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*He is not a secret agent. Not at all.



There seems to have been a lot of discussion about concerning music montages on television shows of late. That's it's overdone. It's sloppy or lazy writing. The music is bad. Like that. Like most things, I don't see it in black and white. I see it in red and green.

I dig a really well-done montage-thingy. They are not terribly frequent, though. I agree, it's overdone. Some shows, it's part of the formula and they do it every damn week. Some, like The O.C. do it because they're a source for breaking new music. It's that heavy teen demo. Fine. Let 'em. There's actually something to that demo thing. Others, like House, seem to be doing it just to do it. It worked really well for them once or twice so they're trying to hit that good one every time. It's as hit or miss as House and his team's first two or three diagnoses every week.
Then there's something like Veronica Mars, which uses a lot of music in the b.g., but occasionally does a montage. One featuring a song by Air in the episode "Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner" had an effect on a friend of mine (though that's not so much a montage as it's just conventional soundtracking).

For the most part, I don't think it is sloppy or lazy writing. Being a writer means, yes, putting words in someone's mouth. It doesn't mean you have to put those words in and sometimes the scene calls for everyone to just shut up. Maybe silence would be better, maybe some music would work. Not really my call.

Though, I'm sure that, from time to time, it really is a case of lazy writing, just not as often as the casual observer might think. I'm sure that more often than not, this doesn't even fall into the purview of the writer. Some are producers and different shows have different levels of involvement, but a script that calls for a song is a thing I have seen very rarely.

Is it overdone. Has it become a cliche? Yeah. It has. Something being a cliche is not a reason not to do it though. Doing it when it really works well is not cliche. Doing it at any other time for any other reason is. Some cliches though become so prevelant, you scarcely notice them anymore. When a music montage in a show isn't really effective or powerful, I barely notice that it's even happening. The audio is so inconsequential that I guess I just disregard it entirely until someone speaks.

Then there's the issue of the over-licensed song. That song that just keeps showing up. Longtime readers of Red Right Hand will perhaps recall that we've cited the Jeff Buckley version of "Hallelujah" (by Leonard Cohen) as the winner of that award. Ironically (or not so much, as it's gets over0used for a reason) this song is at the center of one of the best montages of this particular decade. In fact Sorkin (you knew I was going there, didn't you) called for it specifically in the script for "Posse Comitatus" and even wrote in the lyrics at certain junctures.

In the interest of sustaining a fraction of objectivity, the "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" (by I don't know who) montage at the end of "The Focus Group" did absolutely nothing for me.

I really enjoyed the use of "Hide & Seek" by Imogen Heap in the Smith pilot. I was unaware of it's alleged overuse (though as far as I can tell, it's nowhere near Jeff Buckley level yet). That's a thing about the songs in these montages. It maybe overused, but if you haven't seen the crap it was attached to, then it's new to you.

Then there's the "music is bad music" argument. The only correct response to that is...whatever.

TV is audio and visual. You have to have it all, and music is a strong audio element. If it can acheive something, use it. Hesitiate though. Think twice about whether this licensed song is the right one. Would score work better here (though it be less commerical)? Would silence? So often, the scenes are written, then music is chosen from the stuff they can afford. Perhaps the music should be more often called for in the script (though there are issues with whether or not something can be cleared and affect the writing of the scene in that way) rather than in production. Those seem to work better. Not that nothing will come from the catalog approach. After all, House always gets the diagnosis eventually.

Personally, I prefer the Bono version of "Hallelujah"
©2024 Michael Patrick Sullivan
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