07 January 2009


As we were watching "Spooks" yesterday (the BBC series), we discovered a doco on the US version of the show, which is called "MI5". What I found most interesting was that the BBC DVDs are 59 minutes in length, the international versions (presumably what we get here in Australia) are 50 minutes, and the US versions 44 minutes. Of course this means that sometimes whole subplots have to go, which we just couldn't imagine. The shows seem masterfully plotted, with plenty of twists and turns. Also, someone was talking about how in the BBC version often the characters will talk about doing something and then go out and do it, whereas in the American version they cut the talking and just show them doing the action, and as a consequence the audience has to work harder.

Of course this is what we do in writing too -- the old "show, don't tell" -- or sometimes even more relevant to this is when writers repeat something in the narrative that they've put in the dialogue, or vice-versa. In writing, this drives me crackers. Just get on with it, I think. I must say that in the TV show, I hadn't noticed the characters doing this, and wondered whether the show would be harder to follow -- whether sometimes, because I'm not British, I needed more information to "get it". That can't be so or neither the Australian nor American versions would be successful, and I've followed this show just fine on TV.

When I think about it, whenever I've watched it on television, I've had to concentrate. It's rather like watching "The West Wing", where you can't afford to miss a minute. I'm not sure I require the same level of concentration with the DVDs, so that, I guess, answers my question.

After watching the doco, my kids and I discussed the episode we'd just watched, which had a couple of subplots. One seemed to me much more essential to the main plot, but my son reasoned that the episode wouldn't have been the same without both. No, perhaps not, but I could see that the second subplot didn't really add to the main plot or to my interest, particularly. It did give the characters a bit more stress, but an audience wouldn't have noticed this if it were missing. In actual fact, both could have been cut without too much detriment as far as understanding goes, but the first made the show a lot more enjoyable for me.

It's interesting to discover these facts and contemplate them (particularly as I'm facing some major cuts to the middle of my novel). I think each episode now we'll be talking about how different the other versions might be, which is me thinking as a writer, and my kids starting thinking about how stories are structured, as well. They learn, and we all get more from the shows -- if that's at all possible.

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