Gateway Episodes: This Concept Opens Up Some Possibilities

Thank you, Abby Ohlheiser, whose post in the June 25 Slate introduced me to the concept of “gateway episodes.” Abby mused on how a TV series, perhaps a now-cancelled series that one always wanted to sample  and still can catch up on via DVD sets or online archives, may have produced one episode that serves as the perfect introduction to the essence of the series–its characters and characteristics. Check out the gateway episode, and you then can determine whether you want to experience more.

Indeed, you could become “hooked” on the series, which calls to mind the darker predecessor term, “gateway drug,” as applied to marijuana. I prefer a more positive interpretation, and use, of the “gateway” concept. Robert Frost popularized the idea that “good fences make good neighbors.” In these days when a lot of metaphorical fences are being built, we need to celebrate gateways that break through walls and traps into broader thinking and brighter possibilities.

Now I’ve started thinking about “gateway episodes” as they apply to TV series I’ve loved, but I’m gladly going forth from there to ask questions relevant to my work and my faith: Might it be a good communications/marketing strategy for an organization to seek out and highlight a story that serves as a “gateway episode,” a great entry point and introduction that compels first-time visitors to come back to learn more about the organization? If you had to pick a “gateway episode” in the history of Notre Dame, what would it be? Is the typical Fighting Irish football weekend a gateway episode into Notre Dame’s past, present, and future? Does the Catholic Church need to identify and publicize “gateway episodes” in its history or present-day story that draw people close enough to understand some basics, to become intrigued by some mysteries, and to pursue deeper knowledge of the institution–and of the Risen Christ?

Does every human life’s story have a gateway episode? In an age when our popular culture often seeks out and spotlights personal episodes of embarrassment or accusal or superficiality for the purpose of entertainment or schadenfreude, do we as communicators or journalists, or brothers and sisters in Christ, owe it to others to seek out gateway episodes in people’s lives–rather than episodes that build fences? Does every individual’s spiritual journey toward God have a gateway episode? Is God always in the business of creating and opening gateways that open up possibilities for closer relationships?

These are big questions that I hope to come back to over time. Right now, I’ll begin my practice of the concept by asking smaller questions that are nevertheless fun. What was the best gateway episode for the classic “Star Trek” series? It turns out that this conversation has already taken place online. And I love the first answer I saw at this site–namely, the great episode titled “City on the Edge of Forever.” No pun intended, the correspondent advises us, realizing that the episode is about a mysterious alien gateway that allows the Enterprise officers to go back in time to a profound setting of love, friendship, and adventure. This was indeed Star Trek at its best. Perhaps seeking out such gateways is a wonderful way to approach storytelling and celebrate intrinsic, positive possibilities.

About Bill Schmitt

OnWord.net is the home for Bill Schmitt's blog and biographical information. This blog, initiated during Bill's nearly 14 years as a communications professional at Notre Dame, expresses Bill's opinions alone. Go to "About Bill Schmitt" and "I Link, Therefore I Am" to see samples of multimedia content I'm producing now and have produced during my journalism career and my marketing communications career. Like me at facebook.com/wgschmitt, follow me on Twitter @wschmitt, and meet "bill schmitt" on LinkedIn.
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