The next line of dialog

I’ve gotten into a habit recently when I watch TV, and I can’t tell whether it’s a good thng or not. As I am viewing a show, several times an episode I will find myself saying the next line just before the actor says it. This seems to work pretty much every time, for high quality shows as well as for silly action shows.

Does this mean the shows are bad? I mean, if you can predict the next line of dialog, doesn’t that mean something’s wrong with how these shows are written?

I’m not so sure. In fact, I think that very predictability is deliberately written in. At the end of the day, TV shows are comfort food. We don’t watch them to change our life. We watch them as a source of reliable entertainment. What that little screen really wants to tell us is that our world makes sense.

Sure, bad things happen to people on TV. But they happen in a safely fictional universe. And next week our fictional friends are right back on that screen again to tell us more stories.

Note that this rhythm is quite different from that of cinema. A film can afford to shake you up, to mess with your head in the service of art. Nobody is expecting you to come back the following week to see the next episode.

And so that little voice in my head that tells me the next line of dialog is probably no accident. The writers of TV shows want you to feel at home, to believe that you are hanging out with old familiar friends, with people you know so well that you can finish their sentences.

If nothing else, that makes it a lot easier to sell you stuff. :-)

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