As long as there will be a need to fill a time slot in the cheapest way possible, there will be clip shows. And that’s, you know, fine. I’d rather see a clip show than an infomercial, certainly, and there are some clip shows of which I’m inordinately fond. Heck, Disney had its own cottage industry of them for a while, with clip shows for every occasion and sometimes just because. It was watching one of those for an upcoming Disney Byways, however, that got me thinking about exactly what makes a good one.
A plot is a good place to start. Something more than “here are some clips.” In sitcoms, amnesia is a popular choice—clips to remind the victim who they are and what’s going on. Due South did that, I think to glorious effect. In part because the amnesia victim becomes aware that his normal behaviour is simply ludicrous. Another choice is to give the cast some reason to reminisce—the birth of a child, someone’s illness, being in some way trapped. The first time The Simpsons did one, Homer was in a coma. Then there was the Star Trek: The Next Generation plot where Riker had a Weird Alien Disease that could only be fought by triggering memories; that was a choice.
The Riker one is notable at least in that the clips strung together in a vaguely coherent fashion—the point was that they had to create certain emotions in him to fight the disease. So there was a narrative structure there. (I am not trying to defend the episode in general, but it does go to a wider point.) There are also clip shows that are just trying to give an overview of previous events, so all the clips follow in chronological order and show important plot points, and that’s a good way to go if you have a reason to do that.
But if you’re picking a theme, stick with the theme. No matter how much you like a certain clip, no matter how exactly it fits the time you need to fit, that doesn’t mean it necessarily belongs there. If all of the clips are intended to be about Character A, your favourite moment with Character B probably doesn’t belong there unless it’s also a good moment for Character A or in some way shows their relationship or something. I can think of a funny way or two to introduce it, but mostly, save it for another clip show.
Similarly, if you’re doing your theme on a season or holiday, stick to things that truly illustrate that season or holiday. Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for your Christmas episode; just because it’s fall doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for your Halloween episode. (And I’ve just realized that “The Old Mill” is demonstrably set in spring and really doesn’t belong in a Halloween clip show!) Again, there are funny ways to do otherwise, but put some thought into it.
I guess that’s the whole issue summarized—put some thought into it. When you’re arranging your clips, for whatever reason, think about narrative flow. Think of your clip show as a single entity and make sure it makes at least as much internal sense as any other story you’re trying to tell. It’s just another storytelling device, really, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with the format. Even if all you’re doing is cramming in one more quick episode before a writers’ strike.
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