Four Current TV Shows that Influence My Writing Life

Despite the mudslide that is reality television, rest assured that there are some high quality programs for your viewing pleasure.

But before you tell me to turn off the TV and start writing, hear me out.

These four shows are magnificently written, superbly portrayed, wonderfully directed, finely detailed, and case in point, remarkably thematic.Like literature, these four ongoing series leaves room for debate, discussion, and analysis. They reveal a small piece of the world. They are allegories for a larger purpose, representing a larger idea. Plus, they’re wildly entertaining.

Here are four of my favorite shows on television today, and why they’ve made me a more insightful person, and as a result, a more insightful writer.

Mad Men (AMC)

Set in Manhattan and surrounding suburbs during the 1960s, this show exemplifies America’s (so-called) “Golden Era.” Sleek fashion and  flowing  libations are common motifs. At the center of the show is Don Draper, the greatest “Ad Man” on Madison Avenue (hence, “Mad Man”) there ever was. Don plays other roles of course: Husband.Father. Philander. All the other characters seem to filter in and around Mr. Draper (if that’s really his name!)

Why I love it: As a country we sacrificed—hard—for prosperity. After the war we had the world at our fingertips. Our homes were manicured, our cars were enormous, and our families were flourishing. Yet we still wanted more. Mad Men reflects this notion. The life we  fought for became stifling, stagnant. Spiritless housewives. Cheating husbands. Alcoholic bosses. Despite the wealth and power there’s an undercurrent of desperation that exudes from each character.  They’re  enmeshed in their own making. Stuck in their own traps. Perfection is desired, but it’s a long way off. And none of them will be the first to admit it.

Breaking Bad (AMC)

Set in current day New Mexico, this is a dark world; the powerfully efficient, yet overwhelmingly private underbelly of meth ‘cooking.’ Protagonist Walter White (aka “Heisenberg”) is a brilliant chemist, and former high school teacher. After being diagnosed with lung cancer, he fears leaving his family  in financial crisis. So he teams up with a former student and spawns one of the biggest, most coveted, ‘blue meth’ operations in the area. The fact that his brother-in-law is a high-level DEA agent is just part of the fun.

Why I love it: To go from a mild-mannered high school teacher to an elusive, murderous drug dealer may not seem plausible. Or does it? The show captures the notion of the stranger (Billy Joel song here) that lives inside us all. It begs the question: what we are truly capable of? How deep is our ability to surprise ourselves? In some ways it turns into a question of nature vs. nurture. What lies beneath us verses what the world has led us to believe.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Based on the comic book and set in Georgia during a post-apocalyptic world full of “walkers” or “biters” or for the non-viewer, “zombies,” the show portrays Rick Grimes and his band of followers. Rick, who was in a coma during the onslaught, woke to find his world in disarray. Finding his way back to his wife, son, friend, and a group of surviving strangers, Rick leads the gang in an odyssey of terror, fighting off walkers and other violent types along the way.

Why I love it: You don’t have to be a comic book fanatic to appreciate the human will to survive. In times of turmoil, people ban together. We become both afraid of and tender towards the existing human race. The Walking Dead represents a world in horrific conditions. Death is an everyday occurrence. Modern luxuries have all but disappeared. People betray one another. No one—except those you’ve invested in—are to be trusted. And yet, amazingly, it’s simply fear of the unknown that keeps us anxious to stay alive, despite the circumstances or situations.

Speaking of comic books…

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Set in modern day California, super nerds Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, Rajesh, and their sprightly neighbor, Penny, keep the canned sitcom laughter rolling. All four guys are scientists employed at a local university. They struggle with girls, friendship, and family. They favor Star Trek, Star Wars, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, and various video games. But in the end, their hearts are as big as their brains (except for Sheldon, perhaps).

Why I love it: It is 2012, going on 2013. Face it. Nerd culture has exploded. There’s no longer a stigma. We all love the internet, we all love cell phones, iPads, etc.  The more special effects, the better the movie.  The nerds are the new heroes. What’s sexier than a guy who can fix your computer? In truth, if the future continues to unfold the way it has (who am I kidding, of course it will) the nerdy guy will forever perpetuate the scape of land.

Related video & article:

Amber Case on TED Talks: We Are All Cyborgs Now

Lev Grossman’s Time Magazine article:  The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

How about you? Any television shows make you think a bit harder once the credits have rolled?









