When I lived in Israel, there was a story in the news about a family who sold their house and used the proceeds to buy lottery tickets. They figured they had to win. Win big. After which they would buy a new house. It didn’t work out as planned. They ended up with a giant pile of worthless lottery tickets and no house. A perfect example of “what could possibly go wrong?”

Watching television gives one many opportunities to ponder “what could possibly go wrong?” Last night, on CSI, a show whose time has come and probably also gone, what’s-his-name played by Ted Danson is using his lovely daughter as bait for a serial killer. Really.

What could possibly go wrong with that?

It took all the creativity of a team of writers to come up with an unbelievable happy ending. Unbelievable in the sense that I didn’t believe it. Garry didn’t believe it. I bet even the guys who wrote it didn’t believe it.

I try not to take this sort of thing personally. It can’t be that the people who write scripts for television shows think we are that stupid, do they? When I worked at Doubleday, many long years go, we wrote about books because, you know, Doubleday is a publisher. There were very few rules about how we were to write. We were allowed a great deal of creative freedom, one of the many pluses of the job.

The one warning we got was to never, ever, write down to our readers. Because you never know who is reading that book. As the editor in charge of the Doubleday Romance Library, I got to read the surveys on who actually reads romance novels, an oft-maligned genre of literature.


These light, fluffy stories — all pretty much the same plot — always sold extremely well. It seemed that fans of the genre could not get enough of them. Yet survey after survey showed that the readers of romance novels were, of all of our reader groups, the best educated.

How could that be? Well, it turns out that many people in high-pressure professions don’t want to read serious books. They want to be gently entertained. They like books with no ugly deaths, no tortured souls. They appreciate knowing there will be a happy ending and if they forget to finish the book, it doesn’t matter.

Whoever is in charge of the story lines and scripts for many current television series, seem to have forgotten about not talking down to us. They obviously think we are stupid. The result? I stop watching their shows. When the stories get ridiculous, when the “what could possibly go wrong with that?” factor outweighs its entertainment value, we move on.

For me to accept a story, to suspend my disbelief, you need to give me a hook. Something that lets me accept whatever is happening as “possible.” Like, there you are on planet Alphabetazoid in the far away galaxy of ZYX900042 and everyone speaks colloquial 21st century American English. You want me to believe it? Tell me they are using their “Universal Translator.” Or have babel fish in their ears. I want to believe, but you need to offer me a little help.

Of course, that’s useless when confronted by the vast sea of true-life human stupidity. People who really do sell their homes to buy lottery tickets and other “What could possibly go wrong with that” scenarios. I will need to continue to deal with the depth and breadth of human stupidity as best I can.

At least on television and in the movies, though, give me a break. Help me believe. Because I am not stupid. Really. I’m not. I just like stupid television shows.

Categories: Entertainment, Humor, Television, Writing

Tags: , , , , ,

31 replies

  1. One of the great things about this post is that we’re discussing crazy TV plots and not the real life horrors of our world. Give me fiction anytime these days. Just keep printing the legend.


  2. All too often the first series of a new show is good, but they all seem to deteriorate into a wallow in every conceivable human weakness, at which point I stop watching.
    I have to put in a good word for scriptwriters, though. It’s usually not their fault.They’re given a storyline, and if the higher ups don’t like the scene breakdown, they have to change it before they start the script. Even for movies, the producers often have more say than the writers. They might argue the point, but in the end, you have to accept their demands or you’re out.
    As for romance novels – my dad was a university vice-chancellor – not stypid – and loved Georgette Heyer and classic whodunnits. Work was intellectual enough. He read for relaxation and entertainment.


    • I know. I almost sold my book for a movie and I learned that I would have absolutely NOTHING to say about how it was done. That’s why a lot of authors are very careful about how they sell their work. Still, they could at least make a passing attempt at credibility, and something I could believe. They don’t even try.

      I’m with your dad. I read to get away from life, not dive into it. I dove. I almost drowned. Now, I just want to enjoy it.


