December 12, 2005
World Creation: The Key to Collaborative Entertainment

Denis McGrath over at Dead Things on Sticks has an excellent post up in which he debunks the notion of the "killer idea" as the source of great entertainment. It's a seductive notion which has snared many people in its tendrils, but let's be frank: Ideas are cheap. Execution is what really matters. And as Denis puts it:

A television series... is all about creating a template: an ongoing landscape populated with characters from which a series of narratives can spring.

And just as we wouldn't be talking about the brilliance of Born to Run today if not for the sax work of Clarence Clemons, the guiding hand of Jon Landau, the keyboards of David Sancious and the off-kilter interjections of Miami Steve Van Zandt, series don't become series until you pull in the beautiful minds who shape the initial idea, polish it, and make it the thing it needs to be to engage an audience not for two hours, but for up to seven years. It's a job that's too big for one person, even though -- like with Springsteen -- the mythology demands that in the end it be credited to one person.

I'll go one step further than Denis and argue that not just TV, but any kind of continuing entertainment franchise (and especially a transmedia franchise) needs to create a template for itself; either as a world in which a series of similar but non-formulaic narratives can occur, or as a framework for interesting content. That world or framework has to be expansive enough for different people to put their own stamp on corners of it and still have enough space left for other members of the creative team to do their own thing, and it needs to be interesting and distinctive enough that it can set itself apart from everything else on the market.

To quote Denis again:

The idea never starts out killer. Hire the smart people, and put them together, and that's what makes it killer.

Preach on, brother.