More to Life Than Books?

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 12 2007

Book talk. Day in, day out. Sometimes even us publishing professionals get tired of it. So when we stop jawing about the deals we’re negotiating or the article we read in PW, we veer into giggle sessions on Dwight Schrute’s recent antics to get ahead at The Office or debates on the practicality of Justin Bobby’s combat boots at a clambake on The Hills. (I’m sure Nathan Bransford could make an enthusiastic argument on this one.)

One of my roommates once told me that I sucked all of the fun out of television shows and movies. I tend to dissect their stories like I would a manuscript. Quite frankly, Rose and Jack didn’t have enough depth for me to care that they were submerged in Titanic. But hey—the special effects were cool! And I love all of the forensic stuff on C.S.I., but I stopped watching regularly when I realized that everyone on the team felt like a cardboard cut-out to me.

Every now and then there’s a show with characters that surprise me. In fact, sometimes I almost feel more invested in their lives than in those of my own family members or neighbors. Shhhhhh . . . don’t tell! It just so happens that the same show has hooked both Jessica and I with its deft characterization (and we’ll make Jacky a cheerleader by the end of the season, too!).

Friday Night Lights is not a show about football. Trust this football widow . . . I get about all of the huddles and interceptions I can handle in my living room from September to January. FNL is about a community that just comes alive on the screen. Coach Taylor is the loving husband that wants to do right by his family, but often gets it wrong. Tami Taylor is the mother who’s scared, but manages to say all the right things we wish we could say to our teenagers (and every one of her heart-to-hearts makes me cry like a baby). Matt Saracen is the boy you hope your daughter will bring home someday and Tim Riggins is the bad boy who makes you wish you were eighteen again. Every character is sympathetic, but flawed. Each one is brilliantly written and acted. These are the types of characters I look for in the submission pile.

It’s on tonight at 9:00 on NBC. Give it a shot. They could use the ratings, and maybe you’ll feel inspired afterward!

Don’t touch that dial. I’ll be back in a later post to discuss the show I watch for incredible ingenuity. . . . In the meantime, let me know what television show you think demonstrates great characterization!


58 responses to “More to Life Than Books?”

  1. Avatar Liz says:

    I LOVE The Office and The Hills, but I have to say out of everything I watch on TV these days, The Office has great characterization. All of the characters are so well defined! Every week, it’s a pure hour of enjoyment to watch – and yet painstakingly reminds me of the office where I used to work!

  2. Avatar Anonymous says:

    dirty sexy money. i love nick george and all the darlings …especially karen and patrick.

    Anonymousone for now

  3. Avatar Tammie says:

    Boy come to think of it, the shows I love to splurge on are sort of guilty pleasures – not great characterization per say – The Office is a hoot – love Jack from 24 and as for reality shows – Family Jewels, why this 41 year old enjoys watching Gene Simmons interact with his kids is a mystery to me – but I do.

  4. Avatar Kristin says:

    I’m a FNL fan, too! So glad it is back for a 2nd season.

    One of my new favorite character shows: Damages.

    What makes TV fun for me is the speculation. I always try to figure out what is going on, create a better ending, take the plot and run it three or four different ways in my mind. And if the show is not challenging enough for my creative brain, it gets the axe.

  5. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    I don’t watch much TV, but the two that I’m very regular at and think they do great characterizations are “Bones” and “Eureka.”

  6. Avatar loralee says:

    Kim, I have to agree about FNL. Having grown up in a tiny Texas town where Friday night football was a major event for the entire community, this show and the characters are so right on, they truly make my heart remember. Can’t ask for more than that.

  7. Avatar reality says:

    I just love Boston Legal. Even re runs do it for me.

  8. Dexter. DexterDexterDexter. OMG. We recently “discovered” it when a friend brought the DVD set over. It’s blowing us away with characters, plot, even setting (Miami without the CSI glitz).

    Otherwise I love The Shield, Rescue Me, and The Wire; oldies but goodies include Homicide: Life on the Street. Yes, there is a theme there. LOL (But I make sure to make time for The Office too!)

