I like TV. Okay, I may watch too much TV, and I tend to be critical, because I’m a writer. I’m getting sick and tired of some ridiculous actions and mistakes that so many scriptwriters make in TV scripts. When I see them, I want to scream. I know it’s fiction, but I do expect fiction to make some sense. Here’s what I’m talking about.:
1. Violating Newton’s Laws of Gravity. I know you’ve all seen this one. The hero throws a rope or chain around the villain’s neck and throws the other end over a beam or tree branch. Then, believe it or not our hero hoists the villain off the ground. Here’s the problem – there’d no advantage without a pulley. The hero must weigh considerably more than the bad guy for this to work. It’s simple mechanics – Newton’s 2nd Law of Gravity (the sum of the forces on a mass) Therefore, the force applied by pulling down on the rope must be greater than the weight of the object, in this case, the villain, to raise the object. It doesn’t matter how strong the hero’s arms are unless his/her feet are anchored.
2. Karate kicks that are too powerful. Here’s another common sight – our hero kicks an opponent and the opponent goes flying backwards through the air. No way. I have a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do, so I know a little about it. Once again, it’s mechanics -- Newton's third law (for every force there is an opposite and equal force) If one person kicks another hard enough to make them fly backwards, the kicker also will fly backward. Think about it – the foot or fist is small compared to the body. It would be like a chisel hitting a stone. The target wouldn’t fly backwards, but a rib or two would break.
3. Parking directly in front of building. This is another scene that bugs me. Our hero pulls up to a build and finds a parking spot right in front and there’s no meter. It what universe would that happen? I have lived in NYC, LA, Chicago, Washington D.C. and a few other big cities. It never happens. People must arrive very early to park in front, and there’s usually a meter. Our hero would have to park in a parking garage or parking lot farther away. It might happen in a rural area, small town or suburb but not in a big city.
4. Ridiculous stake outs. The scene shows one or two detectives sitting in a car on a stakeout right in front of suspect’s house or work place. Usually, there seems to be a light under the dash. No one challenges them or even notices. It… would… never… happen. A nosey neighbor or neighborhood watch would notice. Even in a high crime area, people would suspect the detectives were drug dealers or narcs and alert the suspect.
5. Extremely explosive hand grenades. You know the scene. Our hero throws a hand grenade and it explodes in a huge fire ball and people fly up into the air. That just blows my mind. Most grenades are fragmentation grenades that look like baseballs. They use a small explosive surrounded by a notched wire – no gas or fuel. Incendiary grenades look like beer cans and burn rather than explode. A hand grenade would not have a huge fire ball and wouldn’t blow people up into the air.
6. Bad guys who are terrible shots. You would think that professional killers could at least hit the side of a barn when shooting. But no, our hero kills someone with every shot while the professional killers can’t seem to hit anything. The hero can run from cover to cover or through open terrain and it’s as if the bad guys are shooting blanks. Give me a break.
7. Popping up to shoot. Our hero is behind a rock or some other bullet proof cover and periodically pops up to shot. Yeah, right. That would never work. The bad guys would take aim at that spot and shoot our hero as soon as he/she pops. It might work if our hero could move to a different spot before popping up.
8. Breaking necks with a twist of the hands. Our hero grabs the head of a bad guy with two hands and twists, killing him instantly. Theoretically, it might work, but here’s the problem; the neck muscles are very strong. Even if the villain is totally relaxed and surprised, the body’s natural reaction is to resist. If it were that easy, there would be more deaths in wrestling. I have wrestled off and on for ten years. It ain’t that easy. Now there are way to break a person’s neck, but I won’t disclose them here. Also, a broken neck doesn’t always mean instant death.
9. One punch knockout. This is like the broken neck. I’ve done a little boxing and a lot of karate, and on a few rare occasions I have seen one-punch knockouts, but they are rare. In some cases, the person has a glass jaw.
10. Throwing knives. When I was in junior high, I wasted a lot of my time practicing throwing knives. It wouldn’t be the best choice to kill an opponent. If the thrower misses, the intended victim could use the knife. Throwing knives to cut wires or ropes – forget it.
11. Ticking bombs. It’s a tense scene. Our hero must figure out which wire to cut while a clock nearby counts down the time in bold, red letters. What a laugh. Most bombs consist of a power supply (or just a switch), an initiator that causes the bomb to explode (often a blasting cap), an explosive and maybe something for shrapnel. If the explosive is like C-4, the bomb maker just sticks the blasting cap in the C-4. Therefore, if possible, the quickest way to render a bomb harmless is to pull out the blasting caps. Be sure to move them far away from the explosive.
12. Stereotypical detectives. It seems in every detective show; the protagonist keeps some evidence secret or lies about it. They also chase leads and clues without backup and never call ahead to the local law enforcement to secure the suspect. Come on! They can’t all be rogues.
13. Not wearing head protection. I am appalled when I see our heroes joining the SWAT team without heads protection. Say it ain’t so. At least they don’t get shot in the head.
14. Holding the rope during rappelling. I love this one. Our hero rappels down a cliff while his/her partner (anchor) holds on to the other end. This might be possible if the anchor person is sitting and has some way to brace the feet. Otherwise, the anchor would be pulled over the cliff.
