instance, the Star Wars prequels. Now, with all of their flaws, I still enjoyed those movies. But one big flaw in that part of the series is that, being prequels, we knew in advance what would happen to the main characters. We knew that Obi Wan Kenobi would make it to the fourth film, because we’d already seen said film. We know Anakin becomes Darth Vader because of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. We know Padme has to die because she’s in none of the originals and we know that Darth Sidious is the Emperor because he dresses exactly the same and is accompanied by the same music in the score. Hence, no tension, hence not nearly as exciting as the originals. As for the difference between creating something for yourself/art for art’s sake and trying to communicate, I really don’t see a difference at all. Communication happens between human beings because it is in our nature to communicate. Now, keep in mind that I am a classical musician and composer, so my art is not terribly marketable (this might color your opinion of my opinion, as follows) when I say that an artist’s only responsibility is to him/herself and his/her vision. The best we can hope for beyond that is that someone else out there might take pleasure and find meaning in our work. While the commercial concerns in writing a serialized drama for television are very different than those of writing a symphony or string quartet, I think the pay off is the same. Had Ron Moore’s vision of a BSG that redefines the very nature of sci-fi had not resonated with an audience, the show would have been canceled after the first season, if not amidst it. In that way it’s obvious that it communicates SOMETHING to us, the audience, just as all art communicates SOMETHING because it is a human activity born out of our need to communicate. Does the fact that sometimes that communication might be unpleasant change the fact that it is a (meaningful) communication?

    Lacrossman: I totally agree with you. I have nothing else to add, but I just wanted to acknowledge your comment (I’ll be damned if I don’t feel a strange sense of ownership to this thread. It feels very odd!).

    Rebecca and Elspeth: I have one bone to pick with you guys and it’s this: whereas I see where you’re coming from, unlike Harry Potter (I can’t speak for Stephen King’s Dark Tower. I’ve never cared for his fiction, so I’ve read very little of it. I have enjoyed his essays for Entertainment Weekly and his book about writing, though), which is focused on a central character and his adventures/quest (albeit with a strong supporting cast), Battlestar Galactica, at least our beloved current incarnation, is an ensemble piece. Although some characters play more important roles in the story than others, all characters are important and all characters have received the main focus of attention at some point or another (for some, several times). Starbuck is (I don’t say “was” because, well, even if she is completely and utterly gone she is still a central part of the story, in so far as her relationship with the others in the cast affects them and motivates them, especially now that she is gone) a more important character than, say, Callie Tyrol or Helo, but she is not the main or central character of the story. Although killing her off changes the show significantly (and we saw some of that on tonight’s episode), it doesn’t totally negate it unlike, say, were Harry Potter to die at the end of the next book.

    Okay, maybe “bone to pick” was the wrong term to use, now that I re-read your messages. But I’m too lazy to go back and change that. 😉

    I do think that you raise a great point, Rebecca: the way the story arc for BSG is laid out feels more like “hard copy” fiction or a long-running film than a traditional TV show in many ways (barring one-shot episodes like “The Woman King” or “Six Degrees of Separation” which still serve to carry the characters forward even while not advancing the larger plot as much). This is one of the things that attracts me to this show and why I’m still convinced that it’s the best show out there on TV, in any genre.

    Thanks for indulging my pointdextrose, Audra. i’m honored that one of my comments struck you enough to start an independent thread. 🙂

  6. Aram says:

    I think that any good writer would always at least listen to outside opinion, even if that opinion is purely critical…to simply shut out every voice aside from your own drops you into isolation that nothing truly good can come from.

    However, that being said, not everyone should get a voice. There is a good reason that most of us are not writers. That reason being that we would likely suck at it. Additionally, I do not trust the opinion of most people. American Idol is still insanely popular in this country…that alone drives me to shove RDM and crew in a sealed bubble and let them write without any advice whatsoever.

    We are never going to get everything we want from Battelsrate Galactica, aside from this: that the show, regardless of any stumbles or missteps it may take, will still be far and beyond 99% of everything else on television.

    That is plenty good enough for me.

