Writing for television and the editorial influence
WRITING FOR TELEVISION
The major problem facing any writer coming fresh to tele-vision is to understand what it is. Is it a new art medium or merely a new method of disseminating information? Is it simp-ly an extension of radio, or is it just an inferior form of cine-ma? These are basic questions which require an answer. Before dealing with them, however, I would like to set down the three main problems which, in my belief, face any writer, new to television. They are:
(1) The problem, already mentioned, of understanding the nature of the medium
(2)The problems of time and space encountered in const-rusting the script.
(3)The problem of lay-out of the script.
Now to deal with these in order. Perhaps the best way 1o start on the first is to compare television with other media and' to plot its affinities and contrasts.
Like radio, it is broadcast to a mass-audience grouped in small numbers; it forms part of a daily service; it may be pro-duced inside the studio, outside it, or both; and each program-me is consumed in one performance, or a small number of performances. Like the film, it employs cameras and the action is seen through lens; it is viewed on a screen; it employs simul-taneously sound and vision; it employs grammatical devices such as the mix and the fade. Like the theatre it is a live me-dium; its actors or actualities give a continuous performance.
Now for the points of divergence. Unlike radio, television, must bow to the exacting demands of vision as well as sound. Unlike the film it is principally a live, as opposed to a recorded, medium — although this may change with time; its action has only relative mobility. Unlike the stage play, its action can move swiftly from set to set; it plays to small intimate groups of people at short range.
From this brief analysis it should be apparent that, although television draws characteristics from these media, it can by no means be identified with any one of them. It has too many af-finities with the film merely to be an extension of sound radio; it has too much of radio and the theatre merely to be an infe-rior form of cinema. It is a new and exciting medium in its own right. It is not even an alternative to the theatre or the cinema; it is rather a window on the world, a magic window through which can be seen passing all the sights and sounds and people of the day. Maurice Wiggin, the television critic, once called television "a periscope through which we can see how the world wags". This seems to me a definition it would be hard to better.
When I said that television was a live medium I was, of course, quite aware that it does employ both recorded sound. (on disc or tape) and recorded vision (on film). Most plays and documentaries use linking filmed sequences and some types of programme use a high proportion of film. When this happens television takes on temporarily the characteristics of a recorded medium, though its real nature remains the same. Being a living medium is the principal cause of what I have called the problems of time and space. These keep cropping up in various forms in every script and any writer who is determined to ma-ster television must develop a technique for dealing with them.
Let me give a simple example. In one scene a character called John Smith is drinking in a night club, dressed in a dinner jacket. In the next scene he is at his office next mornings .dressed in a lounge suit. In a film, this would be quite straightThe *action would be recorded shot by shot and edited together. In television, however, the position is quite different because shot follows shot and scene follows scene in real time. If John Smith has to change his costume, the script must be constructed so as to give him enough time. Even if no change of costume is necessary, he must still be given time to walk from set to set, collecting any necessary "props" en route.
Occasionally the problem may be eased by the insertion of a linking film sequence but by no means every time.