Two Guys Walk Into A Bar. So My Friend and I Just Walked Into A Bar.

There’s a phenomenon unique to reality television that drives me completely nuts: interview-bite-supported superfluous setups.

You know what I mean. A scene starts off with two guys, Paul and Petey, walking into a bar as Paul says, in interview, “So I decided Petey and I should go down to the bar and settle our differences.” The first line spoken in scene afterward is then completely redundant, like: “So, Petey, I brought you down here so we could settle our differences.”

Could we have figured out that Paul and Petey had just walked into a bar by, say, watching them walk into a bar?

You bet.

Could we have figured out that Paul brought Petey there to settle their differences just by hearing Paul tell Petey that he was bringing him to the bar to settle their differences?


So why the redundant setup?

Scenario One: Coverage Issues

The newbie camera operator shot the guys walking up to the bar and going in the door, ending the shot so abruptly that a viewer would have been jarred if post had cut from that last available frame of footage to one of the two guys already seated and holding beers inside, launching into conversation. Adding a generic bite establishing the motivation for the outing covers the brief gap in time in a more acceptable manner.

Post also bears some of the blame if you hear the setup again in-scene. Better that they jump back in somewhere after Paul says the same thing in scene that he said in the interview bite.

Scenario Two: Exec Note

Television differs from movies in that the latter are first viewed in a specially built room that no one usually performs any active task in during the screening. When you’re at the cineplex, viewing the product is the primary objective for the duration of time you’re in that room watching a story unfold, absorbing information free of distraction, save for the teenagers making out and that old lady unwrapping her hard candy. With television, viewers are usually watching from home, where distractions abound; the cat yowls for attention, the oven timer goes off, the set is on primarily for noise while the viewer is playing Angry Birds on their smartphone, that sort of thing.

Execs know this, and some feel that the audience needs to have stuff set up over and over again just in case they weren’t paying full attention the first time. To some note-givers, it cannot be taken for granted that a viewer is familiar with the show, its cast, ongoing storylines or locations, so execs often ask to have scenes set up in this redundant way to make absolutely sure that the viewer understands the context of content they’d missed the first time it was said or seen.

Scenario Three: Fixing Strange Blocking

Let’s say