Most of you probably already know this but I am always meeting people who does not. If you are a fan of reality TV shows like The Bachelor (or The Bachelorette), Keeping It Up With The Kardashians, American Idol (and its many copycats), The Masked Singer, Big Brother, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Hell’s Kitchen (and the many other cooking competition shows), The Real Housewives, The Amazing Race, Mountain Men (and other surviving in the wilderness shows), etc. etc. — and, of course, the grand-daddy of all reality shows that started the craze: Survivor — you should probably not read this post.
Any TV show is scripted, period.
Read that again: all TV shows (including so-called reality TV shows) are scripted, and participants have to follow a script to the letter.
TV shows run a number of minutes (say, an hour minus commercials) and everything has to fit inside that timeframe.
The beginning, the drama and the ending are all figured out ahead of time, discussed, filmed, refilmed, and refilmed again until they get the right shots, the right facial expressions, the right angles, and then edited to give the right dramatic results — as per script.
Well, there was one reality TV show where something real and unscripted happened live: on an episode of the Jerry Springer Talk Show, an audience member threw a chair at another member and all hell broke loose on live TV. That episode garnered such high ratings that the show producers decided from then on to start scripting these confrontations in. Today, there is no unscripted drama in reality TV shows: Sorry, all the drama is scripted in, folks!
Let’s go back to Survivor, probably the show that got America hooked on these adventure-type reality shows (as opposed to talk shows). When it was first aired, many people believed that these events taking place on an island were real. They were told there were hundreds of cameras placed strategically all over the place to record the daily interactions of the participants. There was high drama every episode and, miraculously, one episode seems to seamlessly flows into the next, with increasing drama until the final — and surprisiingly unexpected — conclusion. It made great TV.
Anyone who has ever watched behind the scenes how a movie or TV show is filmed will tell you it’s even more boring than watching a baseball game. It sometimes takes hours of filming just to get a few minutes of acceptable footage: to position the actors on scene, get the light right, turn on the fan to simulate a gentle breeze, stop and reenact the same scene literally dozens of times while the cameramen change angles, makeup is retouched, actors get screamed at for not exhibiting the emotion asked for in the script, refilming that part where the actor suddenly turns to the right or left as if to respond with shock at a certain turn of event, etc. etc. It’s a constant ACTION…CUT loop until the director feels he or she has all the film snippets required to faithfully match what the script calls for. Then in the editing room, all those snippets are put together in the required sequence (not necessarily in the sequence filmed), music is added, sound effects are added, canned audience responses are added… until everything flows into a dramatic show.
To save time and money, all the scenes featuring a particular actor will be all filmed on the same day, even though the events may occur at different times according to the story line. In this way, you pay the actor for only a day’s filming, then insert each scene into the appropriate episode. Sometimes, certain actors never meet one another during filming and their interactions with one another are all editing magic.
And, often, the ending of a show will be filmed first. So, if you really believe that the ending has not been determined yet, and there is still a chance this or that singer will win… sorry, folks, the ending has already been filmed, the winner has already been decided long before the script had even been finalized — and all singers, actors and participants (even audience participants) have all signed non-disclosure agreements to never reveal the truth to you.
Networks are afraid that the audience will find out the truth that their reality TV shows are not real at all, and not watch anymore. They fear what John Denver sang in his beautiful song Welcome To My Morning (Farewell Andromeda): “And if the truth is told, They will never come again.” Hence the non-disclosure agreements.
Why does drama need to be scripted into every episode? I mean, how can there be any drama in an episode where someone is presenting his or her new venture idea to boring financial venture capitalists (as in Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank)? None, right? But drama there is plenty! After all, who will want to watch one hour of boring scenes where nothing happens? And so, drama is scripted into every scene, every episode.
I remember telling a friend that Survivor was all just a show; it wasn’t real events. She was upset and argued and argued with me. But when I asked her how come the camera was just at the right time and right place when certain events occured, she started to doubt herself. Yea, how could the cameraman know this person would say this shocking thing, and that person would react with surprise or anger, or this person would fall into the water and the camera would just happen to be filming underwater at that very moment to catch that fall and show dramatic footage of her scraping her knee on rocks? And you never see other cameras or cameramen even though the angles show this side, then switch to the other side, to the front and the back. The cameras seem to always catch the right action, the right expression, and at the right moment. She was so upset and disappointed, and I may have forever ruined Survivor for her.
Have you ever wondered why the Dragon’s Den (or Shark Tank) cast always wear the same clothes every episode? So that footage where they show shock, disgust, laugh, etc. can be reused and edited into an episode where that reaction is called for. Or, if such footage is missing and was not filmed during the show, then they can simply film it later after the show has ended and everyone else has gone home, and edit it in as though it all happened right there with everyone present. Because they always wear the same clothes, the audience would never guess that dramatic moment never really happened during the show but was edited in later.
But, guys, if you still doubt, then just watch the credits at the end of the show. Credits are a must, and they have to list every single person who participated in making the show, down to the hair stylist and the boom operator (the person who holds the microphone on a long pole). See how many people are involved on that supposedly wilderness show where the actor was supposedly all alone by himself fending off wild animals and risking dehydration and starvation all the while enjoying spectacular night sceneries with stars and the Milky Way Galaxy up in the sky? Yeah, he was all alone and also happens to be a great videographer and get the right close ups and far away scenes of himself walking way out there (of course, they show that he set his small GoPro and ran off into the distance to film himself walking in that wonderfully dramatic sunset before running back to film a closeup of him preparing dinner). He is alone, surviving, even to the point of death — but has energy to do all that filming hijinks. Truth is he’s got a whole filming crew all around him to make sure they get the footage they need for the show. Nothing is left to chance, it’s all scripted.
See how many people are involved in making that simple “I am a lone food blogger and travel alone around the world meeting strangers I messaged on the Internet, and fearlessly walk in crowded markets in foreign lands not speaking one word of the language, and my hair never goes out of whack, my lipstick remains unsoiled even after eating all that curry chicken, and you can do all of that, too.” Except, it’s not [all] real. She is surrounded by the cameramen, the boom operator, the director, the photographer, costume people, makeup people, assistants, security details, etc. She does not have to wait for a table at the restaurant, gets the table where the light is best, the view is best, the sound is miraculously not as noisy as you would expect in a crowded restaurant. It’s all scripted, the restaurant has given persmission to film, the other patrons are probably actors (or extras). For someone who is filming it all be herself, that long list of credits just keeps scrolling and scrolling.
Now, there are shows where real talent is required: either you sing well or you don’t. Either you can climb that wall using your bare fingers or you can’t. These things you can’t fake. There talents are real. But what’s not real is all the drama surrounding it. He falls on the first try, but perseveres and tries and tries again, and finally, to the audience’s delight, succeeds! That drama is scripted. She sings badly at first, gets wrung out by Simon, cries for the TV audience (the camera just happens to zoom in onto the tears), but whaddayaknow, she makes a supreme effort and eventually the underdog wins! Audience loves it!
Now you know.