SERVICING CHARACTERS: JUBILEE, CHEKOV, AND ROLE PLAYERS

When running TV series, a tough job and major responsibility of the showrunner is “servicing the characters.” If you are plotting out 26 stories, where do you use each of the recurring characters — in our case eight of them — and what sorts of moments, scenes, and full stories do they get?  Everybody cares about this.  Fans care because they have favorites.  Actors care because the more scenes and bigger/better stories they get, the more they get a chance to shine and the better odds they have to become fan favorites (to say nothing about the extra/bigger pay checks).  In animation, artists care because they have favorites that they love to draw.  Writers care because they have favorites that they love to write for (Beast, anyone?).  TV executives care because series succeed or fail based on having a big enough audience falling in love with a show’s characters, having them want to “bring them into their living room” week after week.  Showrunners have their own worries — how to tell consistent, strong stories that aren’t repetitive.  Every story can’t be about Logan and Scott fighting over Jean.  But we are not immune from everyone else’s interests.  I planned on killing off Morph, but viewers loved him, so back he came.  In the original Star Trek series there was a famous tension between William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.  “Kirk” was hired on to be “the lead,” yet producers found that viewers were going crazy for “Spock.”  Lines were counted and scenes adjusted.  Luckily, we didn’t have those issues.  It took so long from script-writing to air time that we wrote full seasons of stories long before anyone reacted.  We were able to feature whoever we loved most and, with luck, everyone else would too.  Anyway, this is a roundabout way of admitting that I feel guilty about not focusing on a few of the characters as much as others.  I immediately “got” Wolverine and Scott and Rogue and Professor X.  Despite the fact that Jubilee, as the kid, the wide-eyed newcomer, was crucial to the balance of our team, in looking back I believe that we didn’t come up with the depth of stories for her that we did for many others.  I might have said the same about Jean Grey, but then the nine “Phoenix” episodes gave her something bigger to chew on.  This all came to mind yesterday when wife Julia and I had the fan-geek pleasure of meeting Walter Koenig, Ensign Chekov from the original Star Trek cast (see photo).  He will be forever thought of as a “role player” in that series.  Almost never was he a principal in a storyline. In fact, just like Jubilee, he was added to the cast to appeal to the “younger fan base.” Unsurprisingly, Walter’s favorite Star Trek episode (and one of mine) was the “Western” episode, where his survival was front and center and he got shot.  Do the roles create the stars, or do the stars create the roles?  In the cases of Jubilee (see Will’s drawing below) and Pavel Chekov, all I can say is that both played a vital part.

jubilee_01chekov

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