Friday, September 12, 2008

So what is a precinct drama, precisely?

Been swapping the first ten pages of my RPP entry with various scribes, getting and giving feedback. It's fascinating to see the mixture of subjects, genres, styles and stories people are prepping. But the one area where everybody seems to be struggling? Not the story, not the script, not coming up with exciting and entertaining characters, eye-catching openings or breath-taking page ten turning points. That's what we do every day, we're writers.

No, it's the single page outline that is baking everyone's noodle. How much plot to include, or how little? How long will your episodes be? Are they continuing or returning drama? Drama with some humour or actual, proper comedy drama? Can you identify who's story it is if you're writing a big ensemble piece? Should you name-check series that offer a guide to your creation's style, tone or content? Can you fit all this in one page?

I've already rewritten my outline document more times than I care to remember, honing and refining - but it needs another draft or three. For example, I got myself mixed up with a mixed up kind of kid. Their name is precinct drama, and nobody seems to agree on who or what that means. According to the dictionary, a precinct is an enclosed area or building marked by a fixed boundary. So a precinct drama should be set all in one building or environment, right?

Maybe, maybe not. According to others a precinct drama revolves solely around the working lives of your cast. The Bill is all about coppers in the Sun Hill district, so does that make it a precinct drama? Or a workplace drama? What's the difference between the two? Shameless all takes place on the one housing estate, does that make it a precinct drama? What about Holby City? Benidorm? Like I said, there doesn't seem to be one accepted definition.

So, here's a question for writers reading this blog: what do you understand by the term precinct drama? What does it mean to you?


Lucy said...

The thing that leaps out to me when I hear "precinct drama" is the notion that it revolves around coppers and police duties. Why? Because American cops apparently call their place of work "the precinct" according to various US drama series and movies I've seen. This is despite actually knowing that the word "precinct" is not police-specific. But I would avoid it if I were you, since I feel sure many others would feel the same way considering the popularity of American police drama series.

IZP said...

I've always taken it as industry talk for a show with a large cast including multiple potential leads based around a single main location, ie. one you can turn out in large numbers quite efficiently.

I think the label is used much more widely than just for cops and medics.
North Square (lawyers) and Teachers (well guess) on Channel 4 were both considered Precinct Dramas (and Spooks was originally pitched as a Precinct Drama for the Teachers slot). For me Shameless has become a Precinct Drama since the episode run increased, the cast grew and the focus shifted from the Gallaghers to the wider Chatsworth community, though I confess I've not heard it described so by industry people, whereas with the others I have.

Bingethink said...

I think the specific point of difference about what's become known as "precinct drama" is that the situation is bigger than the characters - its an ensemble show where any or all of the ensemble can depart, but the show can continue.

So, Life On Mars is a cop show, but not a precinct drama, because you can't just replace the character of Sam Tyler with another generic detective.

Whereas Waterloo Road is a precinct drama but not a cop show, because any or all of the characters could be replaced and it would still be recognisably the same show.

Michelle Lipton said...

So then would you also call soaps like Eastenders or Coronation Street precinct dramas?

Lucy said...

Exactly, Michelle.

I think the whole term in itself is misleading. Better to stick to the nice, safe term "drama series" and indicate that the arena plays a big part and characters can be replaced at will in the pitch doc - but not too much, because what happens if people fall in love with your character?? Might seem laughable but ratings plummeted when Bobby Ewing was killed off in Dallas and the demise of ER started with George Clooney leaving and was completely pasted by Noah Wyle giving up on it too.

English Dave said...

precinct drama means the marketing and budget are the primary consideration. Think sit-com with less laughs.

Anonymous said...

I googled to find what precinct drama was, and found you.It's a locale story where writers and cast can be slotted rotated or rested.I always thought it mean't an opne aired retail area without cars.