How real is reality television? It may be THE question to plague this generation of television watchers. Sure we wonder how much “surviving” actually happens on Survivor, or how many of Honey Boo Boo’s quotes are actually from her southern fried brain rather than a cue card; there’s always some obvious glaring doubt in our mind about how realistic the plot or how candid the camera really is. Well we’re here to debunk some myths, and show you how producers work to bring out that reality feel while keeping the show interesting and bringing you back for next week’s unveiling of someone else’s “reality”.
There’s not necessarily a one size fit all category to reality series, as reality shows tend to be divided into two categories: planned, or followed stories. Like their namesakes suggest, a planned story tends to have a pretty heavily formatted check list that is written before shooting actually begins, while followed stories are zanier and unpredictable and centered around characters rather than plot. Deciding which of these formulas you wish to follow can heavily influence the feel of your show, “following” stories being more similar to Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo Boo, while “planned” series are represented by the formulaic Bachelorette or Amazing Race.
Now we reach the sad truth about the vast majority of reality television. The thirty to sixty minute episodes you see on screen are taken from hundreds of hours of candid footage, which in the end means your editor is going to be the one who formulates a story. While some people long for the ultimate in truth and journalistic integrity, no one would ever actually want to watch a half hour of raw unedited footage. Even the funniest or quirkiest people are not interesting all the time so it’s up to the editor to bring truthful story telling onto the cutting board, but with entertainment primarily in mind. In construction the editor constructs footage into a typical episode arc following the classic beginning, climax, and resolution, set. Sure it’s a bit simplistic, but it beats an avant-garde slew of random scenes. There’s a reason the French aren’t renowned for their reality television programs…
Sometimes, reality producers are forced to restage events due to timing, equipment or even safety issues, but don’t mistake this as pulling the wool over the viewer TV screen. Like biopics, or even some documentaries, producers simply must find ways to recreate scenes they missed, especially seeing as hardly any reality shows shoot 24/7. And although some dramatic light may be added to these scenes, it is the director’s job to best portray the events that occurred in the most truthful light. This does not make these shows any more or less real, but simply adds important details to the story that otherwise would have been missed.
Finally, producing and writing for reality television are, for all intents and purposes, pretty much the exact same thing. This is what ultimately debunks the myth of true reality TV, as storytelling once again is the most important aspect to a successful and entertaining show. Producers will cast individuals that are bound to conflict, hook up, or fight in the same way a writer will pit two written characters with similar personality traits. Every casting call is made for a very specific reason much like every scene written plays its role in the arc of a screen play. The producer will always know what to expect from their initial planning stages, and in the end, it makes for much better television.
For more production reality make sure to visit us at http://cnsinc.tv/. We have a few reality shows of our own in development that we hope to announce in the near future.