I’m a fan of the television series Longmire. Based on the Walt Longmire Mysteries crime drama series by Craig Johnson, the stories feature a cast of interesting characters, very human crimes, and the breathtaking landscape of Wyoming (played in the show by New Mexico).
The first 2 seasons did, anyway. The 3rd season jumped the shark in a big way.
The camera angles got all funky, and the lighting went weird, and the music became overbearing, and the characters were trying very hard to be themselves but the storylines were so odd, and in some cases outrageous, that only the dread big C (coincidence) could bail them out.
A&E abruptly dropped the show, and Netflix picked it up for Season 4.
From a writer’s perspective, I sniffed immediately the hand of a controlling executive producer who decided the show needed to be juiced up. Maybe he (and it was probably a “he”) had read some reviews on IMDB. Maybe he’d run into a Chicago Tribune critic at a cocktail party. Maybe he just decided that, with the ongoing success of slick, jump-cut, high-drama shows with loud, meaningful music, Longmire needed to be more like those rather than more like itself.
Because in its best self, this show is as much a character study as a crime drama. It cares about the crimes, yes, but the human story sitting behind the crime of passion, or the crime of mercy, or the crime of selfishness is the real focus of the show. It cares about the sometimes-ambiguous line that sometimes separates the good from the bad, the just from the unjust. It delights in surprising us by revealing another dimension to a character we think we’ve pegged. It has damn funny understated jokes and wonderful secondary characters. At least in Seasons 1 and 2.
As Dear Him and I were slogging our way through the un-Longmire-like Season 3, we talked a lot about how badly the show was going off the rails — and we wondered whether we’d bother to even look at Season 4. Yes, it was that bad.
But we’re now 4 episodes into Season 4, and it’s clear that the Controlling Hand of the Juiced-Up Executive Producer has gone. The show has recaptured its original groove with its easy pacing, lingering landscape shots, and the gradual revelation of detail that also functions to further the development of the main characters. The sense of the town residing in a larger, diverse community — not separate from that community like an island, but deeply embedded in it — is back.
I like to think this is because Netflix famously has a hands-off approach to creative. It’s not beholden to ratings or trying to beat another big network for viewership. So when Netflix thinks a series is promising, it orders an entire season of shows and then leaves the production alone, allowing the creative folks to do what they feel needs to be done to create a quality product.
If you’re seeing an analogy here with self-publishing, you’re seeing what I’m seeing. As writers working outside traditional publishing houses, we’re no longer beholden to someone else’s creative vision and bottom line. We’re able to tell our stories the way we see fit — a luxury ultimately afforded (as I understand) to the top selling authors in the trad world, but not so much to the midlist authors. Everyone else has to either compromise and coordinate their storytelling with the expectations of the major publishing house, or pull the book.
Don’t think for an instant that I’m saying the trad houses are unreasonable — I had only great experiences with my editor at Silhouette — but the purpose of the trad house is to increase profits. The Why?, as Simon Sinek would say, of the general publishing industry has become primarily financial. It has to. Most of the trad houses are huge. They have bills to pay, and employees to feed, and stockholders to appease.
And when the focus of the business is set that firmly on revenue, there’s a natural shift from “we want to bring great books to readers” to “we want to make more money to stay solvent in a rapidly changing world.”
We authors aren’t islands, and we need support groups of fellow authors, critique partners, beta readers, cover artists, publicists, and all the rest. But we continue to have a great opportunity to create and fulfill our own vision for our stories — with hard work, humility, and a dedication to the long-haul.
No Controlling Hand of the Juiced-Up Executive Producer required.
Sandra K. Moore has been writing one thing or another since she could scribble on a Big Chief tablet. A former Silhouette Bombshell author, Sandra has given up (temporarily) the kickass heroine and is now writing from her softer side for the self-published Promise House series. This novella quartet explores the journeys of four young women finding their way — and remaining true to themselves — through the social expectations and turmoil of 1950’s Houston.