15. Getting confidential information on patients from nurses and doctors. I go crazy when I watch a TV show where a detective (Chicago PD) or fireman (Chicago FD) goes up to the nurses’ station (Chicago Med) and asks about the status of a patient and is told. It’s a clear violation of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). It’s illegal for medical personnel to divulge medical information on patients without the patient’s consent. It could happen but probably won’t except in Chicago.
16. Romance after a near death experience. I know you’ve seen this. Our hero and the significant other barely survive disaster. It could be a group of assassins, a natural disaster or space aliens trying to conquer the earth. Immediate the two decide this would be a great time to make out. Duh? I would think it would be a good time to change underwear, stay alert in case the monster returns or on of the killers is merely wounded, or catch some shut eye.
17. Sex in the hospital linen closet. This is why I don’t like hospital shows. I used to work in a hospital. Believe me, if the linen closet was big enough for sex, the hospital would turn it not a patient room. It’s all about business and profit and loss.
18. No sense of urgency. I know you’ve seen this. The captain tells detectives that thye have only a few minutes to save the day (stop the bomber, the killer, rescue the damsel) and they slowly walk off.
19. Sneaking up on the bad guys with a flashlight. I hate this. The police or heroes are sneaking up on the villains using flashlights. It’s the best way to alert them that the police are coming. Apparently, criminals can’t see a flashlight.
20. Crawling in duct work. This mistake drives me nuts because I used to be a facility manager. To begin with, ducts aren’t made to support the weight of a person or persons. They’re suspend from the ceiling or beams by thin strips of metal. With one or two people inside, they would come crashing down. On TV, they appear to be 16X16 which is big. Ducts work like this, they come out of a furnace or air handler and progressively downsize as they supply heat or AC to a room. A duct vent in a room could be 12X4 – hardly big enough to crawl inside. They’re also filled with things like filters, smoke dampers and fire dampers. The best ducts are round, not rectangular. Just once I would like to see our hero fall into the furnace.
21. Unlimited ammo. Writers are getting better at this, but there’re still scenes where our hero never runs out of ammo.
22. Super lightweight machinegun ammo. This one is a little complicated. In the scene, our hero grabs a machinegun and begins killing hordes of zombies or whatever. So far so good. If he/she grabbed a M249 light machine gun (LMG), it weighs only 22 lbs. The ammo is the standard light 5.56x45mm NATO round. The M249 can fire 725-rounds per minute. If our hero carries 200 rounds of ammo, that’s about 7.2 lbs. That means he/she can shoot for about 15 seconds. But does our hero pick up the M249? No. Our hero picks up a M61 Vulcan, a hydraulically driven, six-barrel, Gatling-style rotary cannon which fires 20 mm rounds at a rate of 6,000 rounds per minute. Our hero would need a wagon or truck to carry enough ammo for one minute, and they’re heavy.
23. Instant hacks. The crime TV shows give the impression that computer nerds can hack anything instantly. Not true. I expect to see a show where the electric tooth brush gets hacked.
24. High speed transportation local and international with no jet lag. I know you’ve seen this one. Our hero has 48 hours to stop the criminal master mind before a weapon of mass (WMD) destruction is detonated in NYC. To stop the master mind, our hero must first fly to Moscow to locate the master mind’s partner, then fly to Antarctica to get the code book needed to defuse the WMD, then return to NYC during rush hour to save the city – all within 48 hours. Yeah, right.
25. Licking cooking spoon. This one I love. The scene is in the kitchen. The world renown chef is cooking something on the stove. He takes a spoon, tastes whatever is in the pot and places the germ-infested spoon with all his DNA and other bodily fluids back into the pot. No way. No professional chef would risk food poisoning or salmonella. I love to cook and even I know better than to do that.
26. Noise in space. Here’s another one that drives me nuts. In outer space, there’s no air – it’s a vacuum (mostly). To make sound there must be air or something to transmit the sound. So why do we watch a space craft soar by with a roaring engine? It wouldn’t happen.
27. Ear buds not detected. I enjoy watching TV shows like Scorpion, Quantico and Agents of Shield. If you are a fan, you know when the agents go undercover they use ear buds that transmit and receive so they can communicate. Everyone knows that. So why is it that the mega-corporate outfits that are behind all the evil in the world never bother to check in their ears when they do a pat down? Surely, at least one employee has a TV and watches the shows.
28. Cellphone reception. This is like the ear bud scenes above. Our hero is underground in a cave or under water in a submarine. He/she pulls out a cellphone and makes a call. WTF? I can’t even get reception in an elevator.
29. Giving away the conspiracy. I think screenwriters do this for the audience. It happens in two ways: The criminal mastermind explains his/her plan, or the detectives explain their theory. You know the scenes. The mastermind is about to kill our hero. But before killing, he decides to explain to our hero his entire manifesto for world domination and enslaving mankind. Why? Because he like to hear himself talk, I guess. In the second scene, the detectives bring in their prime suspect, and during the interrogation revel to the suspect their working theory and all the evidence they have so far. Why? Because they’re stupid. I guess they think the suspect will confess on the spot.
30. Liars. On TV crime shows every suspect, person of interest and witness is lying. Really? Has society sunk that low?
31. Too close for comfort. This is another space thing. Our heroes fly in their space craft to rescue some space station or colony that is under attack by some other aliens. So, do they use their long-range scanners and engage from miles away with an advanced form of cruise missile or death ray? No, of course not. They get close enough to hit the aliens with a golf ball.
I hope these tips help your budding screenwriters. Best wishes.
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