Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Greek Chorus

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Greek Chorus

I need me a Greek Chorus. Everybody great has had a Greek Chorus. I’m not saying I seek greatness, but I am saying I need three smart heads around me to keep me out of the ditch where I occasionally end up sometimes. There are lots of examples, especially in contemporary TV, where the power of three heads was better than two and a lot better than solo. To wit …

Dr. Gregory House: Chase, Cameron and Foreman. Are they his foils or his slaves or his torturers? Whatever they are, when he lost them, he went downhill. You can’t replace passion, reason and, uh … whatever, with an entire classroom.

Captain James T. Kirk: Bones, Spock and Scotty. Again, passion, reason and something in-between. You need that something in between that is part, “Jim, don’t do it” and “Captain, we don’t have the power!” Again, you’re not necessarily going to argue with three brains that know your one brain all too well.

Marshall Matt Dillon: Doc, Kitty and Festus (or Chester). A gritty brain trust from the mid 19th century that never steered James Arness wrong. Doc was old but feisty as hell. Kitty was a gravelly voiced barroom beauty with a mean sucker punch.  Dennis Weaver as Chester was eager and loyal and was replaced by Festus who I just loved. Festus was a man for the ages. If you had a Festus, you had nothing to worry about. Newly never seemed to fit in the clique. Never.

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs: For our more modern times, Ziva, McGee and DeNozo. Are you seeing a pattern here? The person with the Greek Chorus is usually someone with great responsibility. They’re almost a tragic figure in how the Gods have positioned them to do their duty in the world.  Mark Harmon’s character drives his charges as hard as he deeply loves them and savagely protects them.

Colonel Robert E. Hogan: Kinch, LeBeau and Newkirk. A passionate Frenchman, a methodical Irish con man, and an African American geek genius. Together, they advised, protected and beat up on Bob Crane’s cool concentration camp colonel. Although Hogan’s Heroes was comedy, Crane probably could’ve used a Greek Chorus off set.

Detective Adrian Monk: Randy, Sharona (or Natalie) and Leland.  Tony Shalhoub’s brilliantly played OCD suffering character was best served by his chorus by their compassion for him.  The totally understood this heroic figure that they saw shot down by the murder of his wife, and they did everything they could to clear the path for him so he could at least function.  Eventually, their love for him led him to redemption and recovery.

Oh, and let’s not leave out many of the reality talent shows; The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance and of course, American Idol.  Although most choruses are represented in threes, (American Idol had Randy, Paula and Simon for eight seasons, until the ninth, when they added a fourth judge), many other reality shows have four or more.

In many cases, the Greek Chorus foretold of impending disasters that would befall the hapless person they were singing about by pointing out weaknesses that would bring them down if they didn’t change course.  Or, it represented the fears or hopes or rage of the main character that he or she could not openly express because to do so would jeopardize their position of authority. While I ain’t the boss of nobody, I wouldn’t discount the advice of three people who knew me as well as I knew myself. Think of the places we could go? Maybe I’ll put something on Craig’s List.

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