Filed under Inspiration, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life

17 responses to “Four Current TV Shows that Influence My Writing Life

  1. Of those four, I only watch The Big Bang Theory. It’s my family’s favorite show. My husband love’s The Walking Dead, and someday, I’d like to watch the other two you mentioned, but there are only so many hours in the day. The show that I think has some of the best writing out there is FX’s Justified. The next season starts in January. Great show with brilliant writing, as far as I’m concerned. 🙂

    • “..there are only so many hours in a day…” now I feel like coach potato! If you ever do a get a chance, watch Mad Men or Breaking Bad. Your life will change! (OK, not really, but they’re great shows!) I’ve never seen Justified. But any show with good writing is worth it to me. I’ll have to look into it.

  2. Natylie Baldwin

    I admit I don’t really watch much recent television — I tend to like the old shows. One of my favorites is The Fugitive, which ran for four seasons in the early 1960’s and starred David Janssen. I thought that show was very will written. The episodes explored themes of family, friendship, guilt, loneliness, social isolation, and many others in the protagonist’s wanderings from town to town across the country in an effort to find the real killer of his wife and to stay one step ahead of the law.

    The 1993 movie starring Harrison Ford was okay (and even gave a nod to scenes from a few episodes of the original show) but the series was better.

    • Oh wow…I actually never knew The Fugitive had been a TV show. I’ve seen the movie (was never a big fan, actually), the show you describe sounds like the kind of program I’m talking about in this post. Not all television “rots the brain!”

  3. The current TV show production has left me with a dry mouth and an emptiness that only older shows like The Waltons,Leave it to Beaver,and The Rifleman can only quench. The shows I mention made you understand and believe in the good of this world.The ones you mentioned made me feel empty inside and worried for a society desperate to have anything to feel good about.

    • Hi tlkalleykat. Thanks for your comment. Interesting take. I guess it depends on how you look at it. I agree that some modern television shows are just plain awful, pointless, etc. For example, just about every reality show there is! Although, I think many people would argue that ‘Mad Men’ is a more accurate portrayal of the American ‘Golden Era’ than ‘Leave it to Beaver’ ever was.

      • Every person has his or hers favorite shows and people that make them “feelgood” when we see them. They are like a good writer of books either you love the style/genre or you hate it.

  4. We actually gave up on TV entirely and turned off the cable! (gasp, I know.) Now that we rely on Netflix to catch the shows we want, I’m always on the lookout for recommendations, so yours are much appreciated.
    Before the TV went dark, we used to love ‘Boston Legal.’ William Shatner (who knew Captain Kirk had another great role in him?) was so convincing that my husband believed he actually had Alzheimer’s–or mad cow as his character called it. The topics covered were always relevant, the issues fairly presented, and we always got a laugh out of the ironic humor.

    That, and you already know my feelings about ‘Lost.’ 😉

    • We still have our cable, but my husband is constantly cursing it out, so it may not be too long before we cut the cord like you did! In fact, the four shows I discussed were mostly watched via DVD box sets. Can’t stand the commercials.

      Now that we’ve finished watching ‘Lost,’ I am totally with you. What the….???

  5. Bing Bang Theory all the way!! Love it. I can’t say anything about the other shows but I went to school with men like the Big Bang guys and feel like I’m back in college. Who knew a nerd could be comic relief.

  6. If I peek out from my laptop to catch a scene or two, it’s usually NCIS or Person of Interest. I barely catch the news these days. 🙂

  7. OMG the Big Bang Theory is the BEST, however I usually only catch repeats on TBS. I started to watch Mad Men b/c I was going to write about it for a website, however, the gig fell apart so therefore I stopped watching, and I have to say I hear so much about it now that I’m disappointed I don’t still watch. Maybe one to rent from Family Video…along with Breaking Bad. Wow, you twisted my arm to watch that one. Sounds interesting!!

    • Isn’t it great! I think ‘Big Bang’ is such a great concept. What website were you going to write for? I’m trying to get into that. You should get back to watching Mad Men! I love it. And Breaking Bad too! I actually recently started watching ‘Boardwalk Empire.’ If I’d seen that show before I’d written this post it would have been included. The setting is what gets me (Prohibition era, Atlantic City). There’s also scenes in NYC and Chicago. Al Capone is a major character. I think I watch too much TV…

  8. Did I not reply to this? I thought I did.

    • OK I guess I didn’t hit post. For Pete’s sake…OK so I had said that you only watch too much TV if it’s reality TV, which I watch a lot of, too. Oh well!

      As for the writing gig…I found it on Craig’s List. I sometimes search writing to see what’s out there. A website – – was looking for a writer to review Pretty Little Liars. It wasn’t a paid gig, and unfortunately right at that time a pile of crap fell into my lap and I couldn’t do it on top of a full time job, my kid, my blog…too much. I was “hired” to do it, so sadly I had to decline.

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