Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tapping into the Human Psyche

When looking at how to develop good television with ordinary people in "Self-Serve Celebrity," Laura Grindstaff believes there must be a delicate balance. As we have seen on the most popular reality television programs, conflict has seemingly become the most interesting part of the show. For one reason or another, reality television audiences are ecstatic at the thought of somewhat controlled violence and verbal/emotional abuse. The delicate balance that Grindstaff believes needs to be met is the level and control of that violence, as she says conflict can create "production problems if participants quit or become too unruly to manage" (76). More broadly, what Grindstaff is trying to convey is that good television shows with ordinary people must draw on the emotions of the audience, to which she gives the name "emotion work" (77).

Many of the daytime talk shows seem to have this a lot easier than reality television shows. A good amount of them are geared towards conflict, think Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, and others. The conflict is boiling inside the bodies of the guests, just waiting for the host to coax it out. Other talk shows, like Oprah, draw on the compassion of the television and live audience, because the shows bring in those whose stories began with misfortunes and/or disadvantages and tell the tale of how those individuals turned their situations around. Talk show producers are looking tap into the human psyche and create an emotional connection that will leave the audience wanting more.

While it seems that talk show hosts may have it easier, reality television producers have it fairly easy too. Many reality shows bring together a group of people that have never before met and expect them to live together for an extended period of time in search of a certain reward. This nearly guarantees some form of conflict, because the individuals will undoubtedly split off into separate cliques with the ultimate hope of being the only person left at the end of the show without a knife in his/her back. Other reality shows attempt to provide a glimpse into a certain sect of society. However, there is always some form of competition within each show, whether it be to prove that they party harder than anyone anywhere or that they are more classy and sophisticated than the rest of the world. This competition-aspect normally always leads audiences to a feeling of envy or provides a ridiculously hilarious and embarrassing program.

I feel that Grindstaff is right on the money with her points and her insight. Especially with talk shows, you don't really think about what the producers are trying to manipulate the audience to think about or feel, because people tend to be compassionate and try to identify with others as best they can. But with reality television, it is fairly apparent that conflict will run rampant throughout the program. When alcohol is thrown into the equation, the conflict tends to heighten, poor decisions are made, and the show can become even funnier or slightly scary.


1) From your perspective, how much of reality television is scripted? Is there a difference in this area between competition-driven reality TV and reality TV more about lifestyle.

2) What do you think is the more important factor in determining the success of a reality television show, total revenues or total profit?

3) How much time is spent when selecting a cast for a reality television show? What are the most important factors in a cast member?

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