I've got lots to write about this evening but while I'm still stuck on the subject of Sanctuary, I'll go ahead and point you towards a post that Alex Epstein wrote back in October after having watched the Sanctuary pilot.
Alex is a pro writer and producer and his opinion on the matter really trumps mine without question. Although it may seem like I'm just trying to pile on to a show that I don't like personally, that's really not the case. I just think that people tend to get wrapped up in a show that they like and tend to ignore or find excuses to dismiss perfectly legitimate observations and criticism even when such things can be a portent of failure.
Watched a bit of the SANCTUARY pilot. Hunter and I turned it off about half an hour in because we were just too frustrated with it. We felt like there was one hour's worth of plot padded out to two hours; many of the complications were there just to make things take longer. We felt like the hero was reactive and passive.
If I were in the mood to defend the show, and actually I think this is an important point to make, I'd remind everyone that the scripts were written for a highly segmented web show. This was not originally a one-hour drama with act breaks for commercials, it was a series of shorts. I can't speak for the producers but I'm sure they took some liberties with their format and broke many of television's writing conventions in order to tell the story the way they wanted to tell it.
Given that kind of freedom I'd have done precisely the same thing.
But going from the web to television is like going from a book to a feature film -- you're going to lose a lot just in the translation between mediums. I actually expected problems like this to be front and center until after the original web-based scripts had been exhausted, and once the writers got around to doing their thing with an eye towards the new (or rather old) format, one for which they were all classically trained, problems like that would simply go away on their own.
Since I haven't been keeping up with the show now any better than I did before Scifi licensed it, I can't really tell you when that point in time might have been. I don't know if they had enough web-based scripts to shoot the entire first season so that the properly broken-down material would have to wait until season two, or if they have already passed that point and this criticism is now moot.
Perhaps some fans of the show who have be very vocal these past few days can step up in the comments and share their thoughts on this point.
The hero is us. If your Chief Monster Hunter pushes herself on him, then he's being passive and reactive. We're not being pulled into the story; we're having exposition pushed on us. Pulling is better than pushing. It's always going to be more fun if the hero figures things out than if someone explains it to him.
Needless to say, having Chief Monster Hunter deliver five minutes of exposition in her Batcave before showing him, and us, the critters in her basement, is a big bore.
Perhaps again, this is more the result of these stories having been written without the constraints of television. You can't waste time on TV like this or you're going to start bleeding viewers really fast. There's no network executive hanging over your shoulder -- for better or for worse -- telling you to speed things up. I think too often we blame the network and studio for interfering with something as critical as timing without giving enough credit for all the times when the suits happen to be right.
It's good to be free but it's also good to have a minder to keep you from getting too eccentric.
The writers didn't have anyone to answer to but themselves when these scripts were written. That kind of creative freedom must be damn near orgasmic, but so goes the saying, it's also more than enough rope to hang yourself with.
That's fine If it didn't really bother you, I wasn't paying close enough attention to even remember it personally. On the other hand, Alex Epstein has been a writer for a long time, has run his own shows, and has written books on how to do exactly this kind of work. If he found rudimentary problems in the pilot, the chances are great these are the problems that are going to grate on viewers as well as pros. Not all of them mind you, but it doesn't have to bother everyone for it to bother enough people each week to cause a slide in the ratings.
And slide it has.
I like the idea of the show and I'll probably check it out again at some point, but based on the ratings problem and some of the above criticism that isn't only coming from me -- Sanctuary got a score of 56/100 on Metacritic -- I think I'll need to see it step up a bit before it earns a place on my DVR.