  9. Avatar Kim Lionetti says:

    Jessica, Jacky and I are all HUGE fans of “The Office”, too. The quirky characters totally make that show.

    And I try to always catch “Bones” too. Almost solely for the David Boreanaz character, though. 🙂 He’s great.

  10. I forgot to mention that Dexter is so good that I absolutely plan to buy the book(s)….

  11. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Hate it when the TIVO bar at the bottom of the screen nears the end of FNL. Hope that show gains a following. So I was totally crushed when TIVO-ing to the end of Studio 60’s final episode. The show had quirky, flawed characters with deep inner conflicts and biting humor. I keep hoping for a Designing Women type comeback.
    Also agree about Boston Legal- James Spader is phenomenal as oddball Alan and deserved the emmy, despite the slam on Gandolfini.

  12. Argh! How on earth do you folks make time for TV? I’m so jealous! The last show I watched religiously was SOAP, and that was back in the Seventies!

  13. Avatar Sinead M says:

    Love FNL, but Dexter and Battlestar Galactica are still the two best written shows on TV for me.

  14. Kim,

    Bones is on my must see list. I also like Ghost Whisperer. I know it’s a bit corny, but what can I say? For straight laughs, I really like Two and a Half Men.

    I thought I would love Pushing Up Daisies,(I think that’s the name) but the first episode didn’t thrill me. Someone told me the second one was better, so I might give it another try. I really thought the premise was cute.

    Great post.


  15. I looooove Damages for the depth of the characters and the fact they’re gray, rather than black and white. Ted Danson and Glenn Close are amazing.

  16. Avatar spyscribbler says:

    The Unit, NCIS, Men in Trees. I love those shows!

    I’m going to have to give Friday Night Lights a shot.

  17. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Another author who doesn’t watch TV here. If I want a gripping story, I read.

    I’m interested in what is going on in the minds of people while things happen, and TV doesn’t tell me that. And the older I get the more over-the-top the acting and plot lines seem to be. Too much concept, too little exploring the magic of the everyday examined closely.

    I have come to see the TV culture as destroying all that I as a reader hold dear. Genre writers are being forced to dumb down their prose to match the reading level of people who watch TV and hence are never exposed to “big words.” Marketing judges the future success of a novel on the 25 words or less “concept” they hear and never read the book to see what it might to for an actual reader.

    Books sold on concept usually turn out to be mediocre reads. That we people who don’t watch much TV are the ones who buy 50 books a year seems to have eluded the people making the buy decisions!

  18. Avatar Alli says:

    I am a massive fan of HEROES – every time I watch an episode I fall in love with the writing. I love the characters and how as soon as one question is answered there are more asked. I spend my entire time trying to figure out what’s going to happen next!

    Christie, give PUSHING DAISIES another go. The premise is awesome and the love story between the Pie Maker and Chuck is heartbreaking – but very sweet. I think it will take a few watches to really get into it. Quirky is the best way I can describe it.

    PS – When I watch these shows I tell myself it is “research” on good writing and characterisation. Which I believe it is!

  19. Avatar phammonds says:

    I totally relate to your passionate following of FNL. While interviewing a paraplegic for my novel, he asked if I had watched FNL since a character had a spinal cord injury. I started watching it that week and haven’t missed an episode. For those who think finding great characters/stories is limited to the pages of a book, I think you’re wrong. Just as unbelievable dialog can be found on both TV and in print, amazing stories are being told each week on shows such as FNL. Coach Taylor and his wife, Tami, suck me into their lives to the point that I have a hard time believing they’re not really married. And as far as wishing I were 18 again so I could have myself a little bit of Tim Riggins–I just wish I were the single mom who lived next door. He could clean my gutters any day!

  20. Avatar Tammie says:

    Ohhhh I know I already posted but I don’t know how I could forget That 70’s Show – I realize it is in re-runs now but boy does it make me laugh!

  21. Avatar Erik says:

    All teevee writing has to be spontaneous, developing the moment. Good teevee writing is very tight and expressive as well.

