I read my share of non-fiction (history, biography, social commentary, humor, memoirs, etc.) and have been known to see documentary films in movie theaters — just because the subject is compelling. BUT FICTION ROCKS! Genre fiction, literary fiction, classic & contemporary fiction, short stories, novellas and novels are the books I seek out most often. That’s why it’s not a surprise that I prefer scripted dramas (detective shows in particular) when it comes to TV and why I find TV schedules chock full of “reality” TV mystifying.
Do I watch any “reality” programming? Yes, I watch cooking shows. I even enjoy the cooking contest style shows — as long as they don’t delve into the chef’s back story dramas instead of concentrating on food preparation. (I’ve picked up some professional cooking techniques and cool recipe ideas from TV chefs.)
Home with a cold on a rainy afternoon, I found myself doing the channel flip. I’d never heard of more than half the shows and over and over the premise of each one, as described in promos and teasers, left me wondering how they ever got on the air. I know that reality TV is cheaper to produce and that some kind of dramatic narrative (conflict, tension, story arcs, etc.) can be created in the editing phase of show production, but these narratives are not the kind of stories you’ll find in scripted television — even poorly written scripted TV.
So why are they so popular? Is it because there’s a weird frisson of interest because these shows are about real people? Maybe. I’m not sure. I just can’t figure out why shows about abandoned storage lockers, the families of mobsters, the private lives of semi-celebrities (or former celebrities) and the privileged “housewives” of various cities are so popular. Would you volunteer for “Survivor” or try your luck in “The Shark Tank” or live with hostile strangers on “Big Brother”???
More to the point, is there anything a fiction writer like me can glean from these doctored stories from real life? Let me know. I’m curious. Maybe not curious enough to sit through an episode of “Duck Dynasty” so please somebody tell me what I’m missing. Is there something there that I should know or understand?