  7. Ray says:

    I think entertainment like BSG should ideally be pointed towards being the best story it can be. The fact that you can’t please everyone all the time makes it kinda pointless trying. Sure, some people are annoyed that Starbuck is ‘gone’ from the show, but if it’s part of a great larger story, then the audience should be patient enough to see where the story goes. I think half the reason they made her ‘disappear’ was for shock value. I think that’s why people are in denial about it still, because killing off a main character is something that never happens. I also think this is a good move because it’s so different, it makes the show stand out.

    I think it’s a similar thing with Serenity. The deaths were necessary to tell the audience that the characters aren’t invincible just because they’re important. If only ‘red shirt’ characters died all the time, there would be no drama when main characters were in jeopardy because you know they’re going to survive. The drama in Serenity was heightened with the deaths because the danger was real. With Starbuck’s ‘death’ it reminds us that main characters aren’t always invincible and makes everything slightly more real.

    If the writers make the show just to please the audience every week then it’ll comprimise the quality of the overall story, but then if the writers don’t care at all for their audience then it’ll probably get cancelled before the story is finished. With an ensemble show like BSG, it’s not like Starbuck was the only main character, we still have amazing characters like Adama, Roslin, Apollo, Baltar, Tigh, all the Cylons. What I’m saying is that it’s not as if the show ‘can’t’ continue without Starbuck. This might have been a ballsy move, but it shouldn’t be considered a bad one.

    I can’t imagine someone watching this kind of show for just one character, so I can’t understand people who will stop watching after Maelstrom. There is so much more to offer from this show… as long as they don’t get rid of Baltar, he rules 🙂

  8. Rorlins says:

    Here’s the thing:

    No Audience = No Show.

    We can say how much we all respect the writer’s choices and how well they want to tell the story they want to tell, but when the day is done, if people don’t watch for whatever reason, then the show ends.

    Buffy went through this in season 6. They decided to show us what it would be like for the Slayer to have to deal with “real world problems”. Instead of watching her defeat the “monster of the week” we watched her apply for a loan. We watched her work in a fast food joint. It was boring, it was tiring and it was sad.

    I gave up on it, as did many I knew that followed the show closely. We simply didn’t like the story. We didn’t find it engaging. I gave up and did something else on Tuesday night and I even went so far as to send emails to the networks saying that I was done watching Buffy.

    Ironicially this was the same time that Joss went over to work on Angel full time and left Buffy in the hands of his protoge whom I fully blame for the mess that was season 6.

    Back to BSG: You can be daring with a show. But you MUST temper that daring story line with the fact that you want people to keep watching it. You want the story to engage and at the end of it all ENTERTAIN. We watch TV to be entertained. Yes it can spark debate. Yes, it can spark discussion. Yes it can even make us think about politics and current events in a new light and even motivate us to change the world we live in, hopefully for the better.

    But…. it still has to entertain.

    If it’s not entertaining then it will be gone.

    And as someone put in Harry Potter I want to put this out there:

    If Harry dies at the end of book 7, then my children will not read Harry Potter until they are adults, or at the least I will not suggest it to them. I would not want my child to grow up believing that when faced with evil, you stand against it, you fight the good fight, oh, and at the end, you die. I want my children (when I finally have them) to believe that good can win against evil. They’ll have their entire adult lives to learn that such is not always the case and that you can fail even when you are honest and true and righteous.

    But those are lessons they can spend their adult lives learning and experiences; as children they should believe in the fantasy. It’s their only chance to believe that the world is a good place. Anything else and we’ll be raising a generation of apathetic cynics….

    Rorlins

  9. Lacrossman says:

    Rorlin,
    I like the points that you make and if this show were on one of the three big networks or maybe even Fox, I probably would agree with you. RDM has said several times in interviews that it is not his intent to have a long run with this show – he has said that he doesn’t want another “Next Gen”. This is already one of the most successful shows in the history of the Sci Fi channel, and yet they have limited the budget to decrease the number of space battle scenes due to cost. We will be lucky to get two more seasons out of this show no matter how popular it is. Joss bailed on Buffy because he was out of interesting directions to take the show. I believe we are seing evidence of this same malaise in the episodes of BSG lately.
    The original BSG died because the track to earth was not interesting enough to carry the story more than one season. The writer’s burried under the weight of creating a “space oddessy” came up with lame episodes like “one-eye” the quick draw Cylon and Starbucks long lost father.

