Thursday, October 09, 2014

Stop crying already!

Is it possible to do a reality show without having someone cry? It’s gotten beyond ridiculous.

In the early days of television there was a game show called QUEEN FOR A DAY. Women would compete for the saddest sob stories. It was one icky tear-jerker after another. Finally, a winner was crowned “Queen for a Day.” Destitute housewives were given washer-dryers and blenders.

Those contestants were amateurs compared to today. People have complete breakdowns over cake decorating. Men wail like little girls if they’re not selected for dates.

Clearly, most or all of it is for show. This country is a sucker for weep porn. The problem, of course, is that Reality has become the “Genre that Cried Wolf.” There’s so much emotion that none of it lands. And the result is that these shows all seem manipulative, bogus, and quite frankly insulting.

I watched the season premier of SHARK TANK. I tune in to see idiots try to sell their squirrel stun guns and hear the Sharks offer sound business advice. In a recent rerun, Shark Robert Herjavec became a blubbering imbecile recalling his father’s night watchman job. And then in the season premier, a contestant broke down and bawled uncontrollably because his fiance wouldn’t come to America unless his ersatz idea took off. To make matters worse, the Sharks were visibly moved. Kevin O’Leary was overcome with grief, dabbing his tearing eyes.
I don’t mean to be a cynic, but Jesus, what a load of BULLSHIT.

Like I said, all this manufactured heightened emotion just cheapens genuine emotion. What’s sad is you’d think the public would catch on. You’d think they’d be pissed that reality producers think so little of us that they can serve up this palaver and think we’d believe it. But I guess enough of them do believe it.

Now THAT makes me cry.

Come on, America. Man up. It’s just a blender. A fucking blender.

40 comments:

Scooter Schechtman said...

You watched Shark Tank? Guess that answers peoples' questions about your opinion of "The Middle".

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

Yes I'm a big fan of Shark Tank & I was shocked that on the season premier 2 weeks everyone was crying- starting with Kevin O'Leary! I was like "What the hell is going on here?!"

--LL

Hamid said...

Thank you, Ken, not just for a hilarious post but also for pointing out the offensive stupidity of these types of shows that pollute British TV too. And you're right, much of the audience are gullible idiots who fall for this manipulative bullshit.

On The X Factor in the UK, contestants cry even before they've sung one word, they cry while they get the judges' responses, and then they cry when they get a yes or a no. And each one is accompanied by the same worn out cliches: "This means the world to me. Singing is all I've ever wanted to do. You don't know how much this means to me. I'd be devastated if I don't get through".

The crying's bad enough but the emotional pornography of their sob stories is what truly offends. Telling us they lost a sibling or a parent, or how poor they are. One kid on Britain's Got Talent speaking before his audition said of his family "We're not exactly rich". And? So fucking what?! Is that why you should win?

But the moronic masses swallow it up, spend their money calling premium rate lines to cast their votes, and dutifully line up to buy the CDs of the winners, which they probably then only listen to once and forget about the week after, which is why 99% of talent show winners in the UK sink without a trace after their first album and go back to asking people if they want to upgrade their meals to large.

Unknown said...

Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavic on the original Canadian version of the show, Dragon's Den. I don't mind Herjavic but O'Leary has always struck me as rather a psychopath, he manipulates wherever he can and does everything for effect. He would be perfect on Jerry Springer.

Wade Albert White said...

I was going to comment but was suddenly too overcome with emotion by your post. Maybe next time? *dabs eyes*

Joe said...

All reality shows suck. They're the worst thing to happen television in the history of the medium.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Jack Bailey was shameless milking the tears on Queen for a Day. Ralph Edwards was a close second on This is Your Life.

Speaking of reality TV, their first rule is "there must be conflict," which all scripted dramas have. And where there is none in reality TV, they must create it. Hence all the in-your-face arguments the Housewives many iterations create.

I'd love to see an interview with an ex-producer of a reality show spill the beans on just how manipulative and manufactured these shows are.

I remember a quote from Lauren Conrad, who at the time was on the reality show "The Hills," talking about her "character." What character? It was supposed to be cameras following her around as she lived her "normal" everyday life.

