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Advice for TV Episode Summary Copy Writers

When I come home from work I like to unwind with a defrosted TV dinner and, appropriately, some TV (but only because I can't use the touchpad whilst my fingers are all greasy and tomato-saucy. As my chocolate covered Pillsbury Doughboy baby T will confirm, I am a messy eater.) As my parents have been pleasant enough to shell out for digital cable--mostly due to Papa Redcloud's penchant pour l'hockey--we have this neat little guide that tells you brief descriptions of each TV show. (Similar guides can be found on TiVo guides and TV guides.) Each description is about one line long and provides valuable information particular to the episode being shown, so you don't have to waste your time if you cursor over Boy Meets World and it says "Shawn joins a cult."

      Sometimes, though, these descriptions disappoint. Here are some tips I've compiled for the people who write these things.

1. Be specific.

The other day (actually, today; actually, five minutes ago) I was cursoring over the next Cosby Show and it actually said: "Theo gets into trouble."

      Thanks. Thanks. Thanks. What's that, like, 60% of Cosby Shows? The other forty percent being "Cliff and Claire dance" or "The grandpa recites the monologue from Hamlet." You know, if they're not going to be helpful, they may as well not give any information at all.

      This is not the first time this has happened. Here are some other instances in which the guide has failed me.

Boy Meets World: "Cory and Topanga bicker."

Three's Company: "A misunderstanding."

Mad About You: "Paul and Jamie bicker, and then that one waitress is flaky."

Friends: "Six friends sit on a couch and drink out of giant cups that, I'm sorry, may as well have nipples on them, and one of them is flaky."

Frasier: "Frasier does something snooty."

Will and Grace: "Will and Grace suck."

Cheers: "Frasier does something snooty."

Saturday Night Live: "Host: trips over his lines; music guest: boring."

The Weakest Link: "Nobody gets any answers right."

Jeopardy: "Everyone gests every answer right, including the final answer that you have to write down, but they make conservative wagers because they don't trust themselves."

The $10,000 Pyramid: "Female contestant sings a clue."

Robot Wars: "That guy from Red Dwarf forces a rhyme with the words 'Robot Wars'."

Gilmore Girls: "Rory and Lorelai speak in short, quick, clipped sentences, and make lots of references to bland cultural icons. The grandmother complains. The grandfather reads the paper. The town is quirky. Jess is emotionally abusive. Dean is very tall."

Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman: "Bruce Campbell isn't in it... AGAIN."

You know, if they're going to the trouble to write descriptions for the shows, they ought to at least do it in such a way that allows us to get out of watching episodes we've seen or dislike without having to even sit through a second of it. Isn't that what it's for?

2. Be concise.

You may say that the descriptions are vague because they are brief, and they have to be short to fit into the little box. I agree with the premise but not the conclusion. They waste words! They could be shorter and have more information.

      Although I actually prefer a longer description, I think it would be fun if they were all ridiculously short. I think that's a great challenge, to provide, in as few words as possible, enough information so that you can identify which episode it is. Sometimes it's amazing--three words, a complete sentence, and you're left in no doubt as to the episode. Often, though, they're just lazy, writing upwards of six words.

      How many words do you need? Let's look, as an example, at the episode of Saved by the Bell where Zack makes a bet with Slater that he can make Screech the winner of the (formerly all-girls) "Miss High School California" beauty pageant. Eventually, all of Lisa, Kelly, Jessie and Slater also enter the contest.

      Now, this particular episode could be summarized in one word. "Contest" would be too vague--I'm sure plenty of episodes are about contests--but I think "pageant" would be sufficient. Adding another word, "beauty pageant," would be nice, but not especially more useful. There aren't many pageants besides the beauty kind. To add a bit more information, I might include the main character involved in the proceedings--"Screech." The word-jumble phrase "Screech beauty pageant", or the simple sentence "Screech enters pageant", would adequately describe the episode. Either way, three words. I don't think you need to go above three words to describe any episode of anything. Sure, you don't get a lot of detail or nuance, but that's what watching the show is for! Right? Right?

3. Just put me in charge.

I wonder what classes you take to become a TV episode summary copy writing specialist. Engineer.


- Laura