No So Real Reality Bites
HMW has a confession. We love reality TV — and we think it has affected movies – big time. The multiple storylines of reality TV have meant movies with more complex storylines and plots like CRASH and BABEL and TRAFFIC.
But! The most fascinating thing about reality TV — and yes, we include JERSEY SHORE and the horrifying REAL HOUSEWIVES — is that the actor on such shows has also become the writer.
Let’s repeat that — because we think this is a novel, cool thing — on TV, the actor’s power has become the writer’s power — and we think this is new in the world of story-telling. Actors used to read their lines. Maybe improv some. But on reality TV (and we teach a lot of reality show producers) a lot of the time, the line producer and the producers back home are WAITING to see what the actors on the screen come up with. The actor with the biggest, most vivid personality and who can manufacture the most conflicts (sound familiar? This is the writer’s job) is the one who gets featured in the show.
The actors have become the writers. And we think that’s cool.
Look, for example, at the two ‘ Guidos’ on JERSEY SHORE. They are both deeply charismatic, extremely good-looking, yes — as actors on such shows need to be — but they also know how to manufacture their personalities and conflicts to TELL A STORY. It might the story of how treacherous a ‘skank’ is — well, Shakespeare did that, too. It’s HOW they show the negotiation of ‘dealing with the skank’ that delights the audience. The fact that everyone is orange and appalling just adds to the carnival appeal of the show.
The same is true on REAL HOUSEWIVES. It’s not (the male half of) HMW’s cup of tea (actually, the show is a disturbing nightmarish parody of the worst stereotypes of women — a kind of female version frat house behaviour) but it is the women on the shows who can create their own personas and even manage storylines, who get the air time.
IS there another time in human history where the actor has become the writer, the creator, of the show, in such a way?
We can’t think of one. Yes, Shakespeare was an actor who became a writer, but he wasn’t writing — explicity — his run ins with Babbage and the Kemp, backstage. The show was still out front.
But reality TV has essentially changed the nature of the actor on a screen — and given them far more power.