From Process to Prose: Homicide “The Subway” Documentary Blog Post

The documentary for the episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, The Subway, provides some decent insight into not only how this specific episode’s final cut came to be, but also some insight into the processes a show like this must go through in order to reach an audience.

A poor ratings streak and the competition from Nash Bridges, from what I recall were also in competition in terms of timeslots, coupled with hoops the team often had to jump through to get an idea greenlighted imply a kind of standard that networks like to adhere to so as the draw a sizable, yet also constrain some creativity with a very “become popular or get cancelled” kind of environment, despite noble ambitions from Yoshimura to keep true to a vision.

Because of this, writing can often be very stressing and lengthy, even if the feedback is valuable. It’s evident scripts don’t get approved on the first draft, evident by the amount of feedback annotations from the director, and a firm relationship with talent can make or break a performance, such as with Pembleton’s actor trusting Yoshimura to not write a trite screenplay.

Under the writing team, there was a desire to pose a de-mythification of consumers’ perceptions of detectives from television; a turn away from the emotional responses and intellectual positing of detective tropes, going instead for black humor to provide a closer picture to real detective work and the complexities that make up human life. The de-mythification approach also seems to reveal a criticism of emotional attachment to victims of murder cases, with Pembleton’s getting too attached to the victim under the train, leading to an emotional scarring evident by repeating the victim’s dying words before driving off.

The concern with getting the subway stunt just right illustrates vividly how production is a co-operative effort. From inside the studio with the art director’s feedback on set design for shooting in the subway and Yoshimura’s talk with the executive to get the extras he needs for the stunts, to influences from outside the studio with getting the transit department’s permission to alter the station and be allowed to shoot in the subway itself.

The scope of the locations is limited, with most action relegated to the subway and tertiary plot of searching for the victim’s girlfriend in the surrounding area. Add to this a limit of seven production days and a twelve hour shoot to get the stunt just right, and we have a perfect illustration of how much of a time crunch television production can be, and that you must make decisions on locations that will minimize time wasted.

Pre-production decisions also potentially influence the script, both in the process and outside of it. For instance, the confusion over the quantity and accuracy of witness accounts in the subway wouldn’t make much sense unless you can get the extras to illustrate the point. The concept for the plot itself was inspired by an episode of Taxicab Confessions Yoshimura watched, illustrating that inspiration can even strike from out of left field.

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