-Z- (Z@Gundam.Com)
Sun, 30 Jan 2000 13:31:43 -0800

At 07:38 1/30/2000 +0800, you wrote:
>To Z - your format and formula example is something I'd use from hereon in.
>Really enlightening...

Allow me to give credit where credit is due. I was introduced to the
difference between format and formula over 25 years ago in a book called
THE WORLD OF STAR TREK by David Gerrold (1973, Ballantine Books, SBN
345-23403-0-150). To be precise, it was in Part IV: Star Trek Analyzed --
The Unfulfilled Potential. Gerrold explains the difference between format
and formula on page 233 and goes on to explain how format gives way to
formula in what amounts to a condemnation of the entire screenwriting
community. From page 235:

"Formula occurs when format starts to repeat itself. Formula occurs when
format does not challenge writers -- or when writers are giving less than
their best. Formula occurs when a show becomes creatively
bankrupt. Flashy devices can conceal the lack for awhile, but ultimately
the lack of any real meat in the story will leave the viewers hungry and

"Formula occurs primarily when a show has been trapped in a format that
does not allow full exploration of the given situation. Thus, the
producers and writers are condemned to repeat only that which the format
does allow. And action-adventure is nowhere near as broad as drama.

There are two ways by which Format turns into Formula.

One is Hardening of the Arteries, the other is Erosion.

Considering the first process of decay as it applies to a television
series, every time something is postulated or established in a continuing
series, from that episode on, every writer who works with the format must
be aware of the condition. ... Thus, hardening of the arteries is the
process by which a television show gradually limits itself by setting up
conditions that will affect all episodes that will come after."

 From page 244:

"Erosion in a TV series is the wearing down of the original concept, the
destruction of it piece by piece as various elements chip and crack it
away: carelessness in production, lack of pride in what one is doing,
network restrictions, writer apathy, front-office feuds, and so on."

Gerrold goes on to state that the presence of minorities in positions of
authority and responsibility were both (for the time) revolutionary and a
key element of the original format, but that the use of minority actors
declined as the series went on until, by the end of the second season, Sulu
and Uhura were the only recurring minority faces and casting was back to
the usual whitebread that had been and continued to be the rule for 60s TV.

While my example of format versus formula was original, I think now that I
chose STAR TREK as the example not because it was so well known, but
because it was the subject of my first exposure to the concepts of format
and formula.


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