Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Happy Accident That Made for Good TV

A few weeks ago as part of my Transformers nostalgia kick I rewatched the Beast Wars TV series from 1996-99.  It was for the most part a good show, much better than the Bay movies or even the original cartoon series.  The reason is something that the writers and producers acknowledged in a making of featurette:  because the CGI animation limited the number of characters, it forced the writers to focus more on those characters and in the process make them more well-rounded than in the previous show.

It's really common sense:  fewer people means more time dedicated to them.  It's the same for any TV show, book, or movie.  It's why I like to keep casts as small as possible.  I don't give characters children or wives or parents if they're not going to be of use in the story.  Childless, orphaned bachelors are usually the best.

The funny thing is this isn't something the writers intended.  It was just the nature of the beast (pun intended) that because they only had 14 characters at a time for budget reasons, they couldn't just have other characters show up.  You couldn't have a Skids or Red Alert or Grapple show up for an episode or two and disappear because it wouldn't be cost effective.  The character used the least was Tigerhawk, a fusion of Tigatron and Airrazor who only appeared in the last three episodes.  Otherwise everyone else lasted at least 13 episodes.  But most of the characters went through a change or two during the series so that involved a little remodeling.  But that's not really the same and in a way it sometimes helped the characters grow.

The same thing pretty much happened with Transformers Prime, again because the CGI limited the number of characters.  They probably did have more than Beast Wars, but not too many more.  So again the fewer the characters, the more story time they could occupy, which made them better characters.

Of course each Bay movie only has a few robots in it but the problem is the movies are too focused on explosions and T&A shots to worry about characterizing the robots.  They just give each one a name and maybe a funny accent.  Isn't that all you need?

Like I said it's something you can use in writing as well.  The fewer characters you have, the more pages you can allocate to them.  That makes them better characters.  The worst are books with so many characters that the author has to include a list of them at the front of the book.  It's like even the author knows there are so many characters that you can't be expected to remember them.

So there you go, that's how a happy accident made for a better show.

On a side note, Beast Wars was probably one of the first shows that really harnessed the power of the Internet.  As the writers admitted, they didn't know a lot about Transformers when they took the gig.  Transformers newsgroups and websites helped them to learn about the property in its various forms.  That was especially useful at the end of Season 2 and into Season 3 when the Maximals find the Ark that houses all of the original Transformers like Optimus Prime who don't wake up until 1984 when the volcano they crashed into erupts.  The writers put a few Easter eggs into episodes for some of the fans.  My nemesis HooksX had his site referenced in a line of dialogue.  I think there was also a "Sector Hooks" in one episode.  At one point there was also an "Override Code ATT," ATT being the initials of the Transformers newsgroup.  There are probably some others but it's been almost 20 years so I don't really remember who all used to hang out there.  Sadly I never got an Easter egg but I did interview writer Larry DiTillio for a website.

Now you know...and knowing is half the battle! (That's GI JOE but still...)


  1. There was that one episode with that Transmute they did make a CGI model for only one episode but I think that's the only one..even the proto-human models got used more than once.

    What you talked about was exactly the reason I can't get into the Game of Thrones books. Each chapter is narrated by a different character and there's so many characters overall, many of which didn't make it into the show so that route doesn't help, either. Heck, even on the TV show I can't remember all the names and relationships of the characters...just the important ones, like the girl with the dragons, Daenarys, and Jon Snow and Tyrion (he's the short guy), and a few others, but once you get past the people who have their names on the opening credits...IDK...some dude who's gonna die...some lady that's gonna die...yeah...WAY too many characters...

  2. I never got to watch Beast Wars but your overview makes it sound really interesting. Bay could definitely learn form this since he seemed intent on cramming as much fan service into each movie as he could. The whole marketing campaign was "look! We've added [insert transformer name here]!"

    I also like how you mentioned that they stumbled into Internet marketing.

    I'll look for it on Amazon, but hopefully it comes on Netflix or Hulu soon.

    1. Beast Wars is on Netflix last time I checked



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