Seven Ways To Write About Television

Here on TVWriter™ we use the phrase “TV writing” to mean writing for television. But as we vegged out in front of our TV this weekend it came to us that “TV writing” can also mean “writing about TV.” Or, more specifically, “writing about what’s on TV.”

With that in mind, we took a little spin through Google to see if anybody is in fact doing that little ole writing about what’s on TV thing, and we found something we think is way cool. An article that doesn’t merely write about what’s on TV but goes deeper, examining how TV writers (um, that actually means TV critics/reviewers in this context) write their reviews.

Yeah, yeah, we know this sounds ridiculously complicated. But that’s just our way. This article from the MonkeySee blog makes it really, um, simple:

by Linda Holmes

reviewsPerhaps it’s the combination of Sunday night’s Mad Men finale and the flurry of Sopranos discussion that followed the death of James Gandolfini, but it’s hard not to be struck by the explosion of writing about television that’s occurred in the last 15 years or so, facilitated (of course) by the ability to go from rolling credits to publication in an hour (if necessary). After any major episode, there will be a flurry of commentary, and even after minor episodes of minor shows, there are write-ups here and there.

But while these pieces — whether you call them recaps, reviews, essays, commentaries, whatever — may look the same, there are a bunch of different ways to do them, and understanding the kinds that are out there might help you find the kind you like. So here they are: the seven ways people commonly write about television.*

The Craft model. In a lot of ways, this is the kind of criticism with which people are most familiar. It’s focused on the quality of work that goes into a show — how strong is the directing, writing, acting, lighting, scoring, and so forth. The higher-brow the show is, the more Craft writing there is; nobody spends a lot of time writing about the direction on NCIS or The Big Bang Theory, even if they like those shows.

That doesn’t mean there is no craft — it just means either writers are usually not interested in writing about it or they don’t have the familiarity with the form to analyze it effectively. Craft writing probably requires the most background knowledge and the most experience, and it’s where you’re most likely to fall into a hole if you don’t actually know which pieces of a show’s quality are the result of direction, for instance, versus writing. To give you an example of Craft done well,Matt Zoller Seitz is a Craft writer, mostly. (Although, I should note, everyone I know who’s a good writer incorporates elements of all these models. But Matt is a Craft guy.)

Hannibal-Reviews-hannibal-tv-series-34172707-605-398The Ethical model. It’s almost a subspecies within the Craft model, but it deserves its own section, I think. The Ethical model is where writers address the sociological implications of how the show is made. In the reality setting, this is pretty obvious — were people subjected to terrible conditions, and so forth. But Ethical writing also tends to incorporate issues of gender, race, sexuality, politics, and so forth. Perpetuating stereotypes, representation behind and in front of the camera — this is where Ethical writing gets its strength. Alyssa Rosenberg does a lot of Ethical writing at Think Progress; she’s probably the only writer I can think of where that’s what she sees as her primary beat (perhaps unsurprisingly).

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