Tuesday, April 11, 2017

TV VIEWING 101-CLASS #14: REALITY TELEVISION: GENRE/SUBGENRES AND QUALITY ANALYSIS

Good Morning Class,

Alright, I know it's been awhile, but we're back. Hope you did your homework, I'll collect it later. Today, we're gonna be continuing on "Perspective" and how that is the major determining factor in quality analysis of reality programming, although we're gonna touch a little bit more on genres and subgenres, and I'm gonna be straight with you guys, it's a lot of reading. up front, unfortunately. I know.

For those confused, eh, down the hall, is where Film Viewing 225B: The Feature Film, the Cinema and You, where you all talk about cinema, if you're supposed to be in that class, it's down the hall and to the right? What's that, the door's lock? Well, then you're stuck here, talking about a piece of moving picture that's shot, written, directed, edited, lighted and every other part of the filmmaking process. And don't worry, you're not missing anything, I made that class up. NOW SIT DOWN, this is the subject for today!

Seriously if you all think reality or any other genre of television is that different from movies or cinema, than think again. As we discussed earlier, it's just another form of documentary filmmaking, and not even a new one. The only thing really new about it, is the term, "Reality" television. That didn't come around, until "Survivor", hit in America.

Now, "Survivor" of course, social experiment series, with a competition aspect, so, it's qualified as a reality-competition program, and to be honest, I don't really understand why that term stuck, more than others. Possibly because it's the real, first time the genre was, the biggest show on television. There's been popular ones before, 'The Real World" comes to mind, "Cops" also comes to mind. That was a whole other genre, especially big in the nineties, the-eh, true crime, recreation series. This would "Unsolved Mysteries", "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol" stuff like that. "America's Most Wanted", like I said, "Reality" is a blanket term, used by the public for a lot of subgenres or flat out different genres entirely of television that all deal with, real people, real events, non-fiction, stories, being told about them, this one, just had a documentary recreation aspect to them.

Now, retroactively, while we talked a lot about the predecessors to reality, "An American Family" is probably the show most people think of as the original reality program, and also the series that created the first reality stars, in the Loud Family, especially the late Lance Loud, who was the first openly gay character/person on network television. In fact, he came out on network television, and this was back in the '70s. For our purposes, in terms of how to analyze a show, that's not really important, but culturally that's where a lot of people who think of where the genre really began. Especially, since, what we really consider as the base of the reality genre, finding somebody or something that's interesting, filming it, for documentation purposes that's pretty much the base of reality television. Back then, it was the typical white middle class family, and then, 25 years later, it was Ozzy Osbourne's family. Taking perspective out of it, which do you think is more interesting to see?

I don't know, you guys answer? That's the big question that every television execute's trying to figure out, while they search for the next one that'll capture the public's imagination.

So, why are there so many subgenres of reality television? Anybody have a guess? Sure, when something gets popular they start making and remaking it, but that's-, that's with everything. And with other genres, you can only do that so often. I mean, "Star Trek" was popular, that can lead to other sci-fi shows, but let's go back to "Star Search" again.



So, let's analyze this. First off, it's a talent competition ("The Gong Show", "America's Got Talent") , not the first, but definitely the biggest of those. Well, we had singing, ("American Idol", "The Voice"), Dancing, ("So You Think You Can Dance") of, I'm sorry, dance crews ("American Best Dance Crew"),  vocal group, ("The Sing-Off") Stand-Up Comedy ("Last Comic Standing") and Spokesmodel, ("America's Next Top Model") all, from this show, essentially. (Okay, "The Gong Show' predates "Star Search" but still) but there's like thirty reality series, based, practically just from this show.

Now, yeah, but it's a talent, these people have talent, most of them. Well, you ever sing? You, yeah you? You never sing? Not even in the car or in the shower? Any of you ever dance? Nobody here goes out dancing once in a while? Okay, there we go. Any of you take dance lessons at some point in your life. Yeah, a few of you, raise your hands, c'mon? Any, of you, ever take a date, dancing? Yeah, any of you ever date, period?  Okaujy, I know this is a bunch of film geeks and whatnot, but I'm sure some of have been on a date at some point? How, about-eh, building stuff, any of you ever build something? A few of you? How about gardening; how about painting? How about, cooking? Any of you ever cook? How about eat? Oh, you all like to eat, okay. Can you all, think of a show or two based around those things, reality shows?

