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Spring Fling: TV shows that are inspiring writing ideas

Updated: 13 hours ago

In March, I am sharing the things I am absorbing right now that are fueling my writing fire.

A television in the background playing Law and Order and in the foreground an open book.

I love TV.

This isn’t weird. I think most people love TV. However, what seems odd to people is that I choose TV over books, movies, and music. Sometimes I will sit down in my chair and turn on the TV, only to not know if I even want it on at all. It’s just a reflex.

Ever since I was very young, when given the option to do just about anything, I would choose TV. A friend of mine used to joke that she was the same because she wanted to, “see all her friends” inside the box.

But I also lived in one of those homes where the TV was always on – and not always because of me. The TV was on and at a loud volume all day long and often through the night. The reason is uncertain. It could be because my father would wake in the night to smoke. It could be teens coming in and watching a little TV before bed and not turning it off. As a result, I’m just used to noise in the background that I am not always focusing on.

Also, I grew up in a large family where people were always around. I was never really alone, so I was also used to being around people talking where I could tune in and tune out as I felt necessary.

Now, when I work, I like to have something on the TV in the background. It’s helpful for me to have people talking in the background while I work as long as it isn’t a distraction. But other times, I am drawn to shows that make me want to write something really cool. When I am in a rut, I need something in the background that could inspire writing ideas.

Because of the TV format, I get these bite-sized episodes that I can dip in and out of as needed. And while so many of my favorites insist on being binged, I also love procedurals that have a case of the week.

Here are the shows that are always inspiring writing ideas:

Law and Order Criminal Intent – If your jam is “ripped from the headlines” episodes of the Law and Order-- always my favorite of the OG franchise -- know that Criminal Intent carries a higher percentage of “ripped from the headlines” episodes. The Dahmer-inspired episode featuring Neil Patrick Harris is particularly excellent. I used to be able to watch this everyday on WE, but now I can stream it on Peacock.

Life – no, not the nature documentary. In the early 00s, Damian Lewis's character Charlie Crews was a falsely accused police officer who, when exonerated, receives a settlement in the millions and is allowed to return to his precinct as a detective. All the cases of the week have the grandiose schemes of major crimes, and create grandiose set pieces of the crime scenes. There is an overarching mystery – who set Crews up for a crime he did not commit – but that’s not nearly as interesting as the cases of the week. The show did their versions of the Stanford Prison Experiment, their version of the documentary TalHotBlonde, and a bigamist who discovers a bomber because of inconsistencies in tax filings.

Couples Therapy – this Showtime show is like the podcast, How Shall We Begin, but instead of a single session, you get to see multiple sessions with the couples, some glimpses of their lives at home, and how the therapist Dr. Orna Guralnik processes these couples’ emotions after the session is over. Seeing her in her support group for other therapists was almost as fascinating as the couples.

Web of Lies – This series is on Investigation Discovery (ID) Channel – now available on Max– the big name shows are Disappeared and Evil Lives Here. Web of Lies has all the best and the worst of true crime programming – bad reenactments, actors that look nothing like their real life counterparts, bad graphics – but the stories are engaging and gripping which is what always kept me coming back. As the show goes on through the seasons, the graphics, acting, and direction gets much, much better. By the time the final season finishes, the emphasis is more on the stories of the victims and families. Sadly, it looks like this series has stopped making new episodes.

How to Get Away with Murder – when this show premiered, I had a hard time with the breakneck speed of the flashbacks, but once I was able to stream it instead of waiting for week to week, I fell in love with the structure to the point where I could get the rhythm of it and want to copy it. Also, Viola Davis is so amazing as Annalise. Especially now as an educator, I can feel her frustration with these children who just need to shut up and do something the way she asked them to instead of always going rouge and thinking they know better.

Every month, I send out a newsletter full of the things that are inspiring my writing. Go to the Newsletter tab to sign up!

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