What if Books Were Like TV

Following the recommendation of many, many people, I finally got around to renting the first disc of season 1 of "White Collar" (that's the USA show that stars Chuck's Bryce Larkin as a conman working for the feds). I have to say, the pilot really hooked me. It wasn't as flimsy as I thought it was going to be. Characters got some depth and there was a really interesting supporting cast.

One of my favorite things to do with television is to watch a series pilot and then see what changes when the pilot is picked up. For those of you that don't know, a pilot is shot and given to the studio to determine whether they're going to pick up the show for a season (or a half season or a handful of episodes, etc). This means, a pilot may be good enough to get the series picked up, but certain tweaks happen when the series begins, usually with the supporting cast or particular character traits.

(Look at Agent Gibbs' team when he appears in JAG compared to when NCIS became its own series. Those people are never mentioned again. Likewise, compare how much pop culture Gibbs knows in Yankee White compared to the rest of the series.)

What amuses me the most about this juxtaposition is that the show so rarely acknowledges the people that are no longer there. They might get a one-line good-bye if they're acknowledged at all. Or, if the effect they have on the plot is relevant (such as June giving Bryce a place to stay), that effect may remain while the character vanishes.

Can you imagine what it would be like if books were like that? More and more, authors are gimmicking out the book-by-chapter sales. Or the choose the direction of the story contests. Can you imagine what it would be like to read a story where certain characters are determined not to be best and just abandoned or completely retconned in later chapters?

Is it because it's in print that we'd be upset? Or is it just that television has done it for so long that we're used to it? I can't imagine reading a book where a secondary character is replaced by a similar but distinctly different character in chapter 5 without explanation. Or perhaps we accept that the entire story is told in a book and the author is given time to go back and revise; whereas, it would not make sense to reshoot a pilot episode with new characters. Still, I always want to turn the network and say, "You know I see that. Right? I see the difference."

Sometimes it's actually a good thing. Some characters don't work or the writers threw in the kitchen pot trying to make the network like them, and you get the most ridiculous characters. Sometimes, like in the case of Burn Notice, it's a step back.

I liked the pilot cast. I was actually shocked at how progressive it was. Sure the two leads were both white males, but the supporting cast was four black people and two white people. Of those six people, four of them were women. And of those four women, one of them was a lesbian. As American television goes, that's a whole lot of minority for a non-minority focused show.

By the third episode, we're down to two women and two men. One of them is black and one is latina, but the lesbian is gone. Now IMDB tells me June and Diana come back, but I'm disappointed at the loss of Denise Vasi's Cindy. I thought she acted well, I liked her confidence, and it was nice having a female that would be totally immune to the charming main character's whiles. I also appreciated how little emphasis they put on her sexuality. Too often the "gay" character requires quotes because the writers make such a big deal of it that it becomes a distraction, as if gay people aren't capable of working in a normal, every-day environment.

I'm not sure if I'll stick with this show. The episode I just watched failed pretty horribly as a procedural. And actually it failed worse than normal. It made an effort to point out that FBI Agent can't use the gold coin because it was obtained illegally, but then a confession is taken based on the stolen gold coin. Any evidence deriving from illegally obtained evidence would be thrown out. The entire episode is a road map of how to let two criminals escape any kind of prosecution.

If you're going to be a procedural, you have to get your procedures close enough to the truth that the armchair-lawyers don't see the gaping hole you drove your plot through.