What Writers Can Learn from Saving Hope (Part III)

Kathy Fuller concludes are impressively positive thinking about the good that can come from a bad TV show.

by Kathy Fuller

Mistake #3: Get real, already.

The employees at Hope-Zion hospital are your typical hospital drama stereotypes—the female surgeon with something to prove, the cocky, promiscuous male doc, the pie-eyed good guy who never gets the girl but is always lusting after her, the quirky, insecure yet sexually free woman-child, and the supporting cast of wise-cracking nurses, oddball patients, and overbearing department heads.

Stereotypes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Even poorly written stereotypes can be redeemed if their stories are compelling. Plot is character and character is plot, but sometimes the stronger component can prop up the weaker one. In the case of Saving Hope, the characters have no hope, because their stories aren’t real.

What, you say? Fiction isn’t real? Of course it isn’t, because if it was then it would be non-fiction and I would avoid Hope-Zion hospital like a zombie apocalypse. Fiction, while made-up, has to be realistic. Believable. The viewer has to accept that while it probably never would happen in real life (a zombie apocalypse, for example) they have to accept that it could.

Believability is something Saving Hope desperately needs. I’m not talking about Charlie haunting the hospital. That’s actually believable, because who knows what happens to the conscious mind while in a coma. The concepts of ghosts and hauntings and other supernatural elements are given credence (by some) in real life, so the idea of Charlie wandering the hospital floors isn’t so far-fetched that we can’t relate to it.

The lack of believability appears when the story is focused on the hospital, which is 99.9% of the time. Alex doesn’t take any time off after the accident. She’s diagnosing patients, performing surgeries, filling out forms, and getting a verbal beat-down by her boss “for not having her head in the game” (or some other such twaddle) as if she’s broken a fingernail instead of slowly losing the love of her life.

To make matters less believable, the “caring” staff at Hope-Zion more often than not act as if taking care of one of their own is a huge ordeal and being sympathetic to Alex is asking too much. She has to beg the neurosurgeon to run another test on Charlie. She has to beg a nurse to practice a specific type of coma therapy. Thank God she hasn’t begged for time off yet, because apparently its better to have an emotionally compromised surgeon actively working than losing her for a couple of weeks while she grieves Charlie. If these medical professionals can’t be compassionate to the people they work with, how are they treating their patients? Why would I want to spend a minute, much less an hour with these people?

Actually, I don’t. If I’m spending my entire viewing time saying “that would never happen, that would never happen, that really would never happen” then something’s very, very wrong with the storytelling. It alienates the viewer to the point of no return. I’ve seen three episodes of Saving Hope. I won’t be watching a fourth.

Fiction has to be believable, no matter how unbelievable the premise is. Once you’ve anchored your story in a familiar reality, then you have the freedom to break the rules and create your own story world; one that viewers will want to be a part of.

What Writers Can Learn from Saving Hope (Part II)

Kathy Fuller returns with more about the good that can come from a bad TV show. Talk about an optimist!

by Kathy Fuller

Mistake #2: Don’t just stand there, do something!

One of the main characters on Saving Hope is Charlie, played by Michael Shanks. He’s the charming, confident chief of surgery. In the pilot episode he and his fiancée (another surgeon) are heading for their wedding when wham! Car accident. After saving the driver of the other car with an emergency procedure I’ve already forgotten about, Charlie passes out from his head wound and is in a coma. The twist is that he’s suspended between the conscious and unconscious and roams the hospital still wearing his tux and dangling bow tie.

So far so good. Conscious Charlie is a hero. We’re sympathetic to him because he’s comatose and trapped, unable to bridge the gap between life and death. Not to mention he could probably use a change of underwear. Then—

Then nothing. Seriously. NOTHING. Charlie barely tries to communicate with the living. He intersects with the mostly dead and the deader-than-dead, but he doesn’t have anything but fleeting interaction with them. The most emotion we get is Shanks’ furrowed brow and his tepid voice-overs, loaded with forty-ton platitudes that do nothing but drag the show down. The only glimpses into his character are in flashbacks, which really have more to do with his fiancée, Alex. than with him.

Questions abound—questions Charlie should be posing to himself, to the ethereal beings around him, even to his comatose body. Why won’t I wake up? Why haven’t I died? Why am I stuck roaming around the hospital? How do I FIX this? 

Charlie is a prime example of a passive character. Passive characters are awkward, pointless, and above all, snooze-inducing. All the characters in a story need to be doing something—saving the day, solving a problem, being an obstacle to another character’s goal, providing important advice and insight, serving as comic relief, and in Charlie’s case, maybe helping the deader-than dead pass over and the mostly dead start living again. Even if he’s unable to do any of those things, he should be frustrated, confused, angry. Instead, he’s bored, thus I’m bored and searching for my remote.

Characters should always be active. They’re doing things, not having things done to them. Their reactions to environments and predicaments should be visceral to the point where the audience is right there with them, feeling both their pain and their triumph. When that doesn’t happen you have a character like Charlie—pathetic and forgettable.

Next: Mistake #3: Get real, already.

What Writers Can Learn from Saving Hope (Part I)

Kathy Fuller is a hell of a writer.  She’s the best-selling author of over twenty novels and novellas, in addition to several published articles. Her publishers include Tyndale, Avalon, Adams Media, and Thomas Nelson.  TVWriter™ is proud to present her here and hopes she forgives us for just plain being us and graces the site with her presence again and again. (Well, until she finishes this 3-part series for sure.)

by Kathy Fuller

This summer NBC picked up the Canadian show Saving Hope and shoved it into its Thursday night line-up. Remember when Thursdays used to be must watch TV on NBC? Me either. I’ve had my fill of hospital dramas, but I tuned in for one reason: Michael Shanks. However, my love admiration of Shanks only goes so far. Saving Hope is riddled with basic writing errors—and don’t get me started on the ridiculous overuse of lens flares.

So what can writers learn from a show that’s pretty much a writing failure? Plenty.

Mistake #1: Saving or Raising?

Titles are important. They convey the show’s subject matter. Take Criminal Minds. Those two words tell you the premise: criminals and their psychology. Titles can also link to a show’s theme, such as Parenthood. These titles are understandable, relatable (for the most part) and in today’s current TV landscape, unique. Are they brilliantly unique? No, but they aren’t similar to what’s currently on the tube.

There’s nothing wrong with Saving Hope as a title per se. It’s a little too clever in that the hospital is named Hope-Zion and doctors usually save people.  But there’s a really good show currently airing called Raising Hope. I think I googled Michael Shanks/Raising Hope about five times before I realized he’s not on Raising Hope. At first I thought I was a moron for getting the two mixed up, but I soon discovered I wasn’t the only one confused.

When it comes to writing, nothing is too precious that it can’t be changed, adapted, deleted, or annihilated when necessary. I understand why the producers are clinging to this ah-mazing title that ties in so neatly with the show. But when viewers get the two titles confused, ah-mazing becomes annoying.

Want your show to stand out in the crowded TV landscape? Choose a simple, creative, original title that reflects the core topic, captures audience attention, and makes people want to tune in. Even if it’s the bestest title ever, if its going to cause confusion, come up with something else.

Later this week: Don’t just stand there, do something!