Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The "Reality" of Reality TV

Question 3

Reality TV is motivated by a goal of creating entertaining, provoking and dramatic television through ordinary people that are just like everyone else - going to work, living life... and having every moment documented by a film crew.
It's pretty clear that by nature of being on a reality TV show, these people aren't living "ordinary" lives in the eyes of the general public. However, their status as non-professional actors or actress' with ties to some other lifestyle or profession means that they are ordinary in the eyes of reality TV producers. Grindstaff's article does a great job of bringing to light the behind-the-scenes construction of the reality portrayed through these shows. She asks the essential question on page 76: "How, then, to guarantee good (that is, dramatic) television using ordinary people?"
Her answer to this centers upon the creation of conflict. Essentially, viewers want to witness reality stars engaged in conflicts because their responses are typically entertaining, absurd, or provoking. Grindstaff discusses earlier on page 76 that producers find these ordinary people's stories compelling because they are dealing with a particular problem or situation. When this can be related (or is entertaining) to an audience, the producers want to make that conflict the forefront aspect of the show. Often times, this means initiating conflict situations or participating in what Grindstaff calls "emotion work."
Emotion work, explained beginning on page 77, means that in the reality TV business, emotional labor is just as much a part of the package as is physical labor and time. These are the subject's real lives being filmed, and the producers who spend significant time with them are thus wrapped up in their conflicts, issues, and "heartache" (77). In this midst of all of this, producers' main job is to convince participants to continue sharing all of this with viewers, in front of the camera. To keep conflict moving throughout the show, the participants can't get sick of the spotlight after only a few episodes. Good reality TV is dependent upon producers convincing ordinary people that their problems will be heard by a large audience.
I have certainly watched enough reality TV in my life to know that the snapshots in episodes are constructed to paint a certain picture, and this doesn't always give paint the participants in a fair light (an interesting example of this: Watch TLC's Cake Boss "Bridezilla" episode and read through some of the forums that come up in Google regarding whether or not it's real). Grindstaff's explanation of "good" reality TV made a lot of sense to me - If the industry is so focused on making something out of the stories of "ordinary" people, the problems these people face are going to have to be front and center, because that's what the audience will attach to - especially if it's not so different from their own issues. This reminded me of all that we've talked about in class regarding Mandates, or a media text's reason for being. If reality TV's main goal/reason for being is to produce engaging television based on the lives of ordinary people, then they are going to have to draw out the most intense and entertaining parts of these lives to gain an audience. Their "emotion work" and conflict creation is all a result of their goal to succeed as a certain type of show.

After reading this article, I'm really excited for us to skype with Christian Homlish and learn more about what Magical Elves does. My questions are as follows:
1) How did the idea for "The L-Word" come into being? We've talked in class about taking risks in production and being "ahead of the times." I would be interested to know how this idea was presented and responded to, both within Magical Elves and in the public.
2) What do you find are the greatest motivations for people applying to be on reality TV shows? It seems as though if all of the cast members are not involved for similar reasons, it would be very difficult to guide the show through production to reach it's own goals for what it wants to present.
3) What are the biggest differences in creation and production between the shows you produce for cable networks and those that are produced for broadcast? I wonder how much shows (or topics) have to change to appease different consumers, depending on station.

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