Somewhat of a ramble I'm afraid – my brain is shredded at the moment.

Another TV medical series, another missed opportunity. I'm yet to see the first episode of NBC's 'Trauma', mostly because I'm not American, but I have read some of the responses to the first episode, from the short 'Funniest damned EMS show since Mother, Juggs and Speed. Wait, you mean it's not a comedy?' to the longer review on JEMS

'I also realize that it's 2009, and writers and producers like to inject sex into every episode, and have characters with cocky, rebellious 90210ish cast members who bring a host of personal problems to work, but this series bubbles over with a cast that should be stationed on Wisteria Lane, not the streets of San Francisco. The premiere of Trauma doesn't begin with a well-dressed crew checking their drugs and equipment before their first run. It starts with the sights and sounds of the boyfriend/girlfriend crew having sex in the patient compartment of their rig. Then, before you can get the words “I can't believe it” out of your lips, you hear the dispatcher (who obviously knows the way the crew starts their shift), tell “Naughty Nancy” Carnahan to button her blouse and respond to an emergency call.'

Even the NAEMT has penned a rather strong letter to the producers,

Why is it so hard to write a decent, realistic TV drama about emergency or pre-hospital care?

I think that there are two reasons, first that TV producers think that viewers are stupid, secondly that the writers carry paintbrushes.

I remember, as a child, watching Rolf Harris on a Saturday afternoon creating works of art using 4″ paintbrushes. Big sheet of paper, slopping the paint everywhere and then, as if by magic, a painting would appear.

Big tools, used well to create wonderfully subtle works of art.

Writers today also use those 4″ brushes, but they use them not for portraits, but to paint walls. Huge strokes slabbered on with no finesse. Before I visited NBC's character biographies I could guess the characters 'personalities'. You'd have the maverick, the womaniser, the hard as nails female, the unsure rookie, the heartless administrator, the drinker/gambler/philanderer. The list goes on. Oh, and we must not forget the racially diverse cast of good looking people.

Look at those character types, you can see them appearing in pretty much every show.

For another non-medical example of how characters need to be drawn in these wide strokes look at the new TV series 'Flash forward', based off a book by Robert J. Sawyer – in the book the protagonist is a physicist. In the TV series, an FBI agent. I'm guessing that it's easier to create an interesting FBI agent (with an alcoholic past natch) than it is a sympathetic physicist.

Writers seem to be using these shorthand clichés so that they don't confuse people, and because they are so easy to write for.

It's the same with the 'plots' that they find themselves in – after watching one TV programme too many I have come up with a variation on Chekhov's gun. 'Chekhov's pregnancy' – 'If there is a heavily pregnant woman in the first act, she will get trapped in a lift/locked building/under rubble and will then give birth'.

(Needless to say, on TV pregnant women race through the stages of labour in fifteen minutes, not the more normal twelve hours or so)


So that's the writers, but why do they write such rubbish? Well I sincerely think that it is down to the TV production companies wanting to keep things simple. A writer once told me about his great script that got cut to shreds because the producers wanted 'people in tower blocks to understand it'.

It's that talking down to people that really gets on my nerves – that we can't have TV that is well written, that shows that not all politicians are corrupt, that all doctors are worthy, that all journalists are sleazy and will stab anyone in the back to get a story, that the police have a heart of gold, that nurses are sex maniacs or that all married men desire extra-marital sex.

Does TV really have to be all broad strokes and dumbed down? Can we not use TV to show people the subtleties of life rather than a Daily Mail diet of 'X is Good, Y is Bad'.


And yes, 'Casualty' does still make me grind my teeth – 'blonde sexbomb'. 'joker', 'socially awkward nerd in glasses' who, in the their second episode tell us what their personalities are by talking to a psychiatrist. Next series I think they'll stop giving the characters names and instead they will instead walk around carrying placards with their character traits written on them.


What you need is an ambulance worker who likes little old ladies, not because he cares for his elderly grandmother, but just because he finds them sweet. Who dislikes drunks, but secretly enjoys picking them up because they are an easy job that he doesn't need to talk to them while they sleep on his stretcher. Who sees that the ambulance targets are crap but is powerless to do anything about it, and who isn't a 'joker' and 'maverick' a 'bad-ass with a heart' but is just a normal person doing an unusual job.

19 thoughts on “Paintbrushes”

  1. My personal favorite part comes at the end of the show where they all meet up to watch the sunset and have a few beers down by the bay. WITH ALL OF THE AMBULANCES. Then they have to be told by the cops to 'break it up' and go home. I'm thinking we should introduce ambulance happy hour, too.So many things wrong with this show ('He's immune to Adrenaline !') that you just can't possibly take it seriously as a medic. Unfortunately, I don't know if Joe Public understands the difference between Hollywood and reality sometimes…

    And all nurses aren't sex maniacs ? Dammit… *another bubble burst*

  2. Why is it so hard to write a decent, realistic TV dramaI think the problem is the tension between 'realistic' and 'drama'. Real life just isn't that dramatic, and it certainly doesn't come with season length arc plots. I'm pretty sure the likes of 24, Spooks, Dollhouse and Battlestar Galactica fall pretty short on the realism front, but they're still good TV.

