Back in the mists of time, when I first started posting on the NBC Chuck boards (last October) I posed a question. Do the show runners see the same show we see? Another question has come up recently. Do the show runners hate us? Which inevitably leads to the third question, why do so many fans seem determined to hate them? I’m probably making a big mistake, but here I go opening a can of worms, after the jump.
I love to write. My participation here is as much about the chance to write about something I’m passionate about as it is about Chuck. But much as I love to write I don’t consider myself a writer. I hope to be some day, once I’ve retired from my day job and have a decent pension to fall back on, but I can’t imagine depending on putting words on a page for someone else’s approval for my livelihood. Many of you have been very generous complimenting me for my writing, and I thank you all. I admit it’s a nice little ego boost to hear I’ve expressed something someone has felt or clarified what confused them. Thankfully we are a very mature and polite group, because were I to write something someone felt insulting or idiotic I can imagine the opposite of the ego boost would be tough. So far my writing has been confined to essays like this and scientific manuals and papers, with the occasional letter to the editor tossed in for fun. I haven’t seriously tried my hand at fiction since my college days some 25 years ago, and find the thought of relying on writing fiction for a living to awful to comprehend. However I think I can still be an honest and fair critic about how some of the writing is done. I’m a scientist, and I know it is possible to understand methodology and the thinking without understanding the particulars or being skilled in carrying them out. I’m not a chemist, but if someone laid out the premise, method, and conclusion of an experiment I could tell you if that is valid, scientifically speaking. But because I don’t work in the field of writing fiction I don’t like to say someone has done something wrong to loudly. Though I know I’ve crossed that line a few times. I try to remember to characterize decisions on the basis of my preferences or enjoyment and how it affects the things I and others care about, story and characters. I’m bringing this up for a simple reason, we don’t know who reads this board but I recall an interview with one of the actors or show runners that said very directly they try to read everything out there, so please, let’s be civil while eviscerating each other. I don’t want to censor anyone or sound like a scold but I’d prefer we not characterize other peoples motivations or feelings. That said, I’m going to do some theorizing in the abstract on the creative temperament. Along with some generous reproduction of parts of my ancient NBC post.
In many areas of the arts the expression of a single artist is clear and unambiguous. This isn’t the case for most of the performing arts. I like to think one of the best examples for how the performing arts work as a collaborative effort is an orchestral performance. Start with a musical score. The composer comes up with an idea, a theme if you will. He writes down the notes, the parts, some instructions such as fortissimo or crescendo and you have a score, but not music. The score goes to the conductor and each of the musicians gets their part of the sheet music. Each musician will interpret their part for their instrument and the conductor will (hopefully) unify the interpretations and add his own. When after many rehearsals it all comes together you finally get music. But that music may or may not sound the way the composer thought it would or intended.
I think that the producers and writers may not see what we see since they have their own ideas and interpretations of the characters and the story lines. When they watch the show they see what they wrote. We however see the input of the directors, the actors, the editors, costumers, stunt coordinators, cameramen and even hair stylists and makeup artists. All of these things can add to an overall impression that may be a slightly different story than they thought. We concentrate not just on the words, but on those subtle changes in expression Yvonne is famous for, or the obvious chemistry she and Zach have on the screen. Even something as simple as Yvonne’s hairstyle can change how she comes across in a scene. I often wonder if they (the writers and producers) are watching the same show, or if their pre-conceived (literally) ideas of where the story is going or has been might blind them to an extent. Once you put your art out there for the world you lose ownership. Sting wrote a song about a creepy obsessive stalker called “Every Breath You Take”. Most people heard a lovely melody, a sense of longing in Sting’s voice and decided it was a love song. So are they wrong? Chuck and Sarah are the creations of the writers, producers, directors and actors, but once the shows are out there they have to respect that to an extent the fans take over ownership. Remember how many fanboys hated (and still do) George Lucas for ruining THEIR movie?
Now comes the conflict, and ego, emotions, pride, ambition, they all get mixed in. It all starts with a writer. The original writer creates out of thin air a person, a character. At first this person may be a bit fuzzy, somewhat undefined in some ways, but crystal clear in others. As this character moves along the creative chain, while the writer may retain some control other people start to take this person away from it’s only parent. Producers start casting, adding their interpretation of who they need to sell this character to the public. Actors take what they see on the page and try to make it real. Wardrobers, hair stylists, makeup artists all add their little touches. Finally a director brings an ensemble together and with tweaks and prods and pushes gets everyone going in the same direction, and a show is made. Then there is the editing. Any of the people in the creative chain can add to or detract from the project as a whole. None of them alone can make a masterpiece, but just about any of them can create a disaster. But who takes the blame for the disaster? Almost always one of two people, the two with probably the most important inputs, the writer or the actor. They both OWN that character, in a very real way. It contains a very real piece of themselves.
