I marvel sometimes at the naivety of television viewers.
That they’re prepared to sit through badly-c0nceived and -executed drivel for hours and hours and hours at a time being just one example. (If you’ve ever watched reality programming on the E! network or anything produced by Ryan Seacrest and felt dimmer for doing so, then you’re on the right side of the nonsense fence.)
But, second of all, that they watch reality shows and believe what they’re seeing is reality – well, I mean, jeez, that’s just craziness fueling more craziness. Looking for reality in a reality show is like looking for nutrition in Pop Tarts. Or a tune in Shostakovitch. Or the letter F in BICYCLE.
Example: take this brouhaha with Jason Mesnick. You know him, right? He’s The latest Bachelor on ABC’s smash hit series.
On Monday’s finale, he claimed to have found true love. He proposed to the very beautiful Melissa Rycroft, and we watched her howl with delight when she heard, and jump up and down, and the pair of them did all that prim kissing thing that heterosexuals are prone to doing. As opposed to ripping their clothes off and having sex right there on the ground, which is the way a couple of healthy homosexuals would approach it.
But that’s how it went anyway. We had a winner. The classic “all’s well that ends etc…” scenario.
But nowadays that’s not enough. Happiness is old hat, quite honestly. So ABC milked our loyalty further with a Bachelor follow-up special, After The Final Rose, during which Mesnick promptly dumped Rycroft, taking back the ring, and saying he preferred one of the runners-up instead, the ‘more characterful-looking’ (ahem) Molly Malaney, who, if she hasn’t had an Irish drinking ballad written about her yet, can’t be far off.
So there you have it – again. A neat twist, a shock ending, everything a ratings-grabbing drama needed. True love didn’t run smooth, the guy’s a cad, the chick got hurt, and so on. Perfect. And because they’re on TV, who cares if lives are ruined and their emotions are a cauldron of resentment and loathing? It’s the ideal scenario.
Just one problem: according to MSNBC last night, quoting Mesnick, the whole thing was fake. It was written into his contract, apparently, that he had to trick viewers. There was a script. And the script said he would choose one girl, dump her, then switch to another in the follow-up show. Well, the outcry that’s followed in the wake of this cynical ploy to get higher ratings has made headlines. Critics and fans alike are holding their faces macauleyculkinly, going, “What? A TV network deceived us?”
Well, I don’t have Mesnick’s contract in front of me, and am too lazy to go look for it (it’s upstairs somewhere), but I’m truly shocked to learn that anyone else is shocked at this stage to learn that reality shows are scripted.
Most reality shows have a story editor. Someone in their 20s, with a vivid imagination and not quite enough life experience yet to be able to appreciate the value of telling the truth and living an honorable life without deceiving people. It’s this person’s job to sit down with the producers and figure out ahead of time the best way for the plot-points to go, allowing, of course, for certain variables and inconvenient changes in circumstances (in other words actual reality) that might happen.
Then, later, as the footage comes in from the shoot location, that same 20-year old, giddy that he’s even got a job in TV, when everyone, including his parents, predicted he’d be flipping burgers by now, or selling vacuum cleaners door to door, plonks himself in front of a TV monitor and conscientiously toils away at connecting the dots, writing a rough storyline around them that the guy who’s editing the show can then take and heighten still further, to make them even more dramatic. That’s what they’re hired for. Scripting and editing are defined in the TV Dictionary as “simply very clever ways of bamboozling viewers.” Look it up.
And why do shows go to all this trouble, possibly risking outrage and accusations of lying and deception someday if their – quite legitimate – shenanigans should leak out? Because there’d be chaos otherwise. The show would be rubbish. The story would go nowhere and none of it would make sense. Which would be fun for a few of us, who quite enjoy chaos and seeing stories go nowhere, but would be a disaster on every other level.
So if what MSNBC claims Mesnick said is true, and the plot twist in The Bachelor was contrived to entertain viewers and keep them tuning in…well, I don’t know how to end this sentence. Because we’re all aware – or if we’re not, we should be (what’s going on with our education system? They don’t teach this stuff in schools any more?) – that reality programming is not real. It’s hammed up, chopped up, set up, and presented as real for your dubious entertainment.
So if you’re naive, if you allow yourself to get suckered in, and are prepared to fritter away valuable hours of your life watching it, and find yourself being hurt or disappointed by the result, that’s your fault, not television’s, which, after all, is only doing what you bought it to do – lower your IQ, diminish your capacity to deal with the world outside your living room, and to leave you feeling emotionally and spiritually impoverished.
In which case, you deserve all you get.
UPDATE: Mike Fleiss, producer of The Bachelor, denies it was fixed. http://www.digitalspy.com/ustv/a148483/bachelor-denies-finale-fix-claims.html