I am focusing on one particular screen writer, Shonda Rhimes. I do so because all readers have the ability to watch the two series I am discussing; Grey's Anatomy and Scandal online; (watchseries.cr is just one site one may watch free).
When watching a serial on television, the viewer gets a 'dose' of the program once a week. Because of this limited exposure, many aspects of the writing (screenwriting in this case) are missed.
Further, most people watch a number of different shows in different genres during a week, so that much of what I will discuss here is missed unless one sits and episode after episode in a kind of marathon.
Watching a marathon gives the viewer an unbroken path into the mind of the screen writer.
How does she see human interaction? For that is the reality. No matter the topic, the events, the environment, the basic presentation is the interaction of the characters.
Shonda Rhimes seems to be at the top of her game with these two very popular series, (among others). This is because those who critique her work do not watching a marathon.
They do not focus on Grey's Anatomy or Scandal (as one would focus on a hard copy novel). Instead, they view one or two episodes, and follow the major events week to week.
This is a 'medical' drama. It begins with the arrival of a number of interns at a hospital in Seattle, Washington, in the United States. Among them is Meredith Grey, the name in the title.
The adventures, misadventures and romantic interludes of the Interns and the Doctors they interact with, is fit around the various medical emergencies.
This is a 'political' drama. It takes place in Washington D.C. with a fictional President who was elected with the held of Olivia Pope. Olivia becomes the lover of the President who, when the story begins is married.
The various 'scandals', violence, trickery, etc. makes up the plot and is folded around Olivia's sexual involvements.
Word vs Image.
In a novel, what separates the good from the bad, what makes this book a best seller and that one a failure depends on characters, events, language, twists and turns of plot.
To treat an episodic television serial as a novel may be unfair, in one aspect, yet in another, might be what determines a good and original program from a trite one.
One of the things you will notice if you watch Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, is that the characters are one dimensional and exactly the same.
All females are cold and unfeeling. The males are weak and easily manipulated.
All females engage in near violent sexual connection with the males. There is no tenderness, not love, no quiet discussion, it is all ugly.
Female characters on Grey's Anatomy or on Scandal, all make the first violent sexual move. The females never love or commit to anyone or anything. They are mercenary and exploit weakness.
Male characters speak when spoken tol. They are easily cowed, can be treated with disdain by the females. No matter how badly they are treated, they keep returning, fixated on the female.
Clearly the portrayals are ridiculous. People do not act this way. Women do not have that absolute power over men. Normal men are not fixated on one woman.
Regardless of what character in what show, the behavious is exactly the same; so one can know what is going to happen next, because they are so predictable.
As boring as this may be, the major turn off is the language. The language in both series is the same; "You are my Person", "I am broken", "We need to fix us". The limitations in the vocabulary of the writer is blatant.
If one were to reduce either program to the written word, the triteness would have the book flung in the garbage by the fourth chapter.
Yet, because these are television programs, which air once a week, the viewers often do not notice how pathetic the crafting of characters. Events might seem interesting and distract, but when reduced to words by the character, a yawn would be the response.
So how is it that such poorly written characterisations can captivate audiences?
In Real Life, that is when you are speaking to someone face to face, there is a great mixture of emotions, and a great diversity among people.
When writing a novel, the author must keep the readers interest. The writer must create unique characters.
In 'Gone With The Wind' there are no other characters like Scarlett or Rhett. The other characters are different. They think differently, they see the world differently.
On Grey's Anatomy, Meredith is the same as April, and Owen is the same as Riggs. The diatribe given by Arizona could be given by Maggie.
What ought have been done, to make the show interesting is to hire different writers to draft the different characters.
In Scandal, the fictious nature of the plot, and the one dimensional characters will have the viewer 'responding' after a few episodes.
You know what Olivia will say. You know what Fitz will say.
Interestingly, in Scandal, there are two loud mouthed insane characters, exactly the same. One is 'Command' a pompous psychopath, Olivia's father, the other is Cyrus, the on again, off again, Presidental Chief of Staff.
Both characters have these diatribes which are so blustery and overacted one ponders how anyone can keep a straight face.
The reason why both series are 'hits' is because they are taken in small doses, broken by other inputs.
Each 'hour' show is actually about 42 minutes long, broken by commercials. It is aired once a week. The faults and flaws are hidden by lapse of time and dosage.
As a writer, one must strive to create unique characters. The chap next door may seem mundane to you, but he is unique. He is real. He is not like the chap across the street, although they may be friends.
You are unique No matter how you conform to your society, you remain unique. Hence a good writer can take a perfectly common individual and place him or her in the centre of a novel in which nothing beyond common occurs, yet, the book is a must read based on the language, characterisation and story.
Neither Scandal nor Grey's Anatomy could work as a novel, unless written by someone with a greater understanding of human nature, and a far more complex vocabulary.