You like, to travel, any of you? Now, some of you, will blanket some of these, under other names and guises, for instance, "Lifestyle shows" or-eh, "Informational series", but essentially they're the same thing?

What's the difference between watching a bunch of drunk housewives cause a ruckus in a club, and watching a quiet, soft-spoken guy painting a picture of a bunch of trees? I mean, you're still watching people, you're watching them, act, be, in real life, doing something, something they like to do, or not but you're still people watching. It's not like one's contrived and the other isn't, they're both pretty contrived. You think those easels and paints were just sitting in front of the camera, in a TV studio? It's no different than making sure somebody gets angry with a champagne glass in their hand? It's not like thinks aren't just as staged in real life?

What, they are? You ever get tired and want to go to bed? Sure, where's your bed? In your house, who put it there? Oh, you did, why, you could've put it anywhere? You wanted it there, in your room too? So, you've set up the bed in a particular place and the room the bed's in, in a particular place? If things weren't staged in life, you could've just slept anywhere you wanted, any time you wanted, any place you wanted?

Yeah "All the world's a stage," you damn fucking right it is!

So, everything's staged to some degree, including real life, and all reality television shows, and for that matter, all media for that matter, including regular films and television shows. So what's the difference? What makes one of these good, the other bad, or one of them better or weaker than the other? Say it with me!?

PERSPECTIVE!

Thank you! Perspective! Quality Analysis of reality shows, is about perspective. It's the one single thing, is manipulated and altered, in order to fit a narrative and a point of view on the material. It can be manipulated in many, many different ways, sometimes to the point of where it can be illegal, and a breaking of the public's trust. I talked about that in our discussion on game shows and the early scandals that, have basically controlled and oversaw everything that television's produced ever since, but it's the perspective that's manipulated.

I'll give you a recent example, and very tangible example, ""The Voice", probably the biggest reality show on TV at the moment, still. Biggest reality-competition one at least. There's a lot of differences between that show, and the other singing talent series, particularly, the big one they were up against, "American Idol", one the big ones was that, they wanted to make sure, they didn't have a Simon Cowell character. They don't have a "Gong Show"-like round, where anybody can come in a tryout, at least not on camera. They have judges, who always accentuate positive aspects, that was a big thing, and they made sure to pre-select a lot of the participants, and set up the series so that the judges or mentors were selecting the contestant and not simply, giving them a pass or fail. Now, which perspective is better? Well, there's definitely entertainment value to seeing people who aren't talented trying to sing and not being able to, and seeing them sometimes having to confront that truth, but...- I would argue that, the stronger competition and the more detailed areas of praise is probably a stronger perspective, one thing that I would say makes "The Voice" better, but they're two different and distinct perspectives on essentially the same thing. Now, there's other aspects of those shows that also have arguably different perspective strengths and weaknesses but that's what you're looking at and looking for ultimately.

Yes, it's the same with every other genre, but it's a little complex to see in most reality because it is so subtle. This is why I'm giving you guys some outside reading material today, 'cause I've gone through a few of these subgenres, and there's plenty more that one can do. If it's a part of a person's reality, you can probably construct a reality show around it, and of course, you can also construct a reality show around the people themselves, but most of these aspects-of-life subgenres are the former.

I brought up dating shows before, you're gonna read up on them a bit:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2017/03/dating-shows-analysis-and-history-of.html

There's a bunch of them, there's good ones, there's bad ones, there's really bad ones, most of them intertwine with game shows, unfortunately. Don't necessarily want to think too deeply on our lives with that analogy, but still.

Cooking shows, that's another one:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/06/cooking-shows-evolution-and-artistry-in.html
Very popular, everybody likes food, everybody likes good food. Hell, the only show other than "The Amazing Race" and "The Voice" to win the Primetime Reality-Competition Emmy, was a cooking show. "Top Chef', so....

