Monday, March 28, 2022

Characterization Lessons from Old TV Series

Recently we joined the 21st century and started using tv streaming services. 

I really like the access to old tv series whenever I want. Columbo. Blue Bloods. The Twilight Zone. And the two Hawaii Five-Os.

The original series starred Jack Lord and aired from 1968-1980. 

Link to Wikipedia description:

I didn't watch it when it first ran. (It probably conflicted with something else I preferred.) It's a police procedural, set in Honolulu. The dialogue and the acting style is kind of dated. But it's fun in its own way. Jack Lord runs around scorching Honolulu chasing criminals in a wool suit and tie (wide lapels, wide tie). The young people are always hippies and dumb (and usually the criminals). But there's always a mystery to solve and lots of action.

The reboot, most of which I watched when it was current, is much better. Why? Because the main characters on Reboot Five-O have personal lives, aside from their jobs. Families, romantic interests, personal conflicts, and background stories. They aren't just cardboard figures to slot into a plot to solve a mystery in 53 minutes. They're rounded characters, not flat. There's lots of humorous dialogue, interplay between McGarrett and Danny. We care about them. And because we care about them, the stakes are higher when they're in danger.

Another example of this is the original NCIS. Gibbs is more than just the leader of the NCIS team. He has an elderly father, three ex-wives, a former partner, and a first wife and daughter who died tragically. He dates from time to time. Tony has a problematic relationship with his father, too. And he doesn't relate well to women until Ziva comes along. Ziva has a problematic relationship with her father, has to decide which country has her loyalty (Israel or the U.S.), and has a lovely, teasing relationship with Tony that plays out over several seasons. Even Ducky has lots of background stories: the military, a long-lost brother, an elderly mother with dementia. These are truly rounded characters and we care about them.


  1. With the exception of comic-book types of movies, (or ones made using comic-book characters) scripts written today want a fleshed-out characters with pasts and more than one "want" the storyline follows. You would be hard pressed to find contemporary novels (for any age) or movies/TV that ignore this evolution.

    1. You're right, Mirka. This explains why I'm left cold by the comic-book character movies. They're all "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." :-)

  2. Barb, I like my story-people to be well-rounded too, not just one-dimensional. We were watching the old Die Hard movies and they're surprisingly well rounded despite them being full of action.

    1. Even well written sci-fi movies and tv series have rounded characters. Not the anthology tv series, such as The Twilight Zone, with a different story and set of characters each week. There isn't time for that.

      I think I'm going to have to re-interview the main character of my WIP to fill in his backstory more.


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