We got a request about a week ago to discuss what is a fan. I dashed off a quick paragraph, I’d been thinking about it a bit so most of my thoughts were there, I just needed to put them out. But something interesting and instructive happened, Both Joe and Dave had theirs ready to go, and I didn’t want to hold things up, so I wrote it up and sent it. There was one thing that kept bugging me about it though. A fan interacts. It didn’t quite flow to me. It seemed a clunky way to put it. Only after we published did it come to me…participates. A fan participates. I don’t know if you all think I’m crazy now, but to me that little change made so much difference, and on what I thought was a deadline (no pressure came from Joe or Dave, this was entirely self imposed) I put out something that I thought I could have done better. I also went crazy on the commas, as I often do, to my detriment. I really need to brush up on semicolons and dashes. But I digress. The point is that while I’m not a writer I think I understand that there are conflicting emotions going on here. A sense of pride at creating something unique and a sense of disappointment that it wasn’t perfect, because you just didn’t have time. Add to that something I’ve noticed in both actors and writers, a touch of self loathing and insecurity.
I recounted a few weeks ago how I sat up late one night during the great DC blizzards and listened to Adam Baldwin on a talk show. One thing he talked about was something I’ve heard a lot from both actors and writers who I respect a great deal, and whose talents are very apparent. He felt like a fraud for a lot of his career. There is this insecurity, I’m a fraud, I don’t do anything important, I’m not that good, I’m faking it and I know it, please don’t let everybody find out and take it all away. I can’t count the number of times that bit of self examination comes up, especially among creative people. And now we get to us, the fans.
We invest, we participate. Doesn’t really cover it, does it. I’ll put it out there. We fall in love. OK, not love of your life romantic love or raise your children love, or even love your dog love, but we do fall in love. We love the characters, we love the story, we make them a part of ourselves and give them a part of us and strong emotions get involved. We love how they make us feel, and we want more. We want it to be real and meaningful, and it is to us. The best shows connect to our humanity through love and hope. They show us these things and draw us into a new world that’s often better than our own. And we fall in love with this world. I’ve written about this before if you’re interested. When we think that someone is cheapening our beloved, taking our love for granted, or threatening to take it away from us, it is not pleasant. And because a fan participates and cares, we tend to make our displeasure known — often in less than appealing ways.
We ask a lot of writers and actors, and all the others. We want truth and beauty and humanity and love and pride and patriotism and justice, and we want it delivered promptly and on a regular basis. And they try, and often deliver, but as Chuck said, only as good as your last flash. It must be frustrating, the ownership, the pride, the striving, only to be told you’ve failed to deliver, try again. As if we could do better. Almost as frustrating I’d imagine as watching your beloved Sarah Walker being turned into the flakey office slut as opposed to a beautiful strong woman with a wounded soul.
I try to do two things here, and I hope I do both with equal vigor. I try to understand why I and so many others feel disappointed and betrayed. I think I occasionally display a bit more vigor there. I also try to see the story being told, it’s still a good story, and I try to help others see it too and what is good about it. It may be time to expand on this part. Hopefully I’ll have a lot more opportunities. We’re a support group of fanboys and fangirls after all, we need a bit of both. One thing I don’t want to do is become bitter or personal in my criticism, I’ve done more than my share of that already.
I came to Chuck pretty late. Last August was the first time I’d seen an episode. I missed the campaign to save the show, the angst of Comicon and the summer, I didn’t really take my investment much beyond watching till October. Now I’m at least knee deep in it. I understand, some of you are up to your necks. You bought the subs and wrote letters and signed petitions online and pushed the show to your family and friends. You invested and participated far more than I have, so when I say this please understand where I’m coming from. I’ve never felt betrayed, I’ve felt disappointed. I love Chuck because it isn’t like every other TV show out there. It has a mix of everything you could ask for, plus something more. Chuck has a heart and soul, a warmth and humanity that practically radiates from the central characters. It makes you feel it matters. Quite a feat for a show about a guy with a supercomputer in his brain. The central element of that heart and soul was that two very wonderful but wounded people managed to find the person they needed. They really created something special, and we all saw it.
I re-watched Firefly recently. At the end I went to the special features and watched all the stuff about the show’s short but glorious run. I can’t remember who it was, but one of the cast talked about the last days of the show, and what moved him most was something Adam Baldwin said to the cast and crew. To paraphrase he said I’ve been in this business a long time, and something I learned early on was appreciate what you are doing while you’re doing it. I was working with Stanley Kubric when I was just a kid, and I was impatient to get things done. We’re lucky here because we know how special what we’re doing is now, while we’re doing it. Always appreciate that, it doesn’t come around that often.
I wonder if the cast and crew of Chuck has that feeling. I can picture Adam Baldwin clueing them in. It looks like they have a blast on set, and clearly the cast has gone to great lengths to connect with fans and give us a great show for another season. But I sometimes wonder about others. Schwartz and Fedak created this show and all the characters who inhabit this universe, but with them not involved with the daily creative aspects of the show, I sometimes wonder if they understood how special what they created was, and hopefully will be again. I said I’ve never felt bitter, just disappointed. At the end of season two I saw the direction the show seemed to be taking in Chuck Versus The Ring, and it wasn’t that unique or special, it was predictable. It was the obvious path. My disappointment has always been the opportunity they had and missed, and if they’ll get that opportunity again to make something unique, and special to a lot of people. It seems they either didn’t know or didn’t have the courage to take the path I thought was there, I can’t fault them for that in the end. But I came to Chuck late, I often wonder, in all our posts and criticisms and venting and flames if we fans ever really took the time to think it out and tell them how wonderful their creation was — and why.
After all, a fan falls in love. What kind of idiot wouldn’t tell someone that.