    Yes, it is typically true that if you have no audience, you have no show. I don’t know how much this has been true outside of the top 4 networks. Take Smallville for example. The most popular show on a small network. They have killed or removed popular characters to keep the story interesting and they are still chugging along.

  10. Armando says:

    Aram wrote: >>

    Mind you, what I’m suggesting is not that writers/artists NOT seek out criticism or help or that they write in a bubble. That, indeed, would lead to nothing good. What I suggest is that they shouldn’t aim to please as many people as possible (seeking the lowest common denominator, as it were) rather than aiming to please themselves and hoping that their audience will see things as they do. Seeking the lowest common denominator, in art, doesn’t lead to anything good either.

  11. Armando says:

    Rorlins,

    Of course you’re right about allowing children to have an innocent, black and white view of the world. I love my five year old’s innocence and optimism in the world and rue the day when she will grow up and realize that everything doesn’t always end well. Harry Potter, although it has found appeal among adults, is ostensibly aimed at adolescents and older children who are beginning to discover that the world can be an ugly and dangerous place. Myths (and Harry Potter, like Star Wars did for my generation and the original Star Trek for the generation before, aims to be a contemporary myth) are about helping people see the world in a way that is relatively comfortable but still helps them see the world for what it is (at least eventually).

    BSG (this version) is a show aimed at adults. We know that the world is not a pretty place. The characters on the show have gone through the absolute ugliest event life could offer: the complete devastation of their society and near-extinction of their race. Why should the creators of the show sugar coat this for the sake of somehow protecting the audience?

    Sure, television is primarily about entertainment. If enough people don’t like the show, then the show goes off the air (Galactica has been on the brink of this all year, remember?). What I’ve noticed over the last few years, however, is that people like Ron Moore, David Chase, Mitch Hurwitz, Joss Whedon and others who are pushing envelopes a bit are beginning to see television as a medium capable of producing high (or near-high) art. This is something that, I would argue, has never, with few exceptions (The Twilight Zone comes to mind) been seen before. Art, in the end, is about more than simply entertainment. And of course, this is the paradox of trying to create art in television, since TV, more than the movies, is about pleasing as many people as possible as much of the time as possible.

  12. Ryan says:

    The problem with most television is that it is only about entertainment. You sit down, turn on the TV and watch mindlessly for 30 minutes to 1 hour (20 – 45 if you have tivo) and then you watch the next show. Maybe you laugh, maybe you experience some tension or some suprise or shock, but entertainment isn’t enough. Art is art when it engages us, when is makes us interact, when it changes our perspective, or our place in the world.

    The problem with most television audiences is that they don’t understand the difference. They reward entertaining shows with their viewership becuase they can come in and watch and then leave. The story dosen’t become part of their lives, it doesn’t change who they are, it doesn’t challenge them at all, it doesn’t connect to their life, it is only there to give them a break from it.

    That is what sets shows like BSG apart. The writers do understand that, and they have our interest at heart, but they have higher expectations than to entertain us. They, like all great artists, want to move us. They want to changes us. And they do this by engaging us so that we have oppurtunites to decide, to change, to evolve. When they stop doing that (and I don’t think they ever will) then I will stop watching. And for anyone to stop watching for any other reason, then they are missing the point.

  13. Audra says:

    Ryan wrote >> entertainment isn’t enough. Art is art when it engages us, when is makes us interact, when it changes our perspective, or our place in the world.

    Perhaps, then, television is indeed like hard-copy literature, in that it fulfills a variety of needs for many different people. Remember you have to go through a review process and convince the publisher an audience will take interest before you can write a book, too. This is why some people watch tv as candy, some as high art, some for serious reflection, and so on.

    Maybe our question should be “How much responsibility do the writers of BSG, specifically, have to their audience?”

  14. Carol says:

    I won’t say that they need to make the audience ‘happy’, whatever that means, since there is built-in incentive for them to do that, to some extent, if they want to get advertising dollars and stay on the air.

    I do think they have a responsibility to not break the ‘rules’ of the universe, as they have set them up. I’m trying to think of a good example of what I mean. Ok, I think this works. They’ve established over the past ~3 years that only Baltar can see Head6. It would be breaking the rules if suddenly Adama started seeing her, as well. I’d cry ‘foul’, unless they really tap-danced and came up with something ‘plausible’ (like, Head6 is really an ‘angel’, as she says, sent from ‘god’, and ‘god’ decides to send her to Adama). I wouldn’t like it, though.

