THE REALITY OF REALITY
by Michael Chasin
Screenwriting Mentor, IAFT/Miami
Reality TV reigns—with almost every channel offering programming that follows real people in real situations.
But how real is it—since participants are coached on how to behave in manufactured storylines?
Regardless of its authenticity, reality TV succeeds because at its heart—it is classic narrative storytelling.
Reality shows have a hero (not the host) who is the contestant or this week’s soon-to-fail bar/restaurant/salon/tattoo shop/whatever owner.
Identification with the reality hero—as with a movie hero—is created by exposing their strengths—and more importantly their flaws—that are similar to our own flaws—which helps us to care about the hero.
As in a movie, important personal stakes are dramatized—it’s not so much about saving the business (or winning the contest), but really about saving family relationships, or self-respect.
Enter the mentor—the host with the expertise—who will aid the hero.
During the show, the host-mentor will help the hero to discover that the failing business is really rooted in a character flaw (just as Mickey taught Rocky to embrace his ability).
To ramp up the drama, a ticking clock is introduced—as the re-launch/remodeling must be completed in days—when of course, pre-production has been ongoing for months.
After overcoming their character flaw—learning to be a better owner—and person—the re-launch is a success! Family relationships are saved. Self-respect renewed.
The host-mentor—off to the next hero in need.
So is reality TV real?
It doesn’t matter.
It satisfies our need for real storytelling.