Thursday, August 18, 2011

“When They Met, It Was Murder!”

This blog is really going to show my age.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a guest blog for the website Para Your Normal about realizing that whatever genre I write in I’m actually writing romance.

For mystery and detective stories, this goes back to when I was the smallest of kids and the television I watched with my parents.

The first came in the form of McMilliand & Wife and follow by Hart to Hart, and I think they played a greater role in my creative mind than many other programs.

There would be many more over the years.

Focusing exclusively on television detective programs, (not including police procedure or lawyer shows), I believe there are three types of Romantic Detectives:

1. Partners in Crime and the Heart.

2. Keep it at Arm’s Reach.

3. The Love ‘em and Leave ‘em.

I could be wrong, but let me go through them in reverse order.

Love ‘em and Leave ‘em - are the shows about the handsome detective who somewhere in the middle of the case he meets the beautiful guest star who needs to help save her father’s business, has been charged with murder, or actually is the murder. Through out the hour we see the two grow closer together and finally kiss (or more), and the heroic detective saves her life. But then next week there’s a new case and a completely new damsel that needs to be saved and swept off her feet. Even as a kid I thought something was wrong in this, “hey, what happened to your girl friend from last week. Are you cheating on her with this new girl or did you just dump her?” Old examples of this loner hero are MAGNUM PI or KNIGHTRIDER and their ilk.

Keep it at Arm’s Reach – These are the stories where the man and woman have to begrudgingly work together and romantic feelings slowly grow between them, but neither willing to admit it to the other. Their sexual tension comes in arguments and jokes while solving the crime. They both will continue to see other people; which breaks the heart of the other each week. The audience keeps rooting for them to get together. This ‘keep them apart’ story thread can work for the first couple of weeks, but if they don’t eventually at least acknowledge their feelings for one another then it’s lost its power. Examples of this are REMINGTON STEELE, MOONLIGHT, and CASTLE.

Partners in Crime and The Heart – Are when our detectives are already in a solid romantic relationship. Usually married. They work together perfectly both at the crime scene and the bedroom. Examples of this are HART TO HART where couple were amateur sleuths who usually just stumbled upon the crimes, or McMILLIAN AND WIFE where he was a Police Lieutenant and he brought his work home and the wife got involved. Most recently there was the short-lived UNDERCOVERS where former spies, now married, are forced back into the game.

Many fans of these romantic detective shows would like to see the “Arms Reach” become the “Partners of the Heart”, but producer and network executives are leery of changing the formula that has been working so far, even if the ratings start to slip after a few seasons. It’s called the “Moonlighting Curse” by some people.

In the fifth season of Moonlighting, our leads had finally acknowledged their feelings for one another, but then ratings began to fall as the season progressed. Later executives supposedly see a correlation between the one and the other and so don’t want it to happen to their shows. In truth, both Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd were in the midst of their growing film careers, DIE HARD had just come out, so their schedules never matched up to be able play the scenes together as were required and the stories suffered for it. (Or so that’s how I understand it).

Truth or no truth, the curse haunts some executives. And has been a concern of audiences of the television series CASTLE where our leads obviously fell in love the moment they met, but never said anything about it. Everyone around them, including Castle’s mother and daughter know he loves Detective Beckett and vice versa. Only when she’s near death and in his arms does he finally admit his feelings.

So this new season starting in September (no, this was not intended as a promotion for Castle), the audience waits to see if they will remain at “Arm’s Reach” or finally become “Partners in Crime and the Heart”.

“Partners” is actually my favorite version of the television detective. The solid relationship with the main couple as they solve the murder together. I grew up on Hart to Hart. I would also discover the classic movie, and then read the novel (twice), “The Thin Man” by Dashiell Hammett. The story of a retired detective and his beautiful and rich new wife. Though the title is a description of the murder victim it would stick as the movie spun off sequel after sequel and eventually and television series. They were the perfect couple for crime, comedy and love. All else follow in their wake.

All of this influenced the writing of my pulp series “Revenge of the Masked Ghost.”

Bit of trivia. When I was young watching the first season of HART TO HART, the opening narration by their butler/chauffer Max said the following line “Their hobby is… murder.” Even as a kid I thought that was a dumb, it made it sounds like our heroes were actually the killers. By the start of the second season it had been changed to “When they met, it was murder.” My boy ears were very pleased.

Kevin Paul Shaw Broden

Four Names of Professional Creativity

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