Tag: TV series


by on Nov.19, 2017, under Featured, Motivation

Creating a Series Concept that Works: Atypical

Jen Grisanti analyzes the new Netflix series, ATYPICAL, exploring how structure can influence emotion and bring your audience to tears.

International speaker Jen Grisanti is an acclaimed Story/Career Consultant at Jen Grisanti Consultancy, Inc., a Writing Instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC, a former twelve-year studio executive, and author of Story Line, TV Writing Tool Kit, and Change Your Story, Change Your Life. Keep track of Jen’s upcoming events on Facebook and Twitter, @jengrisanti, and listen to her Storywise Podcast. Read Jen’s full bio and sign up for her Telling and Selling Your TV Pilot video series.

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I am constantly analyzing new series to see what works with story structure. One of my favorite new shows is Atypical on Netflix. I find this show explores in-depth familial dynamics at the same level as Friday Night Lights and This is Us. Understanding how structure can influence emotion and bring your audience to tears is what great storytelling is all about.

Structurally, a story tool that I’ve drawn from watching Atypical is the recognition that all the character arcs stem from the main problem of the main character and that sets up the series. It is when we feel it all linked, that story can reach such tremendous heights of emotion. This is because we feel the concept through all of the characters and the choices that they make. It often comes from the same wound but seeing it play out through different choices and different worldviews.

Script EXTRA: Finding Your Character’s Wound

The main problem in Atypical is that Sam, a young boy that has autism, expresses his to therapist his desire to date. The series/season 1 is about this choice and his family’s reaction to it. The story explores how love is hard enough for a “neuro-typical” person to experience. With Sam, this pursuit becomes a lot more complex but the gift of it all is showing that the desire is real and it is doable.

We watch Sam take actions and hit obstacles in his pursuit to find love from filling out an online profile to learning how to approach girls that might be interested. It really gives us a glimpse of how he sees the world and shows us how things that might be considered simple for us are that much more difficult for people with autism. Seeing Sam take actions towards finding love connects with all of us.

We immediately feel the father’s wound to his son’s autism when he mentions buying his son tickets to a Mets game simply because he wanted to find a way to connect with him. He wanted them to have one thing in common. So, his reaction to Sam’s choice to date is to support this. He reminds his wife that they met around Sam’s age. It is clear that he hopes this experience will bring him and Sam closer together.

Script EXTRA: ‘All is Lost’ Equals Opportunity for Character Growth

With Sam’s mom, Elsa, her reaction is panic because of her worry and the codependent relationship that she shares with her son. She clearly needs him to need her. So, the idea that he wants to find love, in her mind, threatens this. We see that Sam has become her life. This has gotten in the way of the intimacy that she and her husband share. The mother remains resistant despite the therapist sharing with her that autistic people have the same desire to love and be loved. They just don’t know how to approach it in a typical manner.

We see Sam’s problem play out in his sister, Casey’s arc when she punches a student that taunts another student. Casey is the protector. This is her role because of her brother’s condition and the fact that she is his older sister. We feel her angst. The irony is that it is due to her role in Sam’s life and this action she took that her first opportunity at love and romance comes into her life with Evan, who is the brother of the girl she protected.

Sam’s pursuit of love continues. When Sam gets an online response, we see the trials and tribulations that Sam has to go through in preparation for the date. When he hears that she wants to meet at a café, he has to find a way to block out the noise by wearing headphones. Sam hits an obstacle and the date doesn’t work out. Sam tries again when a girl at his work makes eyes toward him. This leads him into a situation where she offers to have sex with him. He hits an obstacle when she touches him in a way that he doesn’t like to be touched. This opportunity takes a turn for the worst.

When the parents go to dinner, we really see the opposing viewpoints to Sam finding love and the rift that it has caused in their relationship. This leads Sam’s father to buy his mother passes to a dance class. After class, she goes to drinks. This is when Elsa meets a bartender that opens her eyes to the fact that her son will never have the choices that he does. This begins an exploration toward finding intimacy.

In Casey’s budding connection with Evan, we see that Sam comes first in her life. This could cause a problem for the possibility of her finding a true connection with Evan.