Which begs the question, how normal can it be when you have cameras in your face when you are discussing/arguing with a spouse or friend? In actuality the participants do whatever the producer tells them to do.

Ron Howard's "ED TV" - which took on reality TV - was a couple years ahead of its time and a box office disappointment, although Ron Howard felt it was marketed poorly.

A Friday Question: Today some shows are 86ed after 3-4 episodes. If shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show or The Waltons - both lowly rated in their first seasons - were around today, they never would have gone on to their successful runs. Wondering what recent shows you think might have been successful had there been a patient hand at the network like Bill Paley was with The Waltons?

JT Anthony said...

Perhaps some of the crying is manufactured, but I think there are a lot of people in emotional states that can't hold back the tears. Call it latent emotional baggage or periodic fragility, but some folks get overwhelmed.
These shows are highly edited to illicit an emotional connection to the common man or woman (or hybrid trans) for effect. These deliberate producer/editing choices are more of a production issue than anything else.

James Van Hise said...

One of the worst things I saw on a "reality" show (and it wasn't even the biggest criticism of the show), was on KID NATION where they would set up children in situations to make them cry, especially creating conflict where a child was being yelled at by other kids, and then milk it! The thing is, you could tell that it was edited to emphasize the drama. Years later one of the kids who was on the show talked about how even though you only ever saw 2 adults in front of the camera, there were at least 30 behind the camera and producers would feed the kids lines to say in the next scene. The show got off to a bad start when it was revealed that the parents had to sign extended waivers so that they couldn't sue the producers if a child was hurt, including from shark attack--in the Nevada desert where it was filmed!

Brian Phillips said...

If you must cry, do it with your band.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IumkoOmMpTU

Charles H. Bryan said...

It's why I like baseball. There's no crying in baseball. Not even Derek Jeter, who had the decency to go to the clubhouse.

My favorite reality show is SLEEPY HOLLOW. I learned that Ben Franklin built reassembled reanimated corpses! It's why he needed the electricity! I'm not kidding, it was right there on last week's show, along with the information that George Washington had an alliance with a coven. This week I learned that Benedict Arnold betrayed America because of an evil coin in his pocket.

Take that, Doris Kearns Goodwin!

Tim W. said...

Neither my wife or I can watch a show where people start crying and we immediately turn the channel, so while it may make "good television" they're losing us as viewers.

Rowan said...

As someone who used to produce Reality Television on both broadcast and cable networks - you are completely and utterly right.

I got in the game back in 2000 and by 2001, I was manipulating contestants to cry on primetime television, while the director and EP were high-riving each other and congratulating me on creating "great television." The thing is, I actually did make people cry. It also prompted me to get out of the genre because I felt like an amoral A-hole.

Other times, you could see contestants getting themselves hysterical for the camera and while that would also elicit smiles and self-congratulations from or people, it always rang false to me and I thought the sheer fakeness of it would eventually bring down reality TV as a genre. Clearly I was wrong.

kent said...

If you watch that crap you deserve what they give you. My only reality shows are the Dodgers and the Lakers and lately they've been worse than the shows you're watching.

ScottyB said...

Of course there HAS to be crying. Totally. These people have to justify their purchase from Rent-A-Soul somehow. Probably for tax purposes.

At least the crying on 'Queen For A Day' was genuine. (This show predates me, but not by much.) A washer-dryer cost a goddamn fortune back then. Jeez, people were still using those wringer-washers kids were always getting their hands and arms sucked into, with horrible outcomes. Fuck, we didn't even have color TV or music in stereo back then.

rockGolf said...

There was a brilliant UK parody of reality competitions by Peter Kay called "Britain's Got the Pop Factor" a few years back and he nailed all the tropes.
One of my favorite part was when they came down to the final contestants, one was sent home because they couldn't come up with a sob story for him.
The news was such a shock to the contestants grandmother that she dropped dead.
Which of course was the lucky break that got him back in the competition.

Steve Schnier said...

Kevin O'Leary and Robert Herjavic never cried on the Canadian version of the show, Dragon's Den.

We may only be a nation of maple syrup chugging, axe swinging lumberjacks - but we have standards.

