Seeing TV tropes as a kind of programming language

A new season of television is nearly upon us. Some of the new shows will survive, many will not. Most of the shows will draw upon established television tropes. (How many procedural shows do we need??)

In the midst of these tropes, Scott Brown of Wired suggests we shouldn’t expect novelty but instead should look for something else:

But here’s an original thought. Let’s embrace the standard semantics of tropery—let’s stop seeing a welter of clichés and instead call it what it is: a programming language. The site [tvtropes.org] was launched by a computer programmer, and the coder’s ethos comes through: Seeing all of TV (and film and literature and theater and manga) history written in Trope, you begin to understand how these story widgets—standard, reusable parts like phonemes or Legos or the basic codons of DNA—can be arranged and rearranged to create something unique.

This is an interesting perspective – instead of focusing on what is being repeated, viewers should examine how writers and producers use their creativity to rearrange the existing pieces of the existing television corpus.

This article reminds me of some other recent news, particularly that about college students and plagiarism. What some research has found is that some students have difficulty accepting the argument for intellectual property; they see content as sharable and open. What matters more then is taking existing content and putting it together in new ways.

Brown suggests “originality is dead.” I hope not. But perhaps taking his advice will make watching similar-but-slightly-different television shows more palatable.