    I’m still a huge fan of the mysterious “Juanita Bartlett”, the lead writer for “The Rockford Files”. She was able to pull it all off with incredible style, and influenced me more than any other writer.

  22. Avatar Dave F. says:

    I hate to admit some of the shows I actually enjoy (but one is Ugly Betty, and for a guy to admit that, I guess is tantamount to something awful). But It’s different and the characters are really characters.

    I am a great sci-fi fan but (ready, aim, fire) lately HEROES is a onetime watch. It’s got no depth for a second viewing. During Stargate on Sci-Fi Channel, I scream the dialog at the screen before they say it. That’s really bad dialog. I do that to Flash Gordon too. So much for well written dialog.
    And Sci-Fi movies are dreadful.
    I like Battlestar Galactica for its dark, brooding qualities. So many flawed characters are fun.

    I’ve been in and out of the hospital too much to enjoy BONES (he screams too much, he’s an arrogant jerk). I know real doctors and he ain’t it.
    Eureka has a coherent seasonal plot but they pull the same schtick over and over (the sheriff is dumb, the brainy guys lack common sense). .
    PUSHING UP DAISIES would be great without the over-dubbed narrator. I have a brain. I don’t want the story explained to me.

    ah well, that’s enough “spreading the joy” around.

    Enjoy whatever you watch.

  23. Avatar Mary Witzl says:

    We’ve never bothered to get our television hooked up and only use it to play videos and DVDs, so I am wholly ignorant of almost all television programs. But someone from the States sent us DVDs of The West Wing and Six Feet Under, and we’ve also seen the British version of The Office. And those are more than enough to keep me busy.

    As far as I’m concerned, you’d have a lot of trouble beating The West Wing in terms of both writing and acting. Once in a while a character won’t ring true or something will strike me as a bit mawkish, but this happens so rarely I can overlook it.

  24. Avatar Don Martin says:


    If I had become a physician, I would have wanted to a be a physician just like Gregory House, M.D.

    Most people say there is no way a physician could behave the way Dr. House behaves and keep their job. For most physicians, that’s probably true. However, the whole transplant team at one university’s program back in the 1980’s were all strung out, egotistical maniacs who got away with similar behavior. Substance abuse is rife in certain sub-specialties, especially amongst anesthesiologists. One program I know found their brand new chief resident, dead, on the can, with a hypodermic half full of fentanyl stuck in his thigh.

    Unfortunately, some of the medicine in the series isn’t realistic. But what’s the point of having an artistic license if you’re not going to put it to good use? They have sixty minutes to tell a story and they usually do it well.

    Finally, they get awesome guests. David Morse played a hard-nosed cop for about half of a season. John Larroquette appeared in one episode as a resuscitated coma patient reminiscent of “Awakenings” with De Niro and Robin Williams. Dave Matthews came on to play a gifted pianist with a neurological condition.

    Check it out some time if you get a chance. It’s on the Fox network, usually Tuesday nights at 9 PM.

  25. I still watch the original CSI, but am a far bigger fan of CSI:NY. The lead CSI/department head, Mac Taylor, in particular is a complex character. I’ve only been watching for a few months but I’m really enjoying it.

    I also love the new Californication with David Duchovny as a literary writer whose book was turned into a romantic comedy movie that he despises. Absolutely NOT kid-friendly, but a show that feels real to me.


  26. Avatar Angie Fox says:

    I’m a huge fan of The Office as well. It’s creative, they’re not afraid to run over a character in the parking lot. Even the minor characters get great lines. I about fell off the couch when Creed started talking cults last week, “I’ve been involved in a number of cults, both as a leader and a follower. You have more fun as a follower. But you make more money as a leader.”

    Another great show is Lost. Those writers are masters at hooks, and the characterization is excellent.

    I’m also right there whenever Ross the Intern is on Leno. He throws himself into every bit he does and that’s what makes his segments so memorable.

  27. Avatar claud says:

    The Office: fabulous! The Office, original English version: jawdroppingly fabulous!

    And the big surprise show for me is JIMMY NEUTRON, which I discovered with thanks to my daughter. You have to see it to believe it. So funny, so clever.