  15. Armando says:

    Ryan, I think your definition of art is one of the best I have ever read. Thank you!

    Carol, I am with you on that. Breaking the rules of the BSG universe would definitely be a jump the shark moment. I felt that the writers came dangerously close to doing this in “Epiphanies” on season two, when Laura Roslin’s cancer was cured by Hera’s fetal blood. Then again, no one said that cancer wasn’t curable with hylon blood, so I suppose that’s a case of the rules being written/revealed gradually.

  16. the forester says:

    Artists don’t have any obligation to keep audiences pleased. Likewise, audiences don’t have any obligation to pay attention to artists.

    I stopped watching BSG when I realized that the writers were subverting too much of the plumbing laid out in the miniseries and first two seasons. Cylons were becoming morally superior to humans, and far less threatening. Human/cylon classifications were becoming blended into more and more variations. When an artist changes too much for the sake of surprise or suspense, meaning is sacrificed. I hit that point with everything related to the eye of Jupiter.

    BSG’s creators don’t owe me anything. They can take the series whichever way they like. But I sure don’t owe them anything, either — especially not when their storytelling decisions fail to preserve my suspension of disbelief.

  17. aiko_aiko says:

    Whoa. Very interesting literary criticism, but a key part of the equation is missing: the revolutionary nature of character Starbuck.

    [Note: I am one of the people quite distressed by this turn of events. I have not yet watched the most recent episode not listened to RDMs and the Watercooler’s podcasts from Maelstrom. My level of engagement has decreased because of what happened to Starbuck – but some might argue my current state is more normal… 😉 I know that I WILL watch the show going forward, but it will be with the same interest that I have with other TV shows.]

    A lot was said about Starbuck’s character at the beginning of BSG that are worth thinking about again in this context. Starbuck was different – a female character with features that you would find in a bad-boy male. The mourning I feel is because of this…

    As for whether the writers have obligations to the viewers. No. Their obligation is to make money. Period. If most people will keep watching, or if more people with watch, than more power to them. That is their job. This is why this action is so significant – they are not so worried that killing off Starbuck will lose money. That is sad commentary about our society. Maybe we aren’t ready for Starbuck-type characters.

  18. Ryan says:

    RDM talks in his podcasts about the decision to spend more time with the cylons, espcially outside of interaction with humans. In one of those, Jamie Bamber is fairly critical of that decsions. RDM, admits that he may be right, and says that it may come back to haunt him, but then says as a writer (or i might replace his words with artist) he had to explore his interest in that story and see where it goes.

    I remember in High School when U2 put out zooropa and every one freaked out. And then in college when Pearl Jam put out vitalogy and every one freaked out again. And my thought at the time was how incredible it was that these artist had enough conviction to change, and explore their art, even in the face of possible negative reactions.

    Of course U2 went back to the same old same old after their experiment and sored to greater heights of popularity, while Pearl Jam continued the experiment and became impossible to find on any radio station. So I am not really sure what that says about my argument.

  19. Ryan says:

    And thanks Armando, but i shouldn’t take credit for that defintion.
    I stole it from my boss. He’s an architect, nuff said.

  20. Armando says:

    >>

    Nonsense, Aiko! If money were the issue then Starbuck would’ve pulled out of that Maelstrom at the last minute in some super-heroic way with the cliche hero music pumping through the soundtrack. With the amount of controversy that decision has caused and as many disatisfied fans as there are now because of Starbuck’s death you think that decision was about money? Come on!

    And any “artist” for whom money is the primary concern (I’m not advocating that it shouldn’t be a concern at all. Even artists have to eat) is not a real Artist (capital “A”) in my book.

  21. Armando says:

    Ryan,

    Then your boss is a very smart man. Nothing wrong with stealing from him (as far as ideas are concerned…abstract ones. Like this one. Oh man, I’m going to get you in trouble now, aren’t I?). Someone once said (it’s credited to either Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso or T.S. Eliot) that “mediocre artists borrow. Great artists steal.” ‘Nough said.

  22. aiko_aiko says:

    Armando – My point is that they must have felt that they DID NOT need to worry about money. At least they didn’t think they would lose a lot of viewers by doing this. Because ultimately if they go below a certain number of views BSG will be pulled.

