Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Reality-TV shows

During the past decade or two, so-called "reality-TV" shows have proliferated like rabbits. Almost any subject you can think of, there has probably been at least an attempt at a reality-TV show about it.

The thing is, reality-TV shows are successful when there's interesting drama and conflict. Nobody wants to watch boring everyday life where nothing special happens. The problem? Well, most real people live "boring" lives without drama and conflict. How to fix this problem? Create drama and conflict.

In most reality-TV shows the people are genuine alright, ie. they are who they claim to be, not eg. paid actors playing a character. However, what you see happening on the show is very rarely completely genuine. The people making the show will often try to cause drama and conflict between the participants, often very obnoxiously. And of course everything that happens is exaggerated in post-production through clever editing tricks (such as things that two people said days apart may be edited together to make it look like one person is directly responding to what another just said, and directly to them.)

Most of what you see in these shows is "staged" in this manner. It's the product of the producers actively pushing the participants into conflict, and enhancing the apparent conflict even further via editing. Yet nothing of this behind-the-scenes trickery is conveyed to the viewer, which makes it deceptive.

Sometimes this mentality is so detrimental that it can ruin a show that could have otherwise been interesting on its own right; sometimes it can ruin it so badly that it doesn't even get finished.

The infamous Mountain Dew Game Jam held last year is a perfect example of this.

A game jam is an event where talented indie developers get together, form groups, and then have a very limited amount of time (such as 48 hours) to create a video game from scratch. These are very interesting events, and have sometimes produced very innovative and popular games. (Some popular indie games out there have started as the product of a game jam.)

Last year Pepsico, under its brand name Mountain Dew, wanted to sponsor such a game jam for publicity, and to make a TV show about it. This was intended to be a show with a quite large budget and production values.

The result was a complete disaster, and the major culprit was the "reality-TV" mentality of some of the producers. One of the producers on set was constantly trying to rally the teams against each other, to push people's berserk buttons, sometimes even with obnoxiously sexist remarks, clearly trying to make the participants show sexism themselves and to create conflict between the teams. This was not the only thing that was horribly wrong with the entire production, but it was so obnoxious that half of the teams just walked out of the event on the second day.

And all this was completely unnecessary. A documentary about a game jam would have been interesting on its own right. It didn't need any kind of personal drama or conflict between the people. But reality-TV mentality ruined it.

This is not to say that all reality-TV shows are bad. There are some that are made more genuinely and without such distortion and deception. They just tend to be a minority.

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