  28. Did someone say Justin Bobby??

    I have to say that Justin Bobby’s choice of footwear at the beach party made perfect sense — while sure, it made him look a tad ridiculous wearing combat boots on the beach, he needed to be wearing sound footwear to make his stealthy getaway in order to best ditch Audrina in humiliating fashion.

    And of course one can never know when the pirates will come to reclaim him. Wouldn’t want to be caught wearing flip flops on a pirate ship!!

  29. Avatar Erik says:


    Jimmy Newtron is very well written, and at times so is Fairly Odd Parents. For overall spectacle, little beats Avatar: The Last Airbender in my book.

    There is a lot of great work in cartoons these days. The heart and sould of Pinky & the Brain is still very much alive.


  30. Avatar Kim Lionetti says:


    I think if Justin Bobby would just forego his attempts at conversation and replace them with a few well placed “Arrrrrgh”‘s, he’d be much better off.

  31. Avatar Siren Cristy says:

    hmmm, yes, Tim Riggins. Didn’t we all have a crush on that boy? (Don’t we still all secretly still have a crush on that boy??)

    House MD won me over a long time ago. Sure there’s “hollywood” aspects but it’s the complexity of Hugh Laurie’s character that keeps me tuning in. Plus his friendship with Wilson, of course. It’d be an improvment if they’d develop Cutty and his team a bit more, but I can live with it.

  32. kim-

    Couldn’t agree more. Luckily there is still time in the season for a good hearty “arrgh.” I am dying of anticipation.

  33. Avatar Precie says:

    “One of my roommates once told me that I sucked all of the fun out of television shows and movies.”

    {P raises hand.} Yup, I do that. LOOOOVED the British “The Office.” Currently fascinated by the miniseries “Five Days” on HBO. Excellent characterization.

    And I totally agree with mary–West Wing. Remarkably well-done. I miss it terribly. Same goes for the bygone Homicide: Life on the Street.

  34. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    I’m surprised no one mentioned Grey’s Anatomy. I adore that show! I think the writing is very clever, and the characters are fascinating. I’ve never watched a show during its season because I like to get the dvds and inhale them in great bursts during couch potato marathons.

    But I have to tell you the all time best show that spoils it for any other television shows now or in the future is the brilliantly written and portrayed Firefly. Nuff said.

    I’m a House fan, too! I just haven’t had a chance to watch it yet this season so I’ll probably wait and Netflix it when the season’s over.

  35. Love Bones and House, although House can tend to be a little over the top sometimes. Also like Ugly Betty because it’s so deliciously farcical.

  36. Thanks for the mention of Friday Night Lights, Kim! The show definitely needs more viewers.
    Like you, I’m telling everyone about it, hoping I can convince others to watch. The writing is brilliant, the acting is outstanding, and I swear, I get teary-eyed with every episode! It’s an incredible ensemble cast, and I applaude the writers for developing each character’s storyline so beautifully. And I have to say, how in the world did that adorable Kyle Chandler escape me all these years? Love him!

  37. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Of course, The Office.

    On cable — I love Curb Your Enthusiasm, Flight of the Conchords, and Californication.


  38. Avatar beth-etc says:

    Burn Notice and The Closer.

    Sadly, they are finished until next summer.

    The only two shows I watch during the Fall season are HOUSE and COLD CASE. HOUSE is a fascinating show. He is such an unlikeable character and yet you pull for him. Wilson is a great character too. Loyal, smart, and flawed. Robert Sean Leonard deserves an Emmy.

  39. The Office is SUCH a hoot. Since I hadn’t realized what a gem it was, I missed the first two seasons.

    Question: What could be the advantage of missing two seasons?

    Fact: The DVD’s include deleted scenes.


    Also for characterization…

    Flight of the Conchords
    The Shield
    Mad Men (AMC if you haven’t seen it you don’t know what you’re missing)
    Burn Notice (USA… think Derek Flint meets MacGyver)
    Ugly Betty

  40. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Thank God someone said THE CLOSER. It’s THE CLOSER, people.

    Best. show. on. TV. period.

    TNT Monday nights – Fab-oo-las!!