  3. Due to the massive success of comic book movies and TV shows (Arrow, Marvel and DC, etc, etc) I seem to see a ‘comic book logic’ creeping into other shows ?? I like a few twists and all … as long as I’m not too contorted.
    But geeez …


  4. I’ve noticed as of recently I have become more critical of the story aspect in movies and television. Recently, I watched “The November Man” and “The Equalizer” and noticed that in both movies, the key portion of the characters psyche and motivation was so incredibly down played that when they mentioned it, it was like they all the sudden remembered, “oh, we need you to believe this, so just accept it”. It’s lazy character development and makes me dislike the movie, when in fact if they would have just spent a bit of time in the beginning (or throughout the story) giving me a background story instead of just throwing it in because they think surprise is a better vehicle or they didn’t know how to introduce the concept without blowing the whole ‘big reveal’ (when in fact I think it is just lazy storytelling), I would have cared more about the decisions and the why’s. Sure, good movies, but those things are just more and more prevalent in Hollywood these days. Just so sad.


    • THANK YOU. That’s MY beef too. The laziness of the scriptwriters who don’t seem to feel they need to bother with character development. Or for that matter, dialogue. Or tying up the end of the plot in some way that makes sense in the context they have created. A lot of the time, it would take very little effort on their part to add enough to flush out a character or the story, but they figure we won’t notice. Or we are too unsophisticated to care and all we really want is a lot of shooting and explosions. I suspect as I get older, I’m getting more impatient with bad writing and have more trouble overlooking it. I’m especially sensitive to actual incorrect information. It’s just as many words to say it correctly, but they don’t bother. Absurd plots, characters in a continuing series who suddenly act completely differently than they did in the previous 11 seasons.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I saw the same CSI program last night. They needed that “what could possibly go wrong” moment to make the hook. How it turned out may have been implausible but it would have been too neat if everything had gone to the original plan. (Selling your house for lottery tickets, bad idea)

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was … well … Garry was pissed because until becoming absurd, he thought they had an interesting plot going. I was pissed because I’m willing to suspend my disbelief, but you have to give me a chance, something to work with. “Deus ex machina” has become a standard plot device. It’s lazy writing. It bothers me. It’s insulting to the audience. At least when Clive Cussler does it, he doesn’t expect you to believe it. He just drops the author into the story and has him save the hero. He is his OWN deus ex machina. Where’s mine when I need one? This is one of those days when I could use a little saving.

      Yes, selling your house for lottery tickets is a bit (a bit??) irrational.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I find your passage about the readers of romance novels interesting. As an editor in such a prestigious publishing house you had great exposure to what people want or not to read. I would agree that the first goal of a good story should be to entertain. The best stories of course can also open our eyes and hearts. As for the lottery tickets, I don’t buy them because I don’t have much luck with random games. My mom bought lottery tickets, though. And I think she always kept the secret hope to win something. I never blamed her. Since I never bought one, how could I win anything? But selling a house seems a bit excessive.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was also the editor of the Double Garden Guild — talk about two very different audiences. But surprisingly, with a lot of crossover. The whole point is that you have to be very careful about assumptions. Smart people read silly books and watch dumb TV shows. For some people, at least some of the time, the game is not about illumination, but entertainment. Life for me during the past couple of decades has been very hard … and for the past 12 years, a bit of a nightmare. I don’t need any more reality. I have plenty. Mind you, I personally have never been a fan of the romance novel. I need a little more meat on my characters and more wit in the dialogue than most romances are able to provide. But I understand why people read them. They are the kind of book you can read, put down, and never finish … and it doesn’t matter. No worrying that a character might not survive. The good guys always win, the heroine always gets her man. And they always live happily ever after.

      My version of romance is fantasy. A place where wizards, witches, vampires and other supernatural creatures exist. I yearn to be in a world with magic, where wishing becomes spell-casting and I can change my world to something less brutal.


  7. I have gotten a little hooked on the new show “Scorpion” which is totally unbelievable, but I like the characters and how they will do anything to save someone, us, the world. I like shows where people really ‘show up’ for their work. I do not like shows were the people do anything to get out of work; I had enough of that in the real work world. I sometimes watch old reruns of Superman. The other day he was Clark Kent minus his glasses and hat, yet no one recognized him as Superman. lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • We are on the same page. We watched Scorpion last night. They are superheroes without cloaks. I have always been a fan of Superman too. His job was to be super and he took his job seriously. So handsome, too. Would we have loved him as much if he were not so gorgeous? And the Lone Ranger and Tonto were always there. No need to say thank you, please. They just came to town, fixed the problem, and rode into the sunset. My kind of guys.