    Also, and you surely must get this impression from some of your 'customers' that actually, network execs dismal take on their viewers' intelligence is actually accurate for an awful lot of people.

  3. I think you must have stumbled over TVTropes some time in your life already, but I'd like to link it anywhere to point out some things.Not every author is a genius who will reinvent the wheel. Some will take concepts which hav eproven somewhat balanced and appealing to the viewers like

    and run with it. Some may take a little effort into tweaking some tropes or even play with them (and the audience, which is also used to certain concepts and constellations), but since most viewers doesn't seem to “get” those plays, why care? Play them straight…

    Aside from that; I think you and all other Paramedics/Whatevermedics have the problem that you *know* it's wrong, and therefore simply can't enjoy the show. Other people might believe what they see or not, but most of the time, they simply don't care, because they don't care about realism to come across their enjoyment of good, raw, over-the-top drama.

    Like here…

  4. I'm friends with a couple, one of them's at a nursing program and the other is going into a paramedic program. I immediately thought of them after reading that description of Trauma.Maybe that scene isn't so unrealistic, or maybe I'm just friends with a bunch of hooligans. 😉

  5. What a great piece of writing – thanks Tom.I gave up on Casualty long ago, and on The Bill when it stopped having any semblance of reality whatsoever.

    Of course they're supposed to be entertainment, but it is important to remember that at earlier points in their history both of these programmes (I nearly wrote 'brands') were capable of being good workmanlike short dramas, which told credible stories well without being either highbrow or condescending.

    Now, like so many others they've become drama-by-numbers as you describe.

    God. I sounds like my old grandad.

  6. You took the words right out of my mouth! It drives me nuts.What also gets me is how x-ray departments on these T.V shows are always totally empty. I wish!

  7. It's obvious – you need to sell the TV rights to Random Acts, or pen a TV series yourself about a technician called Reynolds who loves his job but can't stand the sytem, has his own emotional ups and downs whilst dealing with the mad, bad, and downright ugly, with the occasional nan down.Of course, there wouldn't be any harm in this 'Reynolds' character looking like they'd just walked off the set of 90210. For the sake of accuracy, you understand…

  8. Man, I haven't watched Trauma yet – it's on my DVR waiting for me, but now I don't know whether I should!Having recently moved to the USA it is still amazing me that anything REMOTELY original gets on the TV at all – the networks rule and seem petrified of doing anything even slightly different.

    It still annoys me that Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip got cancelled – prob because noone at the network “got it”. Brilliant programme.

  9. You should see how much the techie types laugh/cringe when any sort of 'computer wizardry' crops up on TV. Recreate a number plate from 3 greyish pixels? no problem! Type rapidly, then a screen full of matrix type falling letters, then the answer to the whole plot appears like magic? Every day! Complex passwords solved in seconds, bank accounts that for some reason transfer large amounts of cash using a countdown system similar to an old fashioned petrol pump? Talk about plot hammers! Deus ex machina indeed (sorry – the chav in the tower block wouldn't understand that last bit – sex it up a bit, why don't I)

  10. I once had someone ask me if it really was like casualty. I laughed. Until I realised she was serious. Some folk really do in a bubble called television.

  11. As a techie I couldn't agree more, though typing code is not sexy and copying data is even less sexy! Perhaps best avoid talk on CSI Miami as well – But then they have moved so far from reality it is practically sci-fi…..if I could copy contacts from a phone in 3D with a gesture though…..

  12. I've only ever been in hospitals as a visitor or patient, and even I've given up on Casualty. How many ways can they emotionally test the same characters, for goodness' sake? As for births on TV, well, I just wish it was that bloody easy. Couple of grunts, bit of sweating, a little panting and it's over in minutes (which actually sounds more like the conception, now I read it back! Or was that just us?). Okay, I know that they can't show a full 12 hour labour on a one hour programme, but if they must show childbirth, at least have a bit of abuse directed at the hapless father-to-be (or was that just me, again?).

  13. Yes yes yes yes yes!!!!!They showed one on casualty once, after some big explosion type event that apparently occurs once a fortnight in Holby. SHe wheeled a mobile unit into resus, whatsisname nurse said “Right, let's all let her do her work” or something, and they all walked out! At least give her a spoken line, even if it's just “X-rays”.

    20 minutes later, facebook went down after all the “She didn't use a marker, and that looked more like an oblique than lateral C-spine, the FFD was too short…” messages overloaded the servers.

  14. I would like to point out another important downfall to this show. (Please check my facts. I have a reliable source, but not confirmed just yet.I have heard that over the city of San Fransico thiere is a pretty strict no-helocopter zone. It takes moving a mountain to be allowed this privilage. This INCLUDES medical choppers. Trauma patients en route to the trauma centers must land near the edge of town and have their patients squaded into town.

    After years of fighting this rule and finally getting the government to consider an exception, it is at risk of not passing. It seems the helicopters of a new “TV Trauma” show has been buzzing around the city at low altitudes all times of the day causing a severe headache for the citizens. Those citizens are now angry and want their city leaders to makes sure this isn't a permanent thing by allowing the “real” medical choppers fly over anytime they want.

    If my facts are right then this new show has done a LOT more damage than all of our reputations by playing with the lives of actual people.

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