  41. The Office for fun. Bones for chemistry. Grey’s for ridiculous drama. Heros for… well for Milo and the days he doesn’t wear a shirt.

    For characterization, imo, the best show on TV is The Wire. Every character is flawed, but every character is also redeemable. I find myself caring about the murdering crack dealers, as much as I do the cops.

    Amazing. Truly amazing.


  42. Avatar Sadie says:

    The show that I have fallen in love with is no longer on the air.
    Deadwood had such complex characters. I was drawn in so quick to this maze of swindle and intrigue. Every character seemed so cliche at first glance, but within an episode the layers became peeled back. You saw pain in the eyes of a hardened criminal…you saw evil in the eyes of a ‘weak’ woman. For the characters alone I am glued to my screen when I watch my DVD’s of this show. I pray that one day they get the funding for the yet-to-happen movie.

  43. FNL is fantastic, though I have major concerns about the whole Tyra-Landry dead body dumping subplot. Hopefully it doesn’t destroy the show…

  44. Avatar Anne-Marie says:

    Heroes. My husband forced me to watch the first-season DVD, and I absolutely got hooked. It’s terrific!
    (and I am not a tv person at all)


  45. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Grey’s Anatomy and Boston Legal are masters at characterization. We first grew attached to Derek and Meredith and were rooting for their relationship, so when Addison, Derek’s wife, showed up, we were not welcoming, yet in a very short time, her supremely flawed character bowls us over and we’re rooting for her too.

    Grey’s has an eclectic group of characters—not only racially, but just a very diverse lot from the chubby, bumbling boy-next-door, George, to the ultra driven, insensitive loner, Christina, to Alex, who hides sensitivity beneath a broad obnoxious, womanizing streak, to the pint-sized Gestapo Dr. Baily, to the ultra sensitive model-turned MD, Issi. Each character has a very distinct personality, with different voices, strong motives, and equally strong reactions. If I had one criticism, it’s that a few characters’ dialogue patterns are starting to sound similar.

    James Spader of Boston Legal is brilliant! Alan is a fascinating mix of outspoken, extroverted, pervert that hides volumes of integrity, loyalty, and morals. He is smart and amazingly insightful—outward and inwardly. He says and does what others think and don’t dare to speak or do, and suffers the consequences without complaint. This show too has a plethora of unique individuals from the elderly eccentric founding partner, Denny Crane, to the cross-dressing African American legal assistant, to the brilliant Shirley Schmidt, and let’s not forget the interesting Jerry Espensen that purrs, has a head twitch, and hops, because of Asperger Syndrome.

  46. Avatar Deanna says:

    House. Oh yah. But I’m also intrigued by the “real life” television personas that offer some characterization. Anderson Cooper is so “guarded” – Nancy Grace is such a… (you know). etc. etc. The whole real vs. fiction on t.v. -character, not show – is quite addicting.

  47. Avatar Rachel says:

    Avatar the Last Airbender… I don’t have cable and I still go to friends houses to watch it. It’s that good. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like kids shows or animated shows or martial arts shows, go, watch it on youtube, find a friend with the box set, and WATCH. If you love a good story, you owe it to yourself to watch Avatar. Seriously, it’s the best thing ever.

  48. Avatar JaxPop says:

    24 – I need to find out where they get those cell phones that never go dead or lose a signal. House is also great. Nothing better than a smart ass pill popping doctor. That’s about all the TV I watch. Justin Bobby? The name alone is enough to keep me away. Sorry Nathan B.

  49. Avatar Chumplet says:

    Boston Legal — gotta love the Shat. He’s an excellent caricature of himself.

    I also love Rescue Me, Ugly Betty, Men in Trees and the original CSI (although I’m not too sure about the Grissom-Sarah thing).

    I can’t believe nobody mentioned Dead Like Me. It’s brilliant, and the main character’s life lessons (or rather dead ones) are enlightening.

  50. Avatar vanessa jaye says:

    Supernatural. Love the interaction between the Winchester boys. The show isn’t just about two hot guys chasing demons. It’s about family dynamics. Love, sacrifice and secrets.