    Do we know how the ratings look for the last few shows??? I would bet they are steady, if not better than before.

  23. Armando, that was indeed Picasso.

    I think that at the end of the day, BSG has always been about pushing buttons, and about making us think, and more than that, about making us question our convictions, both in regards to BSG, and the real world in general. A prime example of this is Roslyn’s almost schizophrenic duality when it comes to dealing with issues. The pro-choice feminist has to institute a ban on abortions in order to safeguard the human race. The woman who was all for the human suicide bombers on New Caprica is all of a sudden saying that ‘this administration does not condone or bow down to terrorism’ in The Son Also Rises. She negotiated with the striking teacher’s union on Caprica, but tossed a worker’s leader in the brig on a whim in Dirty Hands, only to completely change tack again at the end of the episode. Unfortunately, humans really do behave like this (‘flip-floppers’, anyone?), and television (and writers in general, I think) often plays this down in favour of one or two dimensional character profiles. These are undeniably easier to write, and easier to digest, from the point of view of the audience. But to me, BSG has always been about the gray areas in life. So far they have been true to that, I think, and this is what really keeps me coming back week after week. All great science-fiction does this, by its very nature, and it’s the reason I love the genre (the spaceships and aliens don’t hurt, either).

    I think that due to the nature of television as a commercial medium, writers for television do have a responsibility to keep us engaged, but beyond that, they can go about it any way they see fit, and as long as a show finds an audience, I don’t think that the writers owe us anything else. Shows like American Idol keep many engaged through mindless, dumbed-down pageantry; shows like BSG keep their viewers engaged by pushing their buttons, and making them think. Both entertaining in their own right, but catering to different types of entertainment consumers.

  24. Ryan says:

    Armando, I am pretty sure my boss stole it from someone. So that makes it doubly fair, right?

    At the risk of sound like i am preaching from a “moral highground” i think that Tigh’s Eyepatch’s example comparing Idol to BSG is a perfect example of my earlier point.

    Idol is not engaging, it is simple entertainment. There is not art in it, no meaningful conflicts, only the oppurtunity as a view to make fun of people who sing worse that we do, or have a even more dreadful fashion sense. You watch it because you don’t really want to think, you watch it because it is easy to digest. And I personally think that there is wat too much of that type of entertainment, and that is why the “experts” are always making claims that Television rots our brains or something like that.

    BSG on the other hand gives us all reasons to pause. And not just to consider their world, but to ponder its relevance to ours. That is engagement, and that is what makes it art, and not television. If all TV were like this, I would tell my son to stop reading his books and turn on the tv.

    A show i have really started to mourne is 24, because it started out like BSG and has descended into the idol realm a little bit too much for me. They have forsaken the oppurtunty to engage you by making you rethink your own POV, and instead have decided that all I really want to see it people getting shot, blown up or stabbed by kitchen knives. At a certain point, the entertainment is not fulfilling, it only fills my time, and I don’t have enough of that to go around.

  25. Armando says:

    You know, Ryan, I’ve never watched a single minute of American Idol, except for what gets broadcast on their commercials (which is how I found out who William Hung was, although to me he will always be the band leader of William Hung and his Hung Jury on “Mock Trial with J. Reinhold” on Arrested Development) and I gave up on 24 after the first two or three episodes on its first season. I do, however, know what you’re talking about. I hope that BSG does not descend into that either and the fact that the staff is willing to kill off a major character for the sake of significant plot and/or character development is, to me at least, reassuring (I also hope that the show doesn’t last too long, not because I don’t want to watch it forever, but because I think it would be difficult to sustain this storyline for more than two more seasons. They’ve GOT to eventually find earth or die before getting there. I mean, even the Israelites left Sinai after forty years).

    Aiko, sorry for the misunderstanding. I thought you meant the exact opposite of what you’d said. D’oh! I wouldn’t be surprised if the death of Starbuck has had a detrimental effect on BSG’s ratings, which haven’t been too stellar this season, alas (although the fact that a movie and a video game are in the works and that DVD sales are high is encouraging).

