Sunday 18 January 2009

Hate how the show ended? Call the scriptwriter to complain

As a former TV scriptwriter, I sympathise with the writer of Little Nyonya.

Here you are, responsible for the highest rated programme in Singapore in a long time and all people can talk about is how your ending sucked.

It’s like you’re this airline pilot who did a wonderful job taking off and flying the plane, but just because you didn’t know how to land it properly and killed everyone on board – oh, suddenly you’re the bad guy. No one remembers the wonderful job you did before the crash.

In a way, you’re the victim of your own success. If only you had done a sucky job from the start and written a flop, then no one would’ve given a kueh how the series ended.

Trust me, I’ve been there, having worked on the series finales of PCK Pte Ltd and Living With Lydia.

Viewers can be a bitch sometimes. Can't live with them, can't live without them.

My first TV scriptwriting gig was for a Twilight Zone wannabe on Channel 5 called Shiver.

One day at then Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS), I received an unexpected phone call from a viewer demanding that I explained an inconsistency in a Shiver episode I had written.

The episode starred Zachary Mosalle as a mentally retarded man (a role for which he was nominated an Asian Television Award in 1998) who is abused by his sister's husband and then ... actually, it was so long ago that I don't remember the story.

Anyway, I couldn’t believe that someone had actually bothered to watch the show, analyse it, take note of my name in the credits, call TCS and get my extension – just to ask me to clarify a plot point.

I was tempted to tell the caller what William Shatner told a bunch of overgrown Star Trek fans in a classic Saturday Night Live skit: “Get a life.”

But a viewer is like a customer and as anyone who knows me can attest, my motto has always been “The customer (and woman) comes first”.

I should be grateful Shiver had any viewers at all.

So I told the viewer the story was open to interpretation – instead of admitting that I was aware of the plot problem, but didn't know how to fix it.

His reaction was “Where got like that one?” and he hung up. That was the first – and fortunately the last time – a viewer had contacted me directly to complain about a show I had written.

Unlike the scriptwriter for Little Nyonya, I didn’t have the luxury of producing three extra minutes of footage just to make up for the inadequacies in my script the first time around.

However, judging by the negative response, MediaCorp may need to produce another three minutes to make up for those three minutes.

I wonder if anyone called the writer directly.

- Published in The New Paper, 18 Jan 2009

UPDATE ON SHIVER: Shiver me timbers! It's back from the dead!