Saturday, April 19, 2014

Organic vs. nonorganic TV love interests

"Big Bang Theory" has this in common with "MASH:" Neither were hits until they went into syndication (or in "Big Bang's" case syndication and heavy rotation on TBS.). Once audiences got hooked on these really great shows, they turned to the network for original episodes.

(Getting off the topic of my post for a second: The ironic thing is "Big Bang" deserves the attention, it's a much funnier show now than it was in its first season. "MASH" on the other hand got worse and worse, and the characters more shrill and forced with each progressive season. As the ratings went up, it got more preachy and less funny).

Back on topic: When a show runs a long time though it's necessary to bring in a love interest for the main characters. There are two ways to go about this, organic and nonorganic. "Big Bang" did it organically. Several girlfriends have come and gone, and neither Mayiam Bialyk nor Melissa Rauch were supposed to become regulars, yet, they were so good, and their characters were so funny, they just had to become full-timers. It was organic.

Another good example of this is Kelsey Grammer in "Cheers." Once again, he was never supposed to be a regular. Yet his character served as such a great elite snobby counterweight to the blue collar regulars, they had to keep him. That and he nailed every line.

(Another leap off topic: watch his first season of "Cheers" and the first season of "Frasier" and you'll see that while Grammar toned down the fussbudget intellectualism, David Hyde Pierce picked it up. Pierce is playing Frasier from his first season on "Cheers.")

So what's an example of nonorganic?

Fonzie's girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero.

The show had been on for years, Fonzie was the center of a cultural phenomenon; the producers, having run out of story ideas long ago, decided Fonzie needed a girlfriend.

The press was alerted.

They would hold nationwide auditions. The character would be cool and tough enough to go head to head with the Fonz. ABC kept this story alive in the newspapers the summer before the season premier.
Roz Kelly would be the lucky (not really) actress. Publicity pictures were released.

And…it sucked.

No one liked her, no one liked her character, it seemed forced, and after a few episodes she was promptly forgotten.

This is of course hindsight talking, but they should have done what "Big Bang" would later do and have given him a different girlfriend every six episodes and hire full-time the one that clicked with the cast and America.

Can you have a character who's too organic?

Yes. Michael J. Fox's Alex on "Family Ties" was the Fonzie of the '80s. Like Henry Winkler, he was never supposed to be the star of his show, but by shear talent and charisma they both became the breakout stars. After several years though, the producers knew he needed a girlfriend too. And they got Tracy Pollan. The character didn't necessarily become a hit with the viewers, but Michael J. Fox liked the actress enough to marry her, she quit the show, and was replaced with Courtney Cox.

That's an example of too organic.

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