ScottyB said...

Here's a Friday Question for Ken:

You've written about the people who have come and gone on 'Cheers', but I don't recall you ever touching on one of the *best* occasional treats: Nick Tortelli (Dan Hedaya). A character like Nick seems like a character that would be fairly to cast (I only say "seems" because I'm not a casting director; I wouldn't be surprised if it's not all that easy). Hedaya nailed it, tho. So -- any insight into how Hedaya's Nick came to be?

Aaron Sheckley said...

Kent, I'm in one hundred percent agreement. We get the kind of TV we deserve, because someone out there is watching and supporting this bullshit. We get endless Ice Road Truckers, or some show about obnoxious guys in pawn shops, or crying spoiled rich people, because something deep and dark in too many of us craves that level of entertainment. It's the same reason we get endless damn spinoffs of CSI or NCIS, two TV shows that require you to park your brain at the door before you watch. TV isn't to blame; it's just a business that caters to its marketplace. WE are to blame, because way too many of us don't demand something better than Chumley arguing about the price of a vintage dildo.

Steve Mc said...

Society has redefined the term 'drama' to mean 'Unnecessarily making a big deal out of something'. As a result, we settle for programming that has no interesting conflict, emotion or characters. A basic display of anger or tears is what passes for drama.

ScottyB said...

Here's another Friday Question for Ken:

After posting my Nick Tortelli/Dan Hedaya question, another question occurred to me when it occurred to me that 'The Tortellis' spin-off was a total disaster:

What sucks more or what sucks less: Being an awesome actor featured only occasionally (and only cashing a paycheck for that week), or being an awesome actor as the star of a series that totally sucks (and cashing a season-long paycheck, but forever being associated -- and your acting skills being associated -- with a TV show that was shit)?

And hell, while we're at it (and this isn't a Friday Question), maybe this question might even be forum fodder for the rest of us over whether Matthew Perry harbors a total death wish toward Tony Danza.

ScottyB said...

@Steve Mc: This isn't anything new. Even Will Shakespeare made a huge-ass living out of "Unnecessarily making a big deal out of something".

ScottyB said...

@Aaron Sheckley: I'm not totally sure that "We get the kind of TV we deserve, because someone out there is watching and supporting this bullshit."

Methinks we get the kind of bullshit we get because some suit happens to like it. And when the ratings come in, whether the suit decides whether the ad revenue warrants keeping or dumping a show. The internet and guys like James Franco prove that people will pretty much *anything* if you put it in front of them. But even back in the days when the Nielsen ratings people measured everything by a few hundred people with Neilsen boxes hooked up to their TVs or people filling out questionnaires, I don't think it's ever possible to measure how many people *really* watch a show, or for how long.

vicernie said...

we finally got Kevin O'Leary off our television in Canada and you are welcome to him. now please take Don Cherry.

Scott Cason said...

I was hoping the viewers would have wised up and the "reality" genre would have faded long ago. Instead, it seems to be getting worse. I'm so old, I remember when TLC and Discovery channels had good, compelling programming. Now, it's manufactured crap. Give me a cable package with my locals and ESPN only and I'm there.

Aaron Sheckley said...

@ScottyB: I agree that there are some shows that remain on because they are the darling of a particular network or network executive (The Mindy Project has to be a prime current example of this). I don't agree that the endless stream of nauseating reality TV is only on because a network suit likes it. They are on because the network that airs them believes that they are generating revenue that makes them cost effective to produce. You can argue that the way of determining the specific ratings is flawed (and I'm sure it is), but even if it's flawed, the networks appear to be convinced that there is enough revenue being generated by those shows to make them cost effective. If the latest abomination starring a Kardashian stopped making money, then I doubt if any network exec is going to put his job on the line and proclaim undying support to the world's foremost attention whore. What would the benefit be to a network exec to take a stand like that? No, I maintain that we as the viewers are to blame, because there are enough of us willing to devour whatever shit the entertainment industry trowels out that there is no incentive to consistently provide anything better than "Men in Dangerous Jobs", or "Rednecks on Parade", or "Spoiled Narcissist with Huge Boobs".

H Johnson said...

