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.

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