Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reality or Fiction?

by Wilfred Bereswill

I’m really thrilled to be joining The Working Stiffs as a regular. I'll forego the formal introductions since I've pretty much covered a lot of the personal things about me with Jennie Bentley's help. I will add that my first novel, A Reason For Dying debuted last month and things have been extremely busy. For me, I have a very full time day job with a big beer company and travel pretty much, including many trips to China. Three years ago, for some reason, I decided to write a novel. It started as a whim, quickly became a passion and now may be blossoming into a second career.

When Joyce sent me an e-mail asking me to sign on with The Working Stiffs, I didn’t hesitate to respond. Since then, I’ve pondered what to blog about on my debut as a regular. Then last week I found myself getting misty-eyed watching the television, thankful that I was alone in the house. Me, the MAN in a household of women and I’m getting emotional watching the TV.

It gets worse. I’m watching the finale of So You Think You Can Dance. Yep, that’s right. When Courtney Galiano was booted off the show and she gave this very emotional “Thank you” speech, my eyes started burning and I got all stuffy. The same thing happened when the judges gave their heartfelt praise to each of the final four. There, I said it and it’s out in the open. Not only do I watch a dance show (actually I like Dancing With The Stars too), I’m emotionally invested in it.

I began to think that maybe I was a reality show junkie and I needed help. But then I realized that there are plenty of shows that never caught my interest; Big Brother, The Bachelor, not even Last Comic Standing. I’m a huge Survivor fan and I also love The Amazing Race and The Biggest Loser. I started wondering what it was that piqued my interest and my loyalty to certain shows and not others. For me, it all began in the Summer of 2000 with Survivor Borneo. And the first winner, Richard Hatch.

There was an interesting concept, a clash of cultures and personalities with few rules and people in a raw setting. The producers did a great job of letting us into their lives and getting to know these people. We either liked them or hated them, but we thought enough about them to have feelings one way or the other. Moments like the conflict that culminated with Susan Hawk’s near-famous speech to Kelly Wigglesworth and Richard Hatch intrigued and entertained.

And the rest is history. Reality shows began popping up all over and most have gone away just as fast. Some endure, however.

Why is that?

Certainly the concept of the show has something to do with it, but it goes way beyond that. I think it’s all about emotional investment. Just like a great character in a great book, we connect with certain things, we share their emotions and begin to feel what they feel. Actually when it comes to character development, reality shows are a bit like a novel. The producers only have a finite number of episodes to hook the viewer on the characters or the story just like an author has a finite number of pages to do the same. And the really good producers and authors do it well. I guess TV pilots are like those first 5 pages of the novel, we give the producers an hour to capture us and we give an author 5 pages to do the same.


Okay, I’ll stick with reality shows. Most shows kick people off one or two at a time. Some by the other contestants and some by popular vote. Sometimes the deciding factor comes down to some kind of talent, but in most cases it’s character that determines who stays and who goes. Back to So You Think You Can Dance, they call it America’s most popular dancer. So, even though the judges have the ultimate say near the beginning of the competition, the final say-so comes from voting - 60,000,000 votes cast in the finale. At the beginning of their final show, they brought out their top 20 dancers. I barely remember the first 10 that left. Now I know my memory is NOT what it used to be, but I struggled to remember who some of these people were and this season of the show only ran for about ten weeks. I realized I didn’t remember them because I didn’t care about them.

When it comes to books, I was a big Jack Ryan fan. For those of you that didn’t read Tom Clancy’s books, Jack Ryan debuted in 1992 in Patriot Games and had a long career. I’m searching for the next Jack Ryan. Right now I’m interviewing Jack Reacher (Lee Child’s hero). In the meantime, I guess I’ll be sitting on my couch, sniffing over dance shows and waiting for Jack Bauer to come back for the next season of 24 and Jack Shephard from Lost to mess with my head some more. Maybe I’m just captivated by the name Jack. Hmmm, there is Captain Jack Sparrow (now there’s a character for you).

So how about you? Any closet reality show criers out there? Be honest. What are some of your favorite series characters?


Tory said...

I LOVE "So you think you can dance." Part of it is being a folk dancer, myself, and being tired of talking to people who think ballet and modern are the standard for good dancing. (The show makes an incredible effort to view all forms of dancing as worthy.) Part of it is wish fulfillment (what if I was able to audition when I was 19?)

But mostly, I just love the routines. Admittedly, some are worth missing, but waiting through those to see the top 3-4 routines of the season is SO worth it!

I agree that characters usually make or break a show for me, but on "So you think you can dance?" it's really the dancing.

Joyce said...

I don't like reality shows. The only one I can stomach on occasion is Extreme Makeover Home Edition. At least they're accomplishing something worthwhile in most cases.

I know a lot of people love them, but I just don't get the attraction. Of course, I don't like much of the other stuff on TV either.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Tory, I agree the dancing is terrific, especially this season. The husband/wife choreographer team of Napolean and Tabitha seems to have made Hip Hop something I can watch and enjoy. I never would have thought that would happen.

And just a side note, when the judges were picking their top 20 from the tryouts, there was one guy that they told that his dance skills were first class, but he needed to work on his personality if he was going to advance very far.

Joyce, I guess like literature, television shows are subjective and it would get boring if we all liked the same things. But I think there are lessons for authors in television. Take the Series 24. I was told that the last season's consultant was Vince Flynn, one of my favorite authors. I was really looking for great things. I think a lot of people agree, it was one of the worst seasons yet.

Also, I think part of the realism of 24 is due to their williness to kill off popular characters. Sounds gruesome, but it's more like real life.

JennieB said...

Good blog, Will!

To be honest, I'm not really into reality shows. I'm not really into TV, period. I've never watched 'Survivor.' Never watched 'Big Brother.' Never watched... oh, who cares. I have watched an episode or two of that ballroom dancing show, but that's just because I used to do ballroom when I was younger myself. Many years, many pounds, ago. And I think I caught a 'Bachelor' episode a few years back. The year the bachelor, and I think his chosen girl, were from Nashville. They went to friend's restaurant here in town - my friend, I mean, not theirs - and I watched to see if he made it into the show. (He didn't.)

Although I am enjoying watching the Olympics. And I get misty-eyed there regularly. Especially the winter olympics, of course, since I hear my own national anthem so much. ;-)

Nancy said...

Honey, have you sampled Project Runway yet? Talk about addictive....

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Nancy, why is it addictive? What draws you in and keeps you?

Wilfred Bereswill said...


NBC is doing a good job of building those relationships between the viewers and the athletes. Sure there's pride for your country and maybe love of sports, but it goes way beyond that, IMHO.

Annette said...

I watch a little bit of Survivor because my husband is addicted to it. I admit I loved the one (can't recall where it was) with Rupert. I think Rupert should have been cast in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

I'm hooked on The Amazing Race and dream of doing that one. But I can't swim, so as soon as a water challenge came up, I'd be out.

And I do like the Home Edition of Extreme Makeover. But that's about it. I've never gotten hooked on any of the others. Big Brother makes my skin crawl. Ick. They'd haul me out of that house in a straight jacket.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Annette, I love the Amazing Race.

Laura said...

hey Will.

Survivor is my only reality show and one of only two shows I watch at all (unless I have time for a Seinfeld rerun). I, too, like the character stuff. You really do end up having feelings for the people one way or the other. It's fun to see what makes people turn and what gets their ire up. It's fun.