East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Nine TV shows that made me


My friend Jessica, over at her blog, is doing a series of posts about media that made her the writer she is. Books, movies, TV shows… I dunno, probably also videogames, LPs or whatever. After all we are the product of our experiences, and when it comes to stories, the stories we enjoyed reflect on the stories we write.
All of which simply means, I’m pilfering her idea, and I’ll do a few posts featuring stuff that had an influence on my writing.

Now Jessica’s done a post about her top five TV shows, and that got me thinking.
I grew up with more shows on the TV than films in the movie theater, and really my early years were spent between the telly and books with a few odd comics thrown in. As a consequence, I think like most from my generation I picked up some bits and pieces from the TV when I was putting together my writing language: ideas, characters, the way to handle dialog…

So I jotted down a list, that includes a lot more than five shows, and then distilled it to a handful of special shows, and I was surprised when I found out that, while unsurprisingly most shows date from between the ’60 and the ’80s, fantasy shows (including SF and horror) do not take the top positions. Curious, what?
In the end I reduced my list to nine titles. The rule of thumb for the selection: I must be able to trace at least some elements of my writing to the series, I must have watched it before I started seriously to write my stories, I can quote snippets of dialog from it at the slightest provocation.
Also, the list does not include animation and anime series.
Let’s see…

The Avengers has to be the single series that had the strongest impact on me. I watched it as a kid of seven or eight, and then again every time it was repeated, and I own it on DVD. If I am to this day an hopeless anglophile, I owe it to John Steed and Emma Peel, and if I like so much writing about couples and partners in crime (like, say, Aculeo & Amunet, but also Buscafusco and Matilde Chiambotti the Younger in BUSCAFUSCO, or Garr & Ryla in Sons of the Crow), is certainly because of John Steed and Emma Peel (and to Nick and Nora Charles, but that’s another story).
Mixing espionage, science fiction, comedy and surrealism, The Avengers was smart, funny and tongue in cheek. They made a movie, years later, but we do not talk about that.

The Wild Wild West was steampunk and weird western before those were actual things, and I watched it when I was in middle grade. Just like the Avengers it was nominally espionage (and heavily indebted to James Bond) but featured a wide selection of mad scientists, strange conspiracies, absurd mysteries and exoticism, plus a Western setting. And just like The Avengers, there is also a movie, about which we do not talk about.

One more espionage title has to be I Spy, the show featuring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as international men of mystery. I am absolutely sure the first time I was aware of the existence of places like Hong Kong and Tokyo was watching this series. It was an interest that would stay with me to this day – together with my love for espionage and spycraft. The mix of adventure, moral ambiguity, tough-guy attitude and comedy really captivated me, as did the exotic locations. Much later I found out a lot of the dialogues were adlibbed by the stars. I’d pay good money to be able to do that sort of dialog. And let’s not even mention the movie, please…

I have already done a post about Arsène Lupin, the French serial featuring Georges Descrieres, about the exploits of the gentleman thief invented by Maurice Leblanc. The quintessential caper show, again this was light and tongue in cheek. The roots of my interest for the jazz age probably can be traced back to this series, together with my sympathy for thieves, swindlers and assorted adventurers. Even my sympathy for the French. I have it all on DVD, and re-watched today it is impressive for its production values and its star, extraordinarily elegant, but tragically slow.

The Persuaders was quite silly – two international playboys hired by a retired judge to act as sui-generis avengers… c’mon! – but when you are eleven or twelve silly is of no consequence. Featuring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis as the aforementioned playboys, it was shot in thrilling locations and it did work for young kids like us – this was the most talked-about show when I was in middle grade. When I put together the initial pitch for The Corsair, The Persuaders were there as an inspiration.

I used to run from school back home to watch the The Rockford Files, that was broadcast at lunchtime and remains still today my favorite private eye series (Magnum PI and Mike Hammer taking an ex-aequo second position). I liked the laid-back attitude of the main character, the fun recurring characters, and the Chandleresque vibe of the series. James Gardner’s snarky comebacks became an obsession, as was the opening sequence featuring some weird message on the answerphone. Useles to say, without Jim Rockford there would be no Buscafusco.

Lovejoy was to me a late revelation. I had initially given the series a wide berth because it was presented in my country as a sort of rom-com thing, and only much later I found out it was about one of my favorite things: swindles and theft. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good homicide just like the next guy, but I find crimes against property much more interesting and fun. Any lumbering brute can kill a man or five. But swindling someone blind? Ah, that requires finesse. The character portrayed by Ian McShane is an influence on both Buscafusco and the Corsair. Also, the Lovejoy/Lady Felsham dynamic is a classic example of the cople/partners in crime mechanic I learned to love watching the Avengers.

Is there anything better than being young and in love with a beautiful girl? Yes – you can be young, in love with a beautiful girl, and you be both fans of Moonlighting. And yeah, I know, everybody but everybody was watching Miami Vice at the time, but I don’t care – I was all for Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd. If I really went back and enjoyed all those 1930s screwball comedies it is because I watched this series. The dialogues, with the starts talking over each other, the word-play, the banter and the plain silliness… ah!
And yes, yet another couple of characters bickering endlessly while they live a life of strange adventures. A pity the series went off-rails in the final season…

China Beach was to me a surreal experience, as I watched it while I was serving in the Air Farce. I was sitting in a military base, wearing fatigues, and watched the stories of people in fatigues, in a military base. I had a devastating crush on Dana Delany (so sue me) and I was completely amazed and captured by the ensemble cast and the multi-threaded storyline. I liked the way in which the series allowed the characters the space to grow and change. Also, it featured a gallery of fantastic female characters. One day I’d like to write a story like that, with characters like that.

And here I stop.
In the end we have

  • shady deals and not-exactly-legal capers
  • moral ambiguity
  • humor
  • bickering couples
  • strong women
  • exotic locations
  • surreal elements

Yeah, that’s me, more or less, on a good day.

There was a lot of other stuff, after that, from Farscape to the Miss Fisher Mysteries (two titles that feature, ah, you know…) but those came as my approach to writing and my themes were already defined and set. The ones listed above were there and made an impact before I started thinking in narrative patterns and structures, and their influence came out of the sheer pleasure I had enjoying those stories and those characters.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “Nine TV shows that made me

  1. Hahaha, your influencing shows looks like a list of my husband’s favourite guilty pleasures! Must be an age thing (he’s 51). I’ve only recently been introduced to some of the private eye series’ and he’s promised me Rockford is the best… he’ll have to work hard though to beat Tom Selleck’s dimple!


    • Ah, yes, it’s probably an age thing 🙂
      And Rockford’s influence on Magnum PI is obvious and evident. Rockford’s more old fashioned, probably (even if at the time it was considered very innovative).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My Nine:

    RIPTIDE/THE A-TEAM ( I cheated a bit on this one because they were both Stephen J. Cannell shows that came on the same night here in NY and I watched ’em both faithfully so I’m counting them as one. Sue me)


    • I won’t sue you.
      Strangely enough, Have Gun Will Travel was never broadcast in my country.
      I am saving Japanese cartoons for another list, so no Speed Racer for me right now, but in a next post… who knows?
      AND, I think our generation has a HUGE debt with Stephen J. Cannell (the man wrote half of what was on TV for three decades).


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