I am currently in the midst of my thesis semester of graduate school. While a thesis alone is an ambitious and often times overwhelming endeavor, I am also enrolled in Episodic Television Drama Writing. It is a course in which the final product is a spec script (or sample episode of an existing television drama series. Since one of my main aspirations is to someday write at least one television drama series, I started thinking about all of the ways television has impacted my life from childhood, to adolescence and into young adulthood.
I grew up in Orange County, California (no, I do not know any of the Real Housewives), where I thrived off of 90’s television and scribbling the latest adventures of my elementary and middle school years in a Spottie Dottie notebook from the Sanrio store. Born with spastic cerebral palsy, I saw life and perceived experiences from the rolling wheels of my wheelchair and walker. I became a voracious reader and avid writer from the age of nine. Like many children who grew up in the 90’s, I eagerly consumed Babysitter’s Club and Nancy Drew books and did not miss a single episode of Nickelodeon’s The Secret World of Alex Mack. In fact, it was The Secret World of Alex Mack that was the spark of inspiration leading to my desires to become a television writer. A wish from The Starlight Foundation, an organization that grants “wishes” to children with disabilities, granted me the opportunity to visit the set of the show and meet the cast. I even filmed a scene in the final episode of the series and it is definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my childhood.
In middle school, I spent hours in the library reading books about dogs and wolves. At the time, I thought I wanted to be an animal trainer, specifically working with dogs on television and film sets in the entertainment industry. This desire was in part inspired by my black German Shepherd Alex (named after Alex Mack, the lead female character of my favorite childhood TV series) and though I did not pursue that aspect, my interest in the entertainment industry still remained. During 8th grade, I discovered a TV series on the Disney Channel called So Weird, a show about a teenage girl who investigates paranormal phenomenon while on a tour bus with her family because her mother is a professional singer. It was then that my writing style began to change and my short stories became darker, involving more mystery and supernatural aspects.
When I entered high school, I discovered fan fiction (stories of movies, TV shows, comic books, etc. written by fans), which has impacted not only what I write but the way I write as well. I become a fan of such series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tru Calling and Charmed, quickly immersing myself in the online communities for these series. I discovered there were other fans out there like me who were writing and creating fan fiction, fan art and talking about the shows on discussion boards. Online communities for TV series, films, novels and comic books known as “fandoms” has greatly influenced my perception of the world around me and challenged me to write outside of my comfort zone.
Fandom can be a wonderful place for like-minded individuals to congregate. Social media has also helped fandom grow, surpassing the printed fan magazines and e-zines of years prior. Now, fans are able to have a more active voice than ever before because they are able to directly respond to what they watch on TV or on the Internet. I am happy to say that I am one of those fans.
As a television viewer, particularly during high school and college, I noticed my preference for supernatural strong girl television shows or certain shows with strong female leads or co-leads. Medium, the supernatural NBC/CBS series starring Patricia Arquette, became a favorite of mine and was the first show I wrote a spec script for in 2009. Yet, due in part to my personal experiences and my minor in Disability Studies, I began to notice the paltry amount of accurate portrayals of disability on television.
Often times, if a character is canonically disabled, actors who portray such roles do not have disabilities themselves. Kevin McHale’s character Artie on Glee is one such example as well as Jason Ritter’s character Kevin on Joan of Arcadia. While I mean no disrespect to the actors who’ve portrayed these characters, it would be wonderful to see characters with disabilities, both visible and invisible, have a larger role in the mainstream media. Shows like Breaking Bad and Switched At Birth have made noticeable strides in this area, but there’s still a long way to go.
Whatever I’m writing – scripts, parts of a novel or even fan fiction – I try to write about disability portrayal in the best possible way that I can. A few of my graduate school screenplays have characters with disabilities and my television spec scripts for both Medium and Elementary have “guest” characters with disabilities as well.
Television has impacted me and has made me who I am, so I’m going to respond to what I am watching in the only way that I know how: writing.