Reality TV Needs Rethinking
August 25, 2008 10:11 AM
When you think about it, reality programming is kind of a gift. It’s less expensive to produce, can be done fairly efficiently, has nearly endless ideas and subjects and, most important, audiences seem to like it. It can be done in different formats: docu-reality, scripted reality, competitions, etc. If you’re lucky to nail a winning concept, it can spin out ancillary revenue streams and cross-platform capabilities.
Most important, it’s Web TV-friendly. I think it has the potential to help migrate online audiences to adopt small-screen television.
But, for all the potential reality programming seems to have, finding and creating winning concepts appears challenging. A recent trade magazine article commented about the redundancy of formats, themes and formulas among networks, and how it ultimately was making things feel stale.
More than once, I’ve heard women viewers complain that all reality seemed to paint women in the same light. Many, male or female, who I’ve tapped about the topic have said they feel shows are too silly and sensationalized.
I think there’s definitely room for a revamp, regardless of whether it’s online or traditional TV. If I were a development executive, I’d consider these things:
Tapping the real thing: With so many different human experiences, I can’t understand the need to fake it. Making a previously unemployed woman an expert, then pushing her into a fabricated life of money, high status, etc., seems kind of dumb. Why not just use somebody who is a real expert, and follow her from there?
Expanding the view: Why are there so many shows about the same thing? Why is every story set in affluence? Fun and fantasy is great, but the same rich-Botoxed-little-dog shtick is getting redundant, and I can’t imagine fashion, music, etc., are the only industries viewers find interesting. It’d be great to see something fresh and, even better, real—even if it combines these concepts.
Switching the game: In a lot of reality shows, it’s the characters that create the drama. Girls who get in fights, girls who get drunk, men who cry, etc. What about situations where the drama creates the characters? It’s common in shows like 'The Amazing Race" and "The Biggest Loser," but I think it could extend into docu-reality stories to make things more interesting.
Changing the aesthetic: Madonna’s feature film "Truth or Dare" was one of the first reality concepts I can recall; it followed her as she was on a worldwide tour. Directed by Alek Keshishian, it was shot well, painted her in the coolest light and was packed with plenty to find interesting. Most of all, it showed her working. What about trying the same with other shows or stars? After all, it’s not Denise Richards’ dogs or pigs that make audiences want to know what she’s about. It’s her career. A dream job can be very sexy.