I have started watching ABC’s ‘Nashville’ and am re-awakening my enjoyment of CBS’s ‘The Good Wife’ on More4.
The former is a big frothy bath of soap bubble and intrigue, set against the backdrop of the Country Song Scene. I am a sucker for a good Country and Western song. These songs are soaps stories in their own right; tunes like ‘It Won’t Hurt When I Fall Off This Bar Stool’ and ‘All my Exes Live In Texas’ hold a particularly warm place in my heart.
The bare-breasted, tell-all-in-a-loud-voice nature of a classic Country Song lyric has a theatricality, a whiff of the melodrama about it and I like that. But there is a subtle emotional under tow that pulls at the heart strings too; it’s not all bluff and bluster. ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ is such a sad tale of a lonely man; yearning to be popular but clearly looking a bit pathetic in his cheap shirt. ‘I Have Friends In Low Places’ is declared rather too heartily to my mind; smacks of self-preservation if you ask me.
‘Nashville’ encompasses all that is glitter and fringe-fronted shirts about the Country scene; it brings you muscle bound songsters in black roll sleeved t’ shirts who can draw tears from their guitar strings with their manly hands. The women are sassy, perky, naughty and driven. The men are flawed, soul-searching and handsome. Bring it on, I say.
But what separates ‘Nashville’ from an also-ran type of serialised drama with a musical precinct, is the sheer volume and detailing of the story lining.
The same goes for ‘The Good Wife’. Here, there is no flim-flam frippery. It’s brittle, no-holes-barred, in-your-face stuff. The women are massively complex and layered. The men are rather shifty, psychologically slippery and snog-able. It’s a potent mix.
Both series rattle on apace. Both are packed with story and character detail.
Nashville and The Good Wife are very expensive, glossy soaps. EastEnders on steroids and Botox.
And like soap story lines, both shows understand how to layer a character arc so it does not deliver a linear stream of story. In both cases, every character, the lesser and the greater, have at least 3 or 5 (odd numbers are always better in story telling terms – it adds a frisson that evens don’t deliver) layers of subtext going on, underneath their plot line.
Remember when you begin to plot your story lines across your series outline, that your story has to deliver two things at the very least.
Nashville is obviously a visual series. The territory it explores is innately so. The Good Wife; not so much. But again, both series use imagery to a maximum at every turn.
In The Good Wife, it is a conscious decision on the part of the wardrobe department to give the female legal movers and shakers a stream-lined, pared down look. Alicia Florrick and her nemisis Diane, are rarely seen without a Chanel Suit or a jacket with an ‘ A’ symmetrical zip fastening – adding a certain dynamism to their look.
Alicia Florrick is a character bowed under a rich seam of story lining. She is the pivot around which the show’s story lines flow. Her husband ripped her world apart by his less-than pristine public image. She tears herself away and claws a furrow for herself through the rich loam of the legal world. She is a wife, a mother, a business woman, a legal brain, a girl with insecurities with her own girl who has insecurities. She must be both lioness and figure head.
The show never lets it’s audience forget that although Alicia is a political animal, she is a flawed human too. As are her team. The emotional and visual impact is felt.
In Nashville, when Raynar gives an open invite to schemer and self-server songstress Juliette, to join the Grand Ole Oprey, she paints herself into a corner. Her voice is gone. She fears for her gift, she lacks confidence and her self-esteem is battered. She turns to her father for financial support, but he is a dark soul; he will lead her ever further on to the wrong side of the law. But she is trusting. This story line culminates in Raynar being forced, on stage, to sing one of her best-loved songs. Visually the impact is felt at the same time as the emotional under tow kicks in. She manages the high notes – she is back lit, she looks like the Queen of Country. Her audience lift her up.
I have spent the last 20 years working with writers, scripts, stories and story lines. I have made a fair amount of television drama; having the good fortune to learn my craft on EastEnders and then producing some tip top children’s television (Knights School, My Dad’s A Boring Nerd, The Ward) and finally producing Holby City for the BBC and latterly Crossroads for ITV.
I have put much of what I have learned about making drama for television in this book: Writing for Television; Series Serials Soaps. It is packed with information, tips and tricks for writers keen to get in, get on and stay in Television; out in June 2014 by Kamera Books. The cover is undergoing a re-design, but here’s the link where you can pre-order copies:
If you need help with your story lines – contact me www.scriptadvice.co.uk