    • We also watch and enjoy “Scorpion”. The tech jargon is way beyond me but it’s also a refreshing change from the usual procedurals. And, I also watch the old “Superman” shows. They had one the other day which did the entire back story in one half hour episode. It was neat seeing a “young” George Reeves applying for work at the Daily Planet.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I know just what you mean Marilyn. I guess that’s the good thing about SF. If you want to try some plot ideas that don’t fit the storyline I’d prefer “Parallel Universe” to saying that an entire season of a show was some character’s dream. If you want to replace an actor with someone who is not even the same height, age or skin tone I’d prefer Regeneration to blandly assuming that I won’t notice. My mum used to love Days Of Our Lives and General Hospital but I could not watch them with her because I found the plots so ridiculous. My sister thinks they are hilarious when she occasionally sees them. We are amazed at how people can have plastic surgery that is so good that your own husband/wife doesn’t recognise you and how often they get away with using variations of the “evil twin” story. 🙂


    • Do I sense a Dr. Who fan? I love science fiction for all those reasons, because you can create a world where things fall “up” instead of “down” and all you really have to do to make it acceptable is say that “in this world, things fall UP” and I’ll believe it, at least for the duration of that movie or episode. One of the great inventions of TV Sci Fi was the Holodeck on the Enterprise, where you could create any world, anywhere, with any rules. It’s one of the reasons the show worked so well: you could make anything happen and it was just the Holodeck. Or Q!


      • Yes I am a Dr Who fan and enjoyed many of the old episodes from pre 2005 as well as the revival. The concept is fantastic. The Holodeck has been a great source of Star Trek episodes and you learn a lot about the characters by learning about their interests.


        • My best friend is a serious devotee of Dr. Who. I’ve never quite gotten into it. I wish I could. I think I’m a little late and would need to start watching older shows before the new ones.


          • You probably should at least start back from 2005 when the show was revived. For the really old ones you have to go all the way back to 1963 and watching through 12 Doctors might take a while. 🙂


            • I know. That’s probably why I haven’t. We are watching our way through 7 seasons of Star Trek:Next Generation and Castle. Dr. Who seems rather daunting, but I think when we run out of Star Trek, it will be time to take on the next sci fi series. Being retired has it up side and this has got to be a BIG one 🙂


  9. I so agree- I always think to myself when watching some idiotic plot unfold, How stupid do they think I am, and off it goes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The most egregious part of it is that it would take so little to make the story believable. Often, all they need is a paragraph or two of dialogue to provide some kind of context or explanation … and they don’t bother. They really DO think we are stupid.


  10. I stopped watching Voyage To The Bottom Of the Sea with Richard Basehart When the week’s rubber monsters became too unbelieveable. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rubber monsters have forever been the bane of cheap sci fi. Sometimes, I can get past it … but in any case, you just can’t rely on monsters, rubber or otherwise, to keep a show interesting. After a while, you also need a plot, characters, and dialogue. And a concept.


    • Bob, I checked out “Voyage” once or twice for nostalgia’s sake. Nostalgia lost.


      • In its time it seemed interesting as the show aired for years. The writers just ran out of rubber monsters and the show soon disappeared.


  11. I cannot agree more. When a TV show looses its credibility just to stretch it for longer period with unnecessary twists and turns, I stop watching that. We really don’t need something unbelievable fantasy to be injected into our mind. We prefer real over that.


  12. Nothing drives me crazier than a story that requires everyone to do everything wrong for the plot to advance. This is part of why I can’t stand horror movies anymore.

    I can totally relate to not wanting anything too complicated to read after work. Maybe I should start reading romance novels… hmm, my wife might think that’s weird.


    • I have settled for fantasy in lieu of romance. Often, they are structured similarly, especially when the book is part of a series, so you know the hero or heroine is going to make it because there are more books (or episodes) on the way. When I was young and life was not so serious, I read serious books. Maybe it’s a balance thing. These days, life is way TOO serious. I prefer my entertainment without stress. But not absurd. Actually, there are some shows on TV and a fair number of books that fit this criteria admirably. Entertaining, well written, good characters, fun dialogue. And none of the good guys dies and nobody is deeply into angst!


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