Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reality Shows: Life Actually?

Grindstaff’s study is unique because it discusses the particulars of production in reality shows of all kinds, and the lessons she conveys can be applied to all kinds of television production. Unlike scripted shows, reality show producers must frame their show within a narrative that they cannot anticipate: in other words, the actors also act as their own writers, with the producers having to act as both liaisons to the actors as well as their interpreters. Like Havens and Lotz, Grindstaff is concerned with the specific methods of how culture is produced through the media industry, not the ramifications of the culture that it produces. This is also how a reality show producer must approach the creative process: they must take what happens as it happens without trying to frame it within a storyline (as it would happen on a scripted show). This is why reality television has a very basic narrative structure, rather than a clear one.

Because of this method of study, Grindstaff poses this question in her study of reality television and why it produces the culture it does: “How, then, to guarantee good (that is, dramatic) television using ordinary people?” The answer, as Grindstaff explains, is twofold: the producers must make the reality stars comfortable enough to let them act normally (or motivate them to be as crazy as they can be) and the show must be edited in a manner that generates drama. The most crucial part of this process is the fact that people are always surrounded by cameras; with thousands of hours of footage, just about anyone can be made into a controversial reality star, especially on the shows where alcohol consumption is encouraged by the setting. Depending on the show, editing is more or less important to creating drama; a competition show like Top Chef will inherently have more drama than a show like Keeping up with the Kardashians (a show I am a shameless fan of) that relies on editing to catch sideways glances, create out of context arguments, and queue up dramatic music over the tiniest squabbles. As Grindstaff notes, much of the action on Sorority Life revolved around partying and drinking, and that the scenes of studying, community service, and camaraderie were cut out “despite the fact that they all occurred during filmmaking”. While I enjoy trashy reality shows from time to time, I am much more interested in how production works for the type of shows that Magical Elves produces, even if they have Justin Bieber in them:


  1. How did film production on "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" differ from the typical reality show production?
  2. How does producing a documentary series differ from producing a more typical, competition based reality show?
  3. How many hours of film does it take to make a typical episode of a reality show?

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