Friday, February 19, 2010

Everyone needs a bad guy!

JAN: I admit that I was lured in at first. Even though I wasn't a fan of Donald Trump, I gave the first couple of seasons of The Apprentice a shot and liked it. Not only did I gain respect for the Donald, I also learned some interesting marketing lessons.

It might have been my third season of The Apprentice when I realized that Omarosa, the villain, was being coached to say nasty things. And that the director had to be encouraging all the other contestants to hate her. And after that, I saw it in every reality show, from America's Top Model (viewed with my daughter against my will) to Joe Millionaire to Project Runway. It didn't matter what contestants were competing for, the whole point was to see them break bad. They became catty. And underhanded. And there was always someone, like Omarosa, who was the worst.

According to Psyblog, a blog that collects research about how our minds work, ( reality shows make good use of narcissists in the cast. Apparently, we just can't help being drawn to a narcissist's self-absorbed and arrogant behavior. They tend to be confidant, fashionable and witty We are fascinated by their entitled behavior.

At first.

Quickly we come to despise them. Contestants and TV viewers alike. And we want to see them "knocked down," and get whats coming to them. It all makes for great TV.

So do you think bad behavior is the appeal of Reality Shows? And if so, why? Are these people just strangely charming, or do they somehow make us feel better about ourselves??

RHYS: An insider told me that they are scripted just like any TV drama. Lines are cut and used out of context to hint at fights that never happened. Look at The Bachelor or Bachelorette when the most likely candidate for his heart suddenly has to go away or lose her job. Yeah, right. The only difference between TV drama and reality shows is that the latter are playing with pe
ople's lives and psyches. I suppose if they pick narcissists and unpleasant people then they deserve what happens to them. Actually I'm a fan of The Amazing Race, which is often won by nice and genuine people, and, I have to confess, Project Runway which is a fascinating insight into the creative process.

I think we watch, hoping that the unpleasant people get what they deserve. What I find fascinati
ng is that The Truman Show foreshadowed exactly what is happening in real life.

RO: I really do need to see The Truman Show again..this is the third time it's come up in a week. I was on St. John last week and stayed at a resort which had kayaks for guests, but only if they stayed in the small bay right near the hotel. We'd just come back from 5 days of kayaking all over the BVI and thought it was ridiculous to have to stay in one small area as if it was the kiddie pool. We watched one guy take a kayak out and was like the The Truman was as if there was an invisible screen making him return to shore. Too funny. But I digress.

About a million years ago there was something called The Louds: An American Family on public television. I barely remember it..will have to google, but it followed this middle class family and I think the daughter wanted to be a dancer..and it turned out that the son
was gay, and that was a big thing in the 70's, and then the couple split up. I have not felt the need to watch another reality show since then.

HANK: Oh, I rmember the Louds. Here's the thing about reality TV. It's NOT live. So some producer has taken hours and hours of video, and edited it into one hour. Do you know how easy it is to make that one hour into anything you wnat? And also--the producers know the end result. So they put the puzzle pieces of the show together to make the most interesting or conflict-ridden 45 minutes leading up to the end. The end that they KNOW will happen. See? So we're being completely manipulated along the way.

That said (anyone see that episode of ..was it Curb?) that's the reason I think its fun to watch s
ome of these shows. Rhys, yes, I love Amazing Race (it's almost--inspirational, and you can pretend it's educational) and I love Project Runway (so creative! and I love fashion, and I'm hyper-competitive anyway).

But what makes it the most fun is that the editors know how the shows turn out.

ROBERTA: Hank, that's such an interesting description of how the shows are made. Doesn't it sound something like what we do as we're writing novels? (I mean the most conflict we can imagine...)

I watch NO reality TV. I may be the only one in America. We were watching the Olympics last night and kept seeing the ad for Jerry Seinfeld's upcoming show, in which TV stars intervene in couples' fights. How bizarre is that?? At least Dr. Phil has a little bit of training in the field:)

HALLIE: Oh, I remember the Louds. That was before they figured out how to pare down to the conflict. And of course there were Andy Warhol movies like "Sleep" where his camera watches
some poet sleep for 6 hours.

