Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Top Chef Masters and Interactivity

As reality television has come to dominate a great deal of air space, the issue of what is "good" TV has often been called into question. With stations such as MTV (remember how it used to be MUSIC Television?) now filled with reality-ish shows such as 'Parental Control' and '16 & Pregnant', there have been both benefits and losses to both the consumers and producers of the TV industry.

Laura Grindstaff's article, entitled "Self-Serve Celebrity," focuses on the ways in which ordinary people can function as both stars, those who actually gain fame and attention for appearing on network television, and producers, those of us who sit at home and blog, vote, etc. regarding the happenings of reality television programming. The role that the "ordinary" consumers occupy is characterized by the term 'interactivity.' By looking at Bravo's "Top Chef Masters," produced by Magical Elves, I will further address the issue of interactivity and the ways in which programming such as this has changed the dynamic of production versus consumption in media industries.

As Grindstaff points out in her article, interactivity associated with reality television rises the question of who truly is the producer? In Top Chef Masters, it could be argued that the chefs themselves, the hosts, guest stars who taste the food, or even those who develop the show at Magical Elves could be the production force behind the show. The chefs provide the drama and the competition that exists (as well as produce the delicious-looking food that keeps us coming back to watch the show), the hosts and guest judges have the power to kick off whomever they decide to any given week, and the actual producers of the show most likely are in charge of deciding which of the former Top Chef contestants will be casted in the new, ultimate, super-charged version of the original show.

Top Chef Masters, in particular, is an interesting case when considering the relationship that exists between interactivity and the audience. For those who have watched Top Chef previously, if they discover that their favorite contestant from a previous season will be returning, they will likely come back and watch the new series. Additionally, it could be possible that audience feedback that can be found on Bravo's website regarding Top Chef influences who will be asked back to compete once again, as well as persuade judges in one way or another regarding who should be granted the title of Top Chef Master.

As long as audience members feel as if they have a powerful role in the production or creation of a TV show (as is the case in shows such as 'American Idol' and 'Big Brother'), further reality television shows will develop, encouraging the concept of interactivity between TV show and audience member. This leads me to particular questions for those working at production companies, such as Magical Elves:

1. In casting for new TV shows, does previous audience participation influence the decisions regarding who does make the cut for any given reality show?
2. How much of shows such as Top Chef, Top Chef Dessert, and Top Chef Master is scripted if any at all?
3. What roles do the hosts of the show actually possess? Do they simply act as a representative figure for the TV show or do their opinions truly matter when the time comes to eliminate another contestant?

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