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The Actors Aren’t to Blame

My publisher, who used to be a publicist with NBC a few years back, warned me this was coming. She saw the writing on the wall when I shared certain tweets and posts with her.

Sadly, she was right.

Back in my post entitled “So Much Lip Service – Part 2,”I mentioned that there have been cases where soap opera actors who portrayed villains have literally had fans of the show come up and spit in their faces because of something their character did to another, beloved, ‘good-guy’ character.

Well, I’m seeing this happen (virtually, not physically) right now to someone. She’s being ‘hated on’ for no other reason than because she’s trying to do the job she was hired to do, and it hurts to watch it happen. It hurts because I’ve known actors…lots of ‘em in days gone by…and it’s unfair of fans to rail against them for something they have zero control over.

Actors are people just like the rest of us. They have emotions. They have morals, scruples, quirks, kinks, faults and things they’re really good at. So to see someone get bashed, to the point where they feel like they have to apologize to fans? It’s just not right.

Maybe some of the fans don’t understand how things work. Maybe some of them do, but they’re just taking out their frustrations on the most obvious target – the actor who’s bringing something to the screen that those fan just don’t want to see.

For the benefit of those who don’t know, I’d like to point out that there are an awful lot of things that happen before what you see on the screen in a movie or on an episode of your favorite TV show. Things that the actor has absolutely nothing to do with (unless they happen to have written the script or directed the episode themselves).

Control is an illusion!

Those in control of the show – everyone from people at whatever network or cable channel it’s on all the way to the Executive Producers and Producers – are at the top of the food chain. Sometimes even EPs can’t do 100% of what they want if the network/cable channel says “No.” Sometimes the network/cable channel even makes them do things they don’t want to do, in a (sometimes misguided) attempt to steer the show in the direction they think it should go in.

Then you have the screenwriters. The people who write the scripts. In television, unless that screenwriter is also the Executive Producer who runs the show, the scripts are written to order. Like the EPs, the writers don’t get to do 100% of what they want to do.  And even while scenes are being filmed, scripts can change. Often dramatically. I’ve seen entire scenes completely thrown out in the middle of being filmed because the director said, “No, doesn’t work at all.” Which, of course, sends the writers scrambling to figure out what to do.

So an actor gets a script. And then revisions. And then more revisions. And then even more, sometimes on-the-spot.

Then there are the directors. The actor may try to do what they think is right for their character, whether it’s applying certain facial expressions or body language…figuring out the best way to deliver a line…interacting with those around them within the context of the scene…playing off the previous line or setting up for the next one. There’s a lot an actor can and does do to make a character their own, but there aren’t very many cases where they’re actually allowed to make it all up on their own without being told what to say by the writers, and how to execute it by the directors. Ad-libbing? Maybe, if the director’s generous. But not writing entire story arcs, entire seasons or – unless they happened to write one – whole episodes.

After all the scenes are shot, it goes to editing. Is it too long? What scenes aren’t crucial to the story the producers, directors and/or writers want told? Did the scene with these two characters not work very well? Does a scene not advance the story at all in the precious few minutes lurking inside of an hour that they have to tell it? There are so many decisions an editor has to make to splice together a bunch of scenes shot out-of-sequence into an episode of a television series.

And then music’s added, and anything else they think is needed. Sound effects, getting actors to come into the studio to re-record dialogue because maybe it got muffled or in the end they couldn’t find a recorded way a line was delivered that satisfied the director, producer and editor.

Eventually, an episode gets put together and shipped off to the studio to be aired.

It’s a complex process made up of a plethora of people behind-the-scenes. All fans really get to see – unless the show’s people are willing to expose behind-the-scenes action – is the finished product.

And unless an actor actually wrote and directed and produced and everything else’d on their own without anyone else’s input, you cannot rip them a new one simply because you don’t like a character, or a story arc, or the way something on a show is being handled.

It’s not the actor’s fault.

Let me repeat that.

It is not the actor’s fault.

This is another thing I have referenced in previous posts that I’ve really started to see becoming hurtful: people’s ability in recent years to immediately post everything they’re thinking and feeling on the internet without any sort of filter or time lag.