Like Rhys, I watch is Project Runway and I am completely addicted to it. And my daughter got me hooked on So You Think You Can Dance.

JAN: Lannie and I watched So you "Think you Can Dance," which was "Vous croyez vous pouvez danser" in Aix en Provence last summer because it was the only thing we could follow in French. (They dubbed over the English but competition is the same in any language). My French skills weren't strong enough to pick up any inter-contestant sniping. But I also couldn't always figure out why one contestant was so much better than the other.


  1. Roberta, you have company. I don't watch any of those shows, either. My Buddhist sister is hooked on the dancing show, but I couldn't do it.

  2. Okay, so we know reality shows are rigged. But in the competition shows (American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway), don't you find that real talent shows? You can't manipulate dancing and singing and sewing the way you can cut and paste dialogue, and give some people additional face time (yes, that's an insider joke) and lines.

    Strange though it sounds, these shows are not that different from the Olympics. We watch because someone will win (joy!) and someone will lose (tears)--it's a very emotional ride. Drama, conflict, tension--does that sound familiar? And resolution.

  3. Sheila,
    You are probably right, although, for me, at least while I was watching in French and not able to pick up everything the judges were saying, I couldn't always tell why someone was better -- and I danced for eleven years! I only watched one episode of Project Runway, and while I could tell when something was bad, for the most part I was influenced by what the judges were telling me (cI'm clearly not a fashion expert, and probably you learn more as you watch along, but I'm not sure you can see craftmanship by television --even in HD).

    But yes, I agree, sports are the original reality TV. And people talking about them around the cooler much like sporting events!

    The ones that are the worst, at least to me, is where the sniping is exaggerated (like in the dating ones) and when the values make me nauseous, (America's Top Model)

    Edith, one of the reasons I don't watch is that you generally need to start from the beginning of the competition and I don't ever make that. But I can see -- from my days of watching the Apprentice -- that when you start you get hooked.


  4. I agree with Sheila - when the challenge is something really hard then watching someone wiht talent rise to the top is so exciting.

    Anyone remember Amateur Hour or The Gong Show? Are today's shows any different? It feels as if they are but I'm not sure why.

  5. Digression: Rhys! I love your new cover!

  6. Okay, I admit it, I have watched reality shows:
    -Survivor (right now, an all-star previous players match up of "Heroes" vs "Villains" -- Best quote: "I'm a villain?")
    -America's Next Top Model -- because I like to watch skinny (size 0) beautiful girls being criticized. I usually watch while eating dinner. :)
    -HGTV's Design Star
    -Food Network's Next whatever star
    -Psychic Kids (helping kids deal with abilities that usually scare them silly)
    -48 Hours (cop show on A&E)
    -Deadliest Catch
    Wow, I watch a lot of this stuff, huh. But I'm sorry, scripted tv is frequently stupid and insulting.

    We do switch channels around and have seen American Pickers, Pawn Stars, American Chopper, Intervention ...

    Oy, I'll stop now. ;) No, never American Idol or the Dancing one. But I really mostly read. The nice thing about these shows is that they only run for a few weeks and then you're free again.

  7. PK--I'm a closet Survivor watcher, too...don't tell.

  8. I'm so glad I'm not alone in my reality t.v. addiction! And I have a husband who watches, too. Our very favorite is Project Runway. It really is a brilliant showcase for how competition can sharpen our skills. I'd love to see a reality show about writers--The race for morning coffee! The snarky comments about co-op! Handwritten ms vs. computer! Who writes best while wearing a Snuggie?! The drama!

    I've watched a couple episodes of Little Miss Perfect about a toddler beauty pageant. So sad. $1000 WOW Wear outfits for sashaying four year-olds? We are truly in the end times.

    My latest fave is The First 48, the crime reality show. Chilling. Fictional crime solving is much more reliable!