Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Reality vs Reality

There are two types of reality shows. The first are the "doccumentary" shows. These for the most part aren't real doccumentaries. They are shows in which people are thrown together to create conflict. They are not "real situations." They are staged with real people and, while they are not scrippted, they have planned scenarios. The closest of these to a pure doccumentary is probably Cops, which doesn't need to manufacture drama to be dramatic. Most of the doccumentary show are what I like to call "petrie dish" shows: Blow Out, Big Brother, Paradise Island, American Chopper, Real World, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Chop/Cut/Rebuild, Flip This House, Super Nannym etc., etc., etc.--shows in which drama is created through the friction of living or working together. The second type of reality how is the contest. Essentially an elaborate game show in which the same petrie dish conditions are created, but there is the added drama of a contest and elimination. Survivor is the king of this type of show, but Project Runway, the Aprentice, and endless others are of the same ilk. Still, most of the drama comes not from the contest but from friction between the characters.

There are two major locales for fictional TV shows: workplace and home. This is because TV is a closer reflection of life (not necessarilly real life, but the life we imagine) than film. Much of the drama on TV comes not from plot but from character interaction, and work and home are where we interact the most and where our primary relationships exist. As with reality TV, the drama comes from friction between the characters. Aristotle once said that plot is more important than character (still the driving principle behind film) but Mark Burnett, the creator of survivor, once told Marc Cherry that Character is Drama, and Cherry went out and created Desperate Housewives.

Character is drama.

My point in all this is to that there really isn't that much difference between "reality" TV and traditional fictional TV. The situations are constructed for entertainment value, the nature of the conflict is pretty much the same, both types of TV employ a large number of writers (TV devours content and is therefor a writer driven medium). Both are designed to garner ratings and advertising eyes. The only real difference is the lack of professional actors, a group whom producers and directors tend to hate, and whom Alfred Hitchcock once refered to as "annoying props that eat." Of course some people think that without actors reality TV is less artistic and more tawdry.

Brecht, by the way, would love it. Brecht, playwright of Mother Courage and of Threepenney Opera, among many others, celebrated the common and the banal. He once said that he wished he cold write a play with the same ammount of drama as existed in a boxing match, in which one punch could always end it. Reality TV comes close to that. Take away the script and what happens become random, and the drama comes from the real people interacting. Drama is character.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

speaking of reality.
I dvr'd a bunch of final fu.

I watched one episode last night and was not as impressed as I thought i'd be.

I have probably another 10 episodes dvr'd though so i'll give it a few more chances.


7:58 AM  

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