“There is half a psychopath lurking in there, Jonathan. I want you to find him and stick to him.”
Angela Burr to Jonathan Pine in The Night Manager
For the most part, television bores me. Occasionally, I stumble across a clever sitcom or entertain myself by dissecting a police drama while rolling my eyes at the inaccuracies or logical fallacies. It’s not that I’m a television snob, but rather that I long to find shows that are well-written and compelling. As I write this, articles announcing series cancellations are flooding the news outlets. Castle is gone. Agent Carter is gone. Person of Interest is gone. A dozen other shows I barely knew existed are gone. I find these cancellation announcements disheartening, but not necessarily because I’ll miss the shows. I often find the news clips depressing because many of the series that are being eliminated have been limping along and probably should have been whacked a season or two prior to the finale.
This is the problem with a series that has an indefinite termination date. The duration of the adventure is determined by ratings and not by quality. I believe this can give a limited series, or a mini-series, quite an advantage in the screenwriting and production. Lately, I’ve been watching The Night Manager, which is based on the novel by John le Carré. Since the six-part series is based on a novel, there is a definite end in sight and the screenwriters were able to feed off of a great starting point.
Presumably due to the limited number of episodes, the producers were able to round up an amazing cast for The Night Manager. Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie headline a collection of actors that includes Tom Hollander, Olivia Colman, and Elizabeth Debicki. While I’m struck by the cast and the incredible scenery in the show, I’m more fascinated with the efficiency and powerfulness of the writing. This is something not often found in typical television series and sadly is not always found in literature. As the series is based on book written by a legendary author, the quality of the writing is hardly a surprise. However, it is still refreshing when such efforts make their way to the small screen. I recently came across another example with a mini-series production of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. There is no way the story could have been told as well in a 120 minute movie and it certainly would have become a mess if turned into a full television series.
Storytelling is not just about the plot and the characters, but the pacing and the duration. If you think back to some recent novels you’ve read, I’m sure you can name several you felt were fifty or even one hundred pages too long. Similarly, there is little doubt that you have sped through a novel that seemed to drop off an unexpected cliff at a premature end. These pacing and duration problems plague the television movie industries and are the reasons why so few productions are done as well as The Night Manager.
When the proper amount of time is allocated for a story, dialogue doesn’t ramble and words become more meaningful. The action is deliberate and related to either the plot or a character’s development. When a limited series is done correctly, we finish watching that final episode feeling sorry that it’s over, but not really wishing it would continue. That’s how The Night Manager can serve as an entertaining reminder for writers. It is also how the series has renewed my faith in the ability for television to keep viewers engaged without simply seeking out the next concept that will shock viewers. The art of storytelling is in fact alive on the small screen, but it sure would be nice if there were more examples to find.
Share any thoughts you have in the comments below!
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.
In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.
And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology