Friday, January 4, 2008

The Best Writers are Invisible

With the recent strike of the Writers Guild of America, and the season premier of Law & Order, it got me thinking. It made me wonder what makes a writer a great writer. I think the secret is that the writing itself is invisible. When you’re watching a drama, or comedy, or even a movie, a great writer makes you believe that you are like a fly on the wall, watching the events unfold. The dialog sounds normal, real, and the actors in the roles seem to meld right into the character.

Why did the Law & Order 2 hour premier (“Called Home/Darkness”) bring me this revelation? I think it’s because the dialog seems so – scripted – for lack of a better word. It is almost like I can see the writer sitting in front of the computer, thinking, “yes, we need a great comeback line here” or “we needed some dry humor there.”

Looking back on some of the older Law & Order episodes – for all the franchise shows including SVU and Criminal Intent - the show seemed like real people in real situations. The best example is Lennie Briscoe, played by the late Jerry Orbach. The writing fit the character and the situations so well that it was as if Jerry WAS Lennie Briscoe, and those witty comebacks really came right out of Jerry’s head on instinct.

After musing over my disappointment with the premier, I came to the realization that the dialog seemed very plain and vanilla to me. It was as if an amateur had written it. I wasn’t seeing the characters; I was seeing the actors playing the characters. It seemed like some of the actors were reading off cue cards, and not having the words come from their “gut”. I’ve noticed the same problem with Law & Order SVU this past season, where it seems that Benson and Stabler seem to be too predictable in what they’re going to say or do next. Criminal Intent has always had a bit of a problem in the same category, but I blame the sometimes – well, make that frequent – over the top acting by Vincent D’Onofrio. But even the writing for Criminal Intent seems to have much more depth and realism to it.

Watching some of the older episodes of Law & Order during the New Year’s TNT Marathon (they even included some old Ben Stone episodes to my delight), I realized that the stories were simple, the writing was crisp, and it seemed like I was pulled into the Law & Order universe, not that I was watching a TV show.

Don’t get me wrong; I still plan on watching Law & Order until Law & Order doesn’t run on TV any more. But I can’t help wishing for the days where I was a fly on the wall in the Law & Order universe. Maybe when the writers resolve their strike, we’ll see some invigorated dialog, and they'll be invisible again.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ooh, it's always risky to mention Vincent D'Onofrio by name - so many of us, his fans, have Google Alerts on him.

He's an exceptional actor. He makes the show. Sorry you don't appreciate him, but masses of us do!

Frtom Goren_Fan