CT&D #73. Analyzing Teleplays: Deviating from a Script


Read pages 63-65 of the “Lie to Me” teleplay and compare it with the filmed ending of the show. The previous scene ends at the top of page 64 with Lightman telling Torres “Believe whatever you want. It’s what everyone else does,” but after that, the final sequence in your screenplay is completely different from what was filmed.

The filmed ending is certainly shorter, but it also exposes very different information about Cal Lightman’s personality and his relationships than the written ending did. The filmed ending also cuts out the additional “resolution” of Melissa subplot offered by the script. Why do you think that the producers decided that the revised ending (as filmed) was better?

In your response, consider what you’ve learned about the characters from this 50 minute story and how the ending(s) suggest new directions for them. You may also want to consider the fact that this episode was a TV series pilot in which the producers wanted to tell a complete story that would satisfy the audience while also intriguing them enough to tune in see how the characters would change.

Try to stick to your observations about characters and story and try to set aside any personal feelings that you have about which ending is “better”. If you feel there are compelling reasons that the producers should have used the original written ending instead, please feel free to add those to your response, but make sure that you devote at least a paragraph to discussing reasons why the filmed ending was used instead.

Between watching the episode and reading through the alternate ending in the script, I found that the choices made at the behest of the writers, editors and producers made for a complete single-episode story arc of Dr. Lightman (and company)’s journey of who he is / who they are, what their area of expertise concerns and the main conflict that centers on how this collective expertise exactly works (which cues the audience in familiarizing with what the show’s tone, genre and general idea of what “Lie to Me” is all about – a.k.a. the synopsis). Given that this was a pilot episode with the intention to have the series get picked up by a network, the amount of exposition was not surprising; the level of storytelling and characters, on the other hand, I felt was very detailed and layered, more so than it would be on a per episode basis.

With the main conflict focusing on the murder of Ms. McCartney and the side conflict dealing with Congressman Weil’s sex scandal, the latter’s ending being different in the filmed version, the entire plot leads the audience to see Dr. Lightman as a professional in reading lies seemingly without any emotional repercussions in contrast to how the original script reveals more about his character or personality. There, Lightman openly admits to have sinned upon talking with the priest as if to tell us that all his work did more hurt and than goodwill given that in this version, the congressman admits to his wrongdoing in public. In the filmed version, this is not shown and the ending there is left ambiguous.

Dr. Cal Lightman’s demonstration of what to look for in reading people’s facial expressions. Likely used in a promotional poster for the series.

Because this is a pilot, the intention (as I can tell by the direction) is to have Lightman be this “cool,” stoic character, a guise that would undoubtedly be carried into the full series since his relationship with colleagues Dr. Gillian Foster and Ria Torres would make for a solid team capable in tackling more crimes dealing with advanced body language reading to help law enforcement. But looking at the alternate ending, it really is implied that Dr. Lightman struggles with wanting to go any further in his work given his emotional response to seeing how he exposed a powerful congressman to admit his faults publicly (even if such faults were wrong, the disgrace Lightman caused due to getting the truth out about him through psychological tactics results in a character that we all feel sympathy towards, but leaves a questionable future in his career, hence the show we see as a result of the filmed version).

However, I do not think that having the alternate ending would’ve been necessarily the dead end for the show being green-lit and having to continue from there. I would like to think that Lightman’s perceived hesitance in wanting to do his job would reveal an inner struggle from within and would raise this question: Is it right to pressure people into telling the truth (at the expense of ruining a life with psychological effects attached to a perceived perpetrator and / or co-conspirator such as when Lightman lied to Jacquelin to get her to confess about the murder) or should hard evidence be used to lessen this guilt? It’s a job after all, so there must be some responsibility there to own up to. I might also add that this would be an interesting angle that the show could’ve taken since some professionals in real-life crime-solving are known to crack during the process of considering the moral high road or immoral path taken to get to the bottom of a case; but wouldn’t be surprised if this was a subplot or explored in some way as part of Dr. Cal Lightman’s character during the series’ 2-season run. I would have to watch to find out and would like to do so in the future.

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