When Sam learns that 49% of marriages end in divorce, Sam goes with his father to look at a place with penguins. Sam says that penguins mate for life. So, penguins aren’t like people. They’re better.

The structure in Atypical all stems from the main wound. This really works for connecting the audience to this concept and the characters in this world. This is a very strong story tool that all writers can learn to utilize for the concepts that they write.

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by on May.13, 2014, under Featured

Watching what works and why it works in TV is something that is a part of what I do for a living as a Story/Career Consultant for writers. I am always looking for ways to teach story that reflect the brilliant work that is currently being done on TV. I’ve noticed that the shows that draw strong audiences and that I find myself returning to week after week are shows that have strong serialized character arcs within the closed-ended professional arcs. The personal dynamics contribute to the central conflict of the show and create longevity. The audience responds to these character arcs emotionally, and when you touch an audience on an emotional level, like me, they want to return each week.

Shows that successfully utilize this formula include: The Blacklist, The Americans, The Good Wife, Scandal, Masters of Sex, House of Cards, and Ray Donovan, to name a few. People connect with personal struggle. So, if you create story arcs that contain a powerful question within the personal story that you answer by the end while showing the central character in pursuit of the professional arc, you add a depth of emotion and increase the rooting factor.

Connecting to emotional situations is what sets a new series apart from the pack. The key is creating character dynamics that drive the audience to return each week. If there is a strong central conflict in the personal lives of the characters, you increase your chances of ratings success. When there is a strong personal arc within a professional scenario, today’s audiences return week after week to discover more often than not, what happened in the personal situation.

The Good Wife is a strong example. When the show started, we were drawn to Alicia’s plight and the question: How is Alicia going to bring security back to her family after her husband, Peter, goes to jail for his involvment in a sex scandal and illegal activity? The answer came in the character of Will, her old flame that gave her a chance by hiring her to be a lawyer at his firm. The dynamics of the triangle between Alicia, Peter and Will really drew us in by creating questions about Alicia’s ability to be successful as a lawyer as well as what she would do given the opportunity to leave her husband for Will. The writers really knew how to utilize these questions from week to week while exploring legal cases at the firm. The triangle and how Alicia was going to play her role within it was very universal. You had those that rooted for Alicia and Will and others that rooted for Alicia and Peter. With the major change that happened this season, what drew us in was a new question: How will Alicia emotionally respond to what happened and how will this affect her marriage with Peter? When you explore powerful emotional questions between the characters at home while they are in the midst of professional pursuits, you build your audience.

A recent episode of The Blacklist, posed the question, “Did Red kill Liz’s father?” The exploration of this question along with the existing dynamic of their relationship elevates the professional story to a whole new level because we understand the conflict that is going on in their personal relationship. This season, the writers also explored the personal story arc between Liz and her husband, Tom. Red warns her about Tom, but Liz doesn’t listen. Then, when Liz realizes that Red was right about Tom, it opens up a whole new can of worms. Liz’s relationships with Red and Tom provide an emotional core to a show that has a professional goal that usually opens and shuts each week.

In Ray Donovan, you wonder how far Ray will go to keep his father who gets out of prison in the pilot, away from his family. All the familial dysfunction of a broken childhood unravels during the series. We see what fuels Ray in his profession as a “fixer” for his celebrity clients. Ray feels he failed at fixing things in his own home because he didn’t protect his brother from being sexually molested by a priest. His memories of a broken family drive him to fix things for other people through his work. When the writers juxtapose Ray’s desire to “fix” against the demons that he faces in his personal life story, they create a series that draws us in and makes us want to return each week to see what happens.

Masters of Sex gives an inside look at the sexual tension between Masters and Johnson, the pioneers of human sexuality whose research touched off the sexual revolution. Seeing the sexual tension in their own relationship is mesmerizing to watch each week, as they make ground breaking professional strides in the understanding of human sexuality. The show draws us in because we want to see how their personal connection to each other leads to their professional breakthroughs in the area of sex. This show takes place in the 1950s, yet the conflict between the personal and the professional is something that we can all connect with no matter what the time period.

When you give people an inside view of who your characters are and what fuels them to do what they do, you create a connection. Your audience will return each week to experience this connection. In today’s television landscape, the personal arcs in your story are the key to the professional success of your series.



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