Last night I attended a free panel "Getting Staffed [for TV]!" at the Writer's Boot Camp in Santa Monica & co-sponsored by Script magazine.
The panelists consisted of 2 writers (Mark Wilding, Steven Binder) & 2 execs (Jen Grisanti, Zack Sherman).
To me, the most interesting point made was that the most successful, most unique tv programs today are very strong in theme & symbolism. One exec said that this is often the key to give one script the edge over another perfectly good script.
ex. In Mad Men, there's a power struggle theme that permeates home, work, play.
ex. In House, M.D., Dr. House's cane & limp are strong symbols of who he is, how he uses his infirmities as a sword to keep people at bay.
Theme & symbols have a big impact because they make it easier for the reader to understand your bigger idea.
Remember the "Heart of the Sea" necklace in Titanic? It's not just any priceless necklace. It's a symbol of Rose's captivity into the life her mother & fiancee wanted her to have.
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Theme & symbols must be used carefully. They're like lasers - they can be really effective, or really disastrous.
Don't just stick in symbols that make no sense. Don't carry a theme of greed, if greed doesn't make your point.