“Code Blue! Gimme the paddles…” Dr. House (alot)
You got a favorite TV show?
I was a charter member of the first TV-addicted generation, and I may yet live to see the end of network television as we’ve all known and loved it all these seasons.
The Web’s already killed it for the youngest generations.
Once the last of the Boomers wander off, we’ll take our fond memories of Howdy Doody and The Twilight Zone with us… and no one will much care, being too busy with fourteen incoming Twittering IMs on their ear/eye implants and a fresh scene loading up from the new Grand Theft Auto XXVII they just injected straight into their pituitary gland.
Sometimes I think about that.
Television, easily the most culture-shaping technology advance in the history of mankind… eclipsed before it reached seventy years old… murdered by hotter, more intensely interactive tech. (Okay — I know that television was actually viable in the 1920s, but get real. It wasn’t a cultural phenomenon until the fifties.)
But that’s not what I want to write about tonight.
Instead, something else triggered my interest.
I thought back to the season-ending episode of “House”, which had everyone in the room reaching for tear-soaked tissues (including the cat, who was barely watching).
And, if you’ll give me a minute here, I’m gonna tie that show in with you making money with your ads.
VERY major lesson coming up, so pay attention.
First, though, you gotta put up with some ranting:
/Begin rant: Television, overall, has followed the same arc that — in micro — the show Saturday Night Live has followed: Great for a couple of years… suck for several years… recover, and be great again… then quickly descend into Suckdom once more… and over and over, in a cycle that (someday) historians will probably be able to track down to the second. (“As we can clearly see, class, the show left the rails thirteen minutes into the first episode after Lorne Michaels left in season five… you can almost — chuckle — see it jumping the shark as Louise-Dreyfus sputters in yet another vapid, unfunny scene…”)
Speaking of rants, you’ll get some of my very best when you sign up for 11Really Stupid Blunders You’re Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now. You get it for free, right here.
And I believe we’re currently in one of the recurring “up” bumps. Always good when you realize there are actually a couple of shows on that DESERVE to be watched. Not brain-dead watching, but active interest watching.
What do you Tivo?
We religiously record House, 30 Rock, The Office (though I suspect the shark is in mid-air on that one), and Manchester United games on Fox Sports. (Okay, Michele won’t watch soccer with me, and I can’t stomach Brothers And Sisters with her. Trade off.)
I love the medium, but I don’t “need” it.
I grew up watching all the sixties sit-com, sci-fi, drama and kitsch I could cram into an evening (The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Addams Family, Outer Limits, The Prisoner, The Avengers, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., American Bandstand, She-Bang, Soupy Sales, Phil Silvers, Ed Sullivan, Gilligan’s Island, Star Trek, The Monkees… God, I’m embarrassed to admit all that…).
But I watched, primarialy, because it was there. Mom had the kitchen radio on all day (it’s how I discovered rock and roll), and the boob tube was cranked on when Pop came home, and wasn’t turned off until beddy-bye. (Laugh-In, Red Skelton, Where The Action Is, Your Show of Shows, The Match Game…)
Once I was old enough to beg Pop for the car keys, my evening rituals changed dramatically. I didn’t even own a TV through the seventies. (Never saw a single episode of Mork & Mindy, Mary Tyler Moore, or Three’s Company, thank you very much.) (One of TV’s “down” cycles, I would say.) (Showed up, often drunk, at friends’ houses with toobs for SNL, of course.)
MTV and cable brought me back to the fold, fitfully.
Now, I’m in a groove once again.
Gotta have my “House”, and the occasional Law & Order SVU. (BTW: Why is Rooney not playing for Man U lately? Did he get hurt? Traded? What’s up? He wasn’t in the Moscow grueler…)
Okay, back to the point of all this:
The last episodes (it was a twin-hour ending show) of House were pretty riveting television. I’m ALWAYS impressed with good writing (Boston Legal, CSI: NY, the commentors on the World Series of Poker, Californication)… and I’ve learned to watch both passively (to enjoy the moment)…
… and to go back over what just hooked me, and watch critically.
I like to break down exactly what the writers did to tweak my emotions, my interest, and ESPECIALLY my resistance to being sucked into the story.
That’s right. With every show, I challenge the writing to do its job.
We have an unwritten rule in the house: Any time either of us can start predicting the dialog before the actors speak it… that show is toast.
The shark has done jumped, when the script is so weak you can burble along with the actors in real time.
So here’s the thing…
… this House final episode (WARNING: Spoiler alert!) polished off one of the major characters. That’s not unique in television… but the way the writers did it defied what any viewer would have predicted.
It was as if… the script burned down the house.
Just created all kinds of emotional havoc and brain-tickling mayhem.
It was that riveting, and satisfying.
I can’t wait for next season. Seriously.
I’m pissed I gotta wait.
Consider what the writers did, as you consider how to write compelling, riveting copy yourself.
Sometimes, you gotta burn down the house just to get your prospect’s attention.
Not literally, of course (“you idiot”, House would add).
Most ad copy is like an episode of Three’s Company.
At best, vaguely suggestive, but nothing you’d remember the next day (or even the next hour).
Great copy, on the other hand, is like South Park.
You simply cannot snooze through it.
You gotta be prepared for the reaction, too, if you ever get ballsy with your writing. Not everyone will cheer you on. “He can’t say that, can he?” will be a common response.
“Somebody’s got to do something about that repulsive material.”
“Can’t we shoot them, or deport them, or something?”
I’ve never gone for straight outrage, but neither were my first golf ads greeted with encouragement at the big golf magazines.
They swallowed hard during the first round, took the money, and pretended not to notice how much those 3-page copy-dense beasts fouled up the pretty “look” of their publications.
When my client went back for multiple insertions, it was almost too much to bear.
Fortunately, the publishers were shameless money-grubbing whores, and the ads ran despite the cries of alarm from readers. (But only from readers outside our target market. The guys we were after LOVED those ads.) (Still do.)
We, essentially, burned down the nice golf house, like vandals in a riot.
Something to think about, the next time you absolutely have to get attention for your copy. Don’t you think?
What TV shows do you remember fondly? (I’d watch MTV for hours in the first years, when it was all video, all the time… and I still consider The Larry Sanders Show to be one of the best ever written. Entourage ain’t bad, though it’s occasionally infuriatingly stupid. The Simpsons, yeah. Seinfeld, I guess. What else am I missing here?)
P.S. Do you really want to know how to write ads that “burn down the house?” People are still ripping off my ads from decades ago, and you can find out more about my secrets right here.