    Also love Law & Order SVU (love how the writers are fleshing out the background/lives of partners Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson.

    I’m gonna cheat and name an older show, OZ–what amazing characterization. The character arc of Tobias Beecher over the entire series is something to behold and to be studied. The only thing that comes *remotely* close is Wesley’s metamorphosis from Buffy to Angel, but not really.

    Simon Anibisi? Vern Schillinger? Chris Keller? Ryan O’Riley? All awesome, complex and twisted. The rest of the cast is wonderful too, but these guys hold center stage. And then there’s the twist with Augustus Hill. Who the heck saw that coming! Freakin brilliant.

    I’ll stop raving now.

  51. Avatar Michele Lee says:

    Anti-TV anonymous…

    Not all big book buyers are anti-tv. My household are big spenders when it comes to books, especially fiction books. We’re also big TV watchers. I enjoy storytelling in all it’s forms and like to analyze how visual or auditory presentation changes a story.

    Boston Legal is my favorite for darkness, quirkiness and humor. I also like many of the already mentioned shows; Dexter, Bones, Pushing Daisies, Heroes, Californication, the CSI and Law & Orders (because I write urban fantasy with a heavy crime solving angle). I miss The Dresden Files already 🙁

  52. Avatar MaryF says:

    I love love love Friday Night Lights! I bought the DVDs and am looking for someone else to hook!

    I also love Supernatural. Beyond the spooky, it’s also the relationship between the brothers, and has GREAT dialogue.

    I miss Gilmore Girls.

    I enjoy Men in Trees, mainly because it reminds me of the Virgin River books.

  53. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Okay, good stuff, cause there’s a lot of t.v. that’s just awful. That’s why I’ll take a good ball game over predictable, formulaic t.v. shows most any day.


    I don’t miss,

    FNL – my favorite character in that show is the Texas Town (Dillan?).
    NIP/TUCK constantly surprises me, characterization – flawed people for sure
    HOUSE – somewhat formulaic in plot, but most weeks the writers seem to have fun foiling their own formulas
    TELL ME YOU LOVE ME – my new favorite. I’ve never seen anything on t.v. like it. not just cause it’s sex-sexy, but the whole show violates some kind of intimacy code (in a good way!) for audiences watching the intimacy that happens (or not) in all the relationships in the show. Check it out!


  54. Avatar Travis Erwin says:

    It is gone now but Rome on HBO stands as my all time favorite series. I know there were only two seasons but the way they wrapped up the characters was pure brilliance. But of course it was HBO so Rome was not for the squemish.

    I’m just waiting in the price of the DVDs to come down before I buy them and watch the whole thing in a marathon session.

  55. Avatar Michelle says:

    ROFLMAO…Justin Bobby’s combat boots.[I totally just spewed coffee all over my monitor] You know, I thought there was something terribly wrong with me because I’m so addicted to The Hills.

    Another show I have a sick fascination for is Hogan knows best. Totally addicted to that as well.

    And for laughs, you can’t beat Two and a half men. The kid makes the show. Hysterical.

  56. Avatar April says:

    I love The Office, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, but my favorite new show is Brothers and Sisters. I really love that show. The characters are all so different and interesting, yet every show makes me thankful for my own family. I love it!

  57. Avatar Lisa Hunter says:

    FNL season 1 was brilliant. Season two jumps the shark. I think the network executives were worried that a mass audience wouldn’t “get” the subtle genius of the show, so now there are cheezy murder plots, et al. I can’t bear to watch what they’re doing to the show.

    Dexter last year was fabulous. I haven’t caught up this season (how can they match last year??), but it’s definitely redefined what television can do.

  58. If you need to come up for air, wade out of all those books and manuscripts and go see 3:10 to Yuma. You will Love that one. Yes, with a capital “L.” Ben Wade is one of the BEST characters I’ve seen in awhile, and I’m not saying that just because he is played by Russell Crowe.

    I don’t know if you like Westerns or not (I thought I heard my friend Dusty mention that you’ve worked with him on his Western novels) but I just had to throw that out there!