Your post is spot on Ken. That shit is beyond stupid. It baffles me why we need to manufacture this phony baloney emotional crap. One only has to read a newspaper. There's plenty of REAL reality to cry about on every page.

To *kent said... Funny.

Aaron Sheckley said...

@Scott Cason:

This morning I tuned into the History Channel and actually saw a show about Billy the Kid, followed by a show discussing Lincoln's alleged racism. It was a moment of shining nostalgia for the days when you could watch that sort of stuff all day on the History Channel. Naturally, the reverie was broken by a marathon of shows featuring the braying assholes from "Pawn Stars".

I believed that the proliferation of cable channels would mean that we would have actual choices about what to watch besides sanitized network TV shows. I didn't consider that more channels just meant more crap written and produced for the absolute lowest common denominator of the viewing public.

DBenson said...

It's human nature to, in most cases, want to oblige. Especially when there's an audience egging them on. When you add the chimera of fame and possible money, approximately rational people with experience orgasms when told they've won a year's supply of Turtle Wax.

mmryan314 said...

I remember sobbing watching Queen For A Day because I believed it was so real and wanted it for my mother. I was 9. I also wrote to Perry Como- "Dear Perry, Would you be so kind..."
Obviously these programs are directed toward a 9 year old`s emotional level.

Matt said...

"Vintage Dildos" Now there is a reality show!!!

James said...

Have you tried watching the local news lately? If a single broadcast happens without tape of someone at least sniffling as they fight back the tears, someone could get fired.

Cap'n Bob said...

Ken you cold, unfeeling, heartless bastard. I agree completely, which is why I don't watch this tripe.

That said, I'm a sucker for small claims court shows, most pawn shop shows, and storage locker shows.

Jeffro said...

Oh my goodness, Ken! Isn't this is creepy?: I just happened to be listening to this very song while I was reading your post.

Cheerio,
Jeffro

A_Homer said...

There is a real difference between the early reality attempts and then the hacks taking what was there and repacking them into grade-school stupidity. For but one example, the original "American Choppers" episodes, which caught viewers attention, were really unusual in the way it not only captured the father-son relationship, tensions and all, but there was actually something CREATIVE in the process being done. The interest being even more so to see the father/son combination actually producing something beautiful in the way of the bikes. Seasons later, all the time once devoted to the bike creation, is left aside for shouting matches, corporate-style day retreats, the "funny/stupid" son doing "gags", who makes the "boss" figure laugh and that's why he keeps him around and so on. The blueprint is the same for all the others that at the heart have something possible to watch of interest, which people WOULD have.
The oddest most disturbing part if you watch any of these, is the producers image of how to work this blueprint, turned a vision of America "reality" into is a sausage fest, of working men, all father-son issues, all over-the-top fits and inability to show emotions, and the few women playing only a breeder or assistant role (and given a new rack along the way if they have more camera time...)

Hamid said...

Cap'n Bob said...

That said, I'm a sucker for small claims court shows


I have to admit Judge Judy is one of my guilty pleasures. I love watching her take apart liars and scammers with her wit and razor sharp intellect. Thanks to her, I've also learnt some phrases in Yiddish, like Bubba Maisa and my favourite, Tuchus Offen Tisch.

Mike Barer said...

I'm a big fan of Laurie Grinier (sp) and Mark Cuban.

Mary Stella said...

I love the dancing on Dancing with the Stars but Monday's installment was a sob fest. I texted a friend who also watches and asked for Prozac about mid-through.

Lionheart said...

From James Lileks Blog:
"Well, that’s her choice, and I couldn’t care less. The line that stuck out for me: can’t really understand why people still do. It’s one thing to prefer something else; it’s another to profess your ignorance for the reasons other people might not share your view.

I don’t do this and I don’t know why anyone else does is the mindset behind 74% of all online comment nonsense."
Seems appropriate here.

Doktor Frank Doe said...

Ken, the public IS catching on! It's a miracle, but go look up fan pages on Facebook now and read the comments. People in general are sick to fucking death of most of the crap they're being spoon fed. Probably makes the suits even more nervous than ever and as sure as I'm sitting here, they'll react in ways that will make it all much worse.