    This question of art vs. profit and writers’ responsibilities is interesting in the context of a television show. After all, how many shows would be able to raise such a topic (I bet you the only other such shows are on HBO)? Unfortunately, as with all art, there is a limited audience for works that make you think, hence BSG’s trouble raising their ratings beyond what they’ve been since season 1. Still, in the end I think this show will be seen as part of a handful of landmark shows which are/were part of a paradigm shift in the tv format. And that’s all right by me, regardless of the space ships and sexy robots.

  26. Armando, thanks for the info on William Hung… as a die-hard Arrested Development fan, I suspected there was some sort of joke in here, but never having seen American Idol, it flew right past me.

    It’s also interesting to see that there’s a certain consensus about the life span of BSG. No one I’ve talked to about it (both online and off) seems to want it to go on for more than one or two seasons more, which I think is a good thing as well, for the reasons mentioned above. As a matter of fact, I thin I heard RDM say at some point (or maybe it was an apocryphal quote on teh intarrwebz) that the only way that SciFi would order the full 20 episodes for season 4 (as opposed to the 13 on order now) would be to wrap up the series as a whole. Having a definite ending in sight is a great thing all around, I think, both for the quality of the writing, and for the audience’s expectations. It’s certainly worked out great for HBO, with shows like Rome, Carnivale, etc.

    Now, what’s this about a BSG movie in the works!!?? Would it be kind of like a grand finale for the series, or more as filler for the inordinately long break between seasons this year? Interesting. . .

  27. Armando says:

    The movie will be direct to DVD and a post-release airing on SciFi (heavily edited, I suppose). It’s a decision based on the DVD sales of seasons 1-2.5, which, unlike the ratings (which are counted the old fashioned way and thus seem weaker than they really are), are very strong. Word has it that it will be a sort of in-between story using story ideas that, for whatever reasons, were never able to be fleshed out into entire episodes but will be combined to tell a larger story (some speculation has it that it might be set sometime before the attacks and be a prequel of sorts to the miniseries, but I can’t cite any sources on that). It’s supposedly slated for a summer or fall release, which is part of why we’re not getting season 4 until January.

    I’d be interested to find a source on the RDM quote you cite above. I know the cast talks about wanting the show to go on for years (of course. They don’t want to lose a job) but Moore has said that his plan was for a five year show. So is he saying that if there is not an end in sight with season four that we might get another abbreviated fifth season? (I don’t think shorter seasons are necessarily a bad thing. It certainly helped keep season 1 very tight.)

    And hey, I’m glad to help a fellow Arrested Development fan. Talk about a show that was cut short, but was still able to maintain a high level of quality! And it rewards repeated viewings. Just like our beloved sci fi show!

  28. storyknife says:

    Read through the posts with interest, and thanks for starting the thread!
    I’m a writer so the responsibility thing is of great importance to me. I think of myself as an entertainer, the guy sitting around the fire, telling stories, hoping to get a few coins in my bowl before everyone rolls in for the night.

    Being true to the reader/viewer is important, not shorting them in the quality department is important. It is actually (IMO) important to the work as well to make it the best it can be. That’s sort of a given, if you dig ditches for a living then dig the best damn ditches you can. But paying the rent is important, too, and folks, I don’t want to starve to death for art’s sake.

    Part of this discussion goes back to the old saying “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make any sound?” BSG exists because there is an audience. The artist can try us and test us and shock us and enrage us, but if he looses our attention, his art looses its audience. It’s Henry James’ cathedral all over again, it’s beautiful and it’ll last forever but if no one ever steps inside the doors to worship, does its existence have any meaning? Nope.

    Other comments:

    Rorlins–Art reflects society, true, but science fiction can go a step farther, it can predict. “If this goes on…”

    Aiko-aiko–In re your comment on Starbuck as bad boy. Yeah, she was, and how’s that working for her? I won’t keep turning this crank, I promise, but it ticks me off that we had a strong female unrole model and they killed her off. Shoulda known she would have to die for her sins. Wouldn’t have happened to a male bad boy. I say equal time for frakked up women characters!

  29. Armando, thanks again for the info on the movie. It sure will make the wait between seasons much more bearable. As for the RDM quote, I’ve been racking my brain trying to remember where I heard it (and I do believe I literally heard it, so I think it might have been on one of RDM’s podcasts), but no joy so far. If I remember, or come across it again, I’ll definitely post it here. Now that I’m thinking about it a little bit more, I think he might have said it within the context of talking about filler episodes and the ‘second half of the season lag’, so it might have been in the podcast for The Woman King, Taking a Break…, A Day in the Life, or Dirty Hands. Not sure, though, I’d have to re-download and listen again.

