The Daily Beast: "Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens! Lost, NCIS, Big Love, Veep Writers on His Legacy"
Over at The Daily Beast, we're celebrating Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday. You can read my latest feature, entitled "Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens! Lost, NCIS, Big Love, Veep Writers on His Legacy," in which I talk to TV auteurs including Lost's Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, The Thick of It and Veep creator Armando Iannucci, NCIS's Gary Glasberg, and others as they reflect on how Dickens’s work has influenced storytelling on television.
Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens (1812–1870), but the popularity of the writer of such novels as Great Expectations, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield—to name but a few of his immortal works—hasn’t diminished in the time since his death.
In the pantheon of great English-language novelists, Dickens reigns supreme for a number of reasons. He was a master storyteller who created unforgettable characters—a menagerie that included the grotesque, the disenfranchised, the saintly, and the avaricious robber barons of his day—who leapt off the page and continue to live on in the imaginations of those who read his words. And his whiplash-inducing plots, with their constant twists, fused populist entertainment and deft societal commentary.
Despite his fame and fortune, Dickens was a champion for social reform, turning his attention to education, the Victorian workhouse, social inequity, and financial speculation, and offering blistering commentary on the failures of legal and governmental institutions to protect those they were designed to defend, themes that continue to resonate sharply today. Looking for his take on Bernie Madoff? Read Little Dorrit. Feel that the educational system is collapsing? Take a look at Nicholas Nickleby. The war on crime? Oliver Twist. Serpentine legal battles? Bleak House.
Additionally, and unbeknownst to him, Dickens also paved the way for the serialized narrative that television viewers have come to enjoy. The majority of his novels were first serialized in monthly or weekly publications, written just a few weeks ahead of time and typically ending with a shocking revelation or cliffhanger that kept readers eagerly awaiting more. This structure is the one clearly embraced by the creators and writers of serialized dramas, parceling out plot and character development in an episodic fashion while having the ability to react to those engaging with the material.
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