Monday, January 10, 2011

What I Learned About Writing from Remington Steele

Lately I've been watching episodes of the private-eye television series from the 1980s called Remington Steele, which starred Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist. I have all five seasons on DVD. Remington Steele became a hit show because of intriguing mysteries, witty dialogue, and the romantic chemistry between the two lead characters.

The premise is this: a beautiful, intelligent, excitement-loving woman named Laura Holt, who we might nowadays call an "adrenalin junkie," determines to become a private investigator. She studies, serves an apprenticeship, and gets her license. Eventually she opens her own agency--but no one beats down the doors to hire her.

Bruised but not conquered, Laura invents a masculine boss who she says acts in an advisory capacity, which explains why he never interacts with clients. She names him after her Remington typewriter and the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. Then she hires a sassy secretary and a male investigator she knew from the firm she left, and soon the new agency known as Remington Steele Investigations takes off in a big way.

One day, a handsome, mysterious, blue-eyed man with a British accent (let's call him Harry) walks in the door and tries to run a con on Laura and her associates as they work on a case involving the firm guarding precious gems being used in a promotion. In a ploy to steal the jewels, he impersonates an official from South Africa, and talks his way into accompanying the agency crew on their rounds.

When the client insists on the participation of Mr. Steele, Laura goes into the song-and-dance used on such occasions, where her male investigator books a hotel room under the Steele name, hangs an entire wardrobe in the closets, and disturbs the bed. The usual plan is that Mr. Steele suddenly gets "called away" on an urgent case, and thus he is never seen by a client.

Before that can happen, the real South African official shows up and introduces himself; and the client mistakes the con man for the living, breathing Remington Steele.

In a--by turns--madcap and serious exploration of how the fictitious Remington Steele came alive, Harry assumes the role of the head of the agency, a necessary thorn in the sides of Laura Holt and her employees.

Besides the eye-candy factor, the series is enjoyable because there are lessons to learn from the characters.

First, Laura never gives up. She has a goal to run her own agency, and even though no one wants to hire a female private eye, she finds a way to achieve her goal. Her use of subterfuge leads to frustration when an interloper becomes her titular employer, but she comes to terms with the consequences of her actions and presses on.

Second, "Harry" grows and changes, from a scoff-law into a respectable citizen, from a figurehead to a useful member of the team through learning the fundamentals of investigation and applying his skills.

Writers like me can take a lesson from both characters. Never give up. Face up to your shortcomings and conquer them. Press forward.

Now, I think it's time for me to go watch another inspirational episode of Remington Steele. See you later!


  1. Loved that show. Not sure I learned much from it. Great post

  2. Never got into the show, but the lessons are well taken.


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