    I totally agree about the abbreviated season being much tighter. It sure works well for HBO’s shows, for example. As much as I love BSG, I really don’t think it should run much more than two additional seasons.

    I always find new things every time I re-watch Arrested Development. Particularly in the third season, where the writers knew they were getting canned, and started writing for the show’s limited audience. Talk about in-jokes!

  30. @ Storyknife: “Shoulda known she would have to die for her sins. Wouldn’t have happened to a male bad boy.”

    I was wondering when someone would bring that up. I think it’s a very valid point, but from both the setup of the show (strong female characters, *arguably* weaker male characters), and comments on his podcasts, I get the impression that RDM is a staunch feminist, so I don’t know how much the ‘punishment for the strong female’ mentality would have played into the decision to kill off Kara. I like to think BSG’s better than that, which is one of the reasons I think her death serves a higher, as-yet-undisclosed, story-related purpose.

  31. Armando says:

    Storyknife,

    Great points, of course. Nobody likes starving. As a classical musician, I’m grateful for whatever paying work I can get (I’m particularly grateful for my current job, which allows me to work on my music without compromise). At the same time, though, it’s been my experience that artists (okay, classical musicians, at least) often have to make their own audiences. For me that has meant performing my own work and forming a group to do so. There’s been a lot of luck involved, of course, and we’re also at the start of our journey, so there might be plenty of opportunities to fumble in the future.

    With writers, I suppose it’s different. I read a review of an author’s memoir on the Washington Post last week, I forget the guy’s name, in which he talks about quitting writing literary fiction to pursue a career in Hollywood. He failed at this, apparently, yet he is still respected for his single novel and, now, his memoir.

    Of course, there are different types of art with different types of audiences for each. I, for instance, could not write a pop tune worth a damn, and I wouldn’t expect an audience for which a pop tune is the ultimate form of expression to find anything to like in my music. Which is to say, in the end, it’s all subjective anyway, right?

    By the way, what kind of stuff do you write?

  32. Cavatar says:

    I don’t know how I missed this question… Armando it’s a great one. I am in a hurry right now so do I don’t have enough time right now to read all the posts just now but I wanted to comment and will read them all as soon as I can!

    First, I wanted to remind the viewers about the original Law & Order show. It has been on for years, and I don’t believe that an original cast member remains. So shows if done right, it can have a realistic and dynamic cast.

    Someone also mentioned Dallas… I would like to remind all of us that Dallas lost a lot of credibility when they brought back Patrick Duffy who played Bobbie Ewing with the famous dream sequence. Perhaps things might be better if we never see Starbuck again.

    I think one of the things that makes show like BSG and the Soprano’s so good is that we don’t have the…”well you know they won’t kill off that person…” thought. However, the fact we know they won’t kill off Tony Soprano takes away from that show. If Adama were to die, or Roslin, then we might have to get over it and realize it just makes the show more realistic.

    Cavatar

  33. storyknife says:

    @armando: By the way, what kind of stuff do you write?

    Pretty much anything anyone will pay me for. SF, crime fiction, s/s in any genre.

    @Tigh’s Eyepatch: I like to think BSG’s better than that, which is one of the reasons I think her death serves a higher, as-yet-undisclosed, story-related purpose.

    I hope you’re right. I have such respect for this show, I’ve convinced friends who don’t read or watch sf watch it, I’ve made people I don’t even know watch it. We’re taught not to talk politics or religion in polite conversation and here RDM et all are laying it all out with such skill and fearlessness. That’s why Starbuck’s death bothers me so much. Like I said on the other post, this is “destiny?” It doesn’t fit with the, dare I say it, genius of the rest of the show.

  34. Armando says:

    I think it will. Remember that part of that genius is not revealing everything right away. Starbuck’s destiny, I’m sure, will be revealed soon enough (although it might take till January, I suppose). The way they tied the maelstrom into the Eye of Jupiter design doesn’t strike me as something arbitrary, knowing the writing on this show.

    Thanks for sharing on your writing, Storyknife. 🙂

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