Think about that too, btw, how for almost all of these genres, there's usually both, a more cinema verite approach to the aspect of life, just documenting the event as is, sort of thing, and there's often some kind of competition show format out there as well.

Yes, even in courtroom/judge shows:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2016/10/legalcourtroom-judge-shows-analytical.html
However, "The Law Firm" is mostly a forgotten failed experiment now, since it mostly just seemed like "The Apprentice" but with attorneys, although I didn't hate it. And a courtroom is essentially a competition anyway. It even has a judge to determine the winner. (I know, that joke was awful, I apologize)

So, are there any exceptions to that idea of everything about reality shows are about being apart of everyday life?



Right, there is, the watching of people doing things that are unusual or, not normal for them to be doing. Fish out of water stories aren't new for reality of course. "Reality" is already heightened, reality to begin with and of the Heisenberg Principle is of course, applying here, but-uh, yeah, I guess hypothetically, people could eat these gross things.... yeah, this is about where you can start calling reality shows, "exploitative". All media is of course exploitative to some degree, but yeah, this is around when it turns more gross and more, let's see what they'll do for money.

That said however, there also is good precedent for this, 'cause basically it's another form of the physical game show. Simplifying this, it's shows that might structurally be similar to a game show of some kind,but are in reality more of a physical activity people must perform to win. "Beat the Clock" is probably the earliest form of this, but I suspect the most influential modern-day example, other than "Survivor" is "American Gladiators". The original one anyway.



There were other shows before that one, but that's probably the spiritual predecessor to the rest, and it's a good example of a show being about what people can do, as oppose to what people will do. "Survivor"'s king of an example of that too, how do you survive on an island? Okay, it's really more about, the events and challenges then any actual surviving, but, yeah, there is something to this too, and determining quality of these, can be difficult. Depending on what their going for, but I'd argue that, the competition aspect is of these kind of shows, when that's highlighted, that's when the show remains the strongest. That's probably the reason why "The Amazing Race" holds all the Emmy records compared to say, "Survivor", or "Big Brother" something else along those lines. While those are competition shows as well, along with challenges the competitors have to overcome to succeed and win, it's hard to argue that that's the focus of the show. They may tend more towards the societal experiment edge, something that Stanley Milgram might have concocted and there's good and bad ways of doing that too, but there's more of an emphasis on the battle and competitive aspect in "The Amazing Race". It is a literal race around the world, and the editing, pacing and storytelling of that series, all emphasize that much more than other shows. There might be more personal and touching moments elsewhere, but that's secondary to the competition.  When something like that, tries to be the focus of a series, especially a competition series of some kind, and it's manufactured, you start to lose interest and intrigue really fast. Kinda akin to how annoying it was that every "Deal or No Deal" contestant had some sad sob story. Yeah, sure red flag that the game isn't interesting or compelling enough as a game on it's own. Mix of characters with differing backstories is fine, but that shouldn't necessarily be the focus.

People, can and do survive on a desert island, people do perform dangerous stunts for money, people are athletic enough to go through the Eliminator, or whatever the "American Ninja Warrior" obstacle course is called. People, can be fascinated by people eating gross things for money, but they probably shouldn't. Yeah, it might be better to watch people as they try to overcome their drug addictions and hoarding problems. At least that's compelling real-life human drama. (And not a competition-reality program, so that standard not in play. There really are a lot of aspects to this genre, aren't there? Too many to full grasp in one shot.)

Anyway, you guys have a lot of reading to do, so there's not too much homework. Just think about life and people and the things people do, and try to come up with a pitch oran idea for a reality show, of some kind, that we've never seen or heard before.  Any kind of reality show is fine, just something or some people doing things that you think could be compelling to watch on television. Doesn't have to be a fully-formed pitch, just a pitch something about people that you think can be interesting to see on television and explain why.

Alright, next class, we'll dive into a dying genre, but a critical one and varied one, daytime talk shows. The irony of Jerry Springer's final thought. I'm kidding, there's more to it than that. Anyway, class dismissed everyone.

(Folds over arms and blinks like Jeannie, doors magically unlock)

You can leave now. and no, I'm not explaining how I can do that.
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