Back in the 80s – which was my favorite time period  for television shows until recently, when the new Hawaii Five-0 reboot appeared – if there was something I didn’t like on a television show and I had felt compelled to complain about it, I would have had to hunt down the network’s mailing address, spend time handwriting (or typing) a letter, find a postage stamp and an envelope, and mail it off.

(No, I never did that, by the way. I was between the ages of 8 and 18 inthe 80s, and while I loved to watch the TV shows of that decade, I never felt the urge to brain anyone over anything they did on them.)

Nowadays, you can tell the entire world in the space of a few seconds how much you don’t like something or someone, without any sort of brain-to-fingers filter required.

Actors take it personally, just like writers.

This one is important. Even if you’re careful to say you hate the character, the actor portraying that character tends to take that personally. Just like writers take it personally when you say you hate the stories or the books they write, even though writers themselves obviously aren’t their creative works.  If you think about it, pretty much any worker would take it personally when someone tells them they suck, especially if that worker’s just doing what their boss told them to.

The job an actor is hired to do, is bring a character to life. A character created by someone else. The actor can’t help it that the people who are in charge are having that character do or say things that the fans don’t care for.

Should I say it again? Yeah, I should.

It is not the actor’s fault.

Hate is a very harsh word.

It’s also sad that so many fans will actually come out and say they “hate” a character or “hate” an actor. Hate is such a strong word, and you’ll only ever see me use it loosely when referring to phrases like I did in a previous post. (I will always always hate the phrase ‘team player’ – too many years spent in cubicle farms! But that phrase can’t get its feelings hurt like a human being can.)

The bottom line is this: If you do not like something that’s happening on a TV show, send a well thought-out email to the network, for starters. Explain what it is you don’t like rationally and intelligently. Spitting out things like “We hate X!” or “Y is horrible!” or “Go home, X!” really doesn’t help anyone. Those types of comments are too vague and personal in nature to explain what your problem with the whole thing is.

Second, if you have a way to contact the production company – either by snail mail or email – do the same thing. Write the letter rationally and intelligently, and explain your grievances like a grown-up. Not like a six year-old who’s throwing a tantrum because they’re not getting their way.

Third, if you have access to the show’s producers, especially the Executive Producers, do the same thing again. Explain yourself. Tell them what you don’t like about the story, or the character(s) you have problems with. Above all, tell them why. And for crying out loud, don’t threaten them! (I can’t believe I actually have to say that, but it’s already happened in this case. WTF?)

You also have to remember that there’s an unfortunate side effect of publicly establishing yourself, via tweets or other methods, as favoring one of the actors, or a particular real or potential pairing in a show.  Those in charge will then dismiss your quickly tweeted “hate hate hate” messages not just because they sound infantile, but because they figure, “Oh, he or she is just not happy because I’m not giving their favorite character or actor more screen time/doing it the way they want me to.” That’s why it’s really important to state your case logically, rationally and intelligently.

I know I keep repeating those words. But I kind of have to, because a lot of people seem to have lost their common sense. But that’s a rant for another day.

Give them a chance to fix it, already!

Just as you are able to instantaneously tell the people in charge of a show that you don’t like something, you have to remember that dozens, maybe even hundreds of other unhappy viewers may be doing exactly the same thing. Therefore, the show runners may very well be thinking, “Oh, oops, my bad. Shouldn’t have done that, shit!”

But here’s the problem. The actual filming of a show is usually four, five or six episodes ahead of the one that you’re sitting there watching. So even if the producers or the networks want to “fix” whatever they’ve done that the fans are screaming about, the fact is that you won’t actually see those “fixes” until maybe four, five or six (or more!) weeks down the road. There’s nothing anyone can do about that.

Breathe. Give it time. Express yourself kindly by making your points without attacking. Then sit back and wait to see if you were listened to.

And please try to remember, in the spirit of the television show that actually got me interested in television shows again, that ohana means family. No matter what, we shouldn’t be hurting each other like this.

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    The book series "Takers," the screenplays contained on the "Screenplays" page and the screenplays discussed and contained on this website are copyright Chris Davis. Novels are published by Plotfish Press, and screenplays are registered with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) West.
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