To say that I’m not a fan of reality TV is an understatement. Granted, I’m not in the demographic for most of those shows but as all veteran communicators know, the real value in what we do lies in our ability to tell a good story.
For the past decade or so, television conglomerates decided that they could save a lot of money by eliminating the writers and still deliver programming that would draw big audiences for their advertisers. For a long time, they were right. Like rubber-neckers watching a car wreck on the highway, for many years, millions of viewers tuned in to watch mindless programs where conniving, manipulative “contestants” engage in cat-fights or stab each other in the back.
In the film industry, big special effects started drawing huge audiences. Once again it was determined that the storyline was of little relevance. If film companies cookie-cuttered the big explosions and special effects format, the audiences would come and they could keep breaking box office records.
Now, apparently the television and film industries are facing a bit of a reality check of their own as audiences are once again seeking quality programs with solid storylines they can relate to on issues that resonate with them. According to the most recent prime time ratings, viewers are tuning into more scripted shows like Big Bang Theory rather than reality shows like American Idol. Last weekend, the premier of the small-budget film, The Fault in Our Stars beat out the anticipated release of the Tom Cruise block buster, Edge of Tomorrow. As one CBS reporter noted, sometimes the best “special effect” is a great story.
Don’t get me wrong, not all reality shows are mindless, and they all do have storylines. There’s always a protagonist, an antagonist and there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. The difference between the reality shows and scripted shows with professional actors is how well the story is told; how well it connects emotionally with its audience. For example, without Googling it, tell me, who appeared in the second season of The Bachelor? Would anyone but their close friends and relatives know? Now, tell me, what is your favorite Seinfeld, Friends or Big Bang Theory episode?
Storytelling like that requires experience, talent, and yes, a writing budget. But, when done well, the impression it leaves can be permanent. Who among us wouldn’t pay handsomely to create an indelible positive impression about our products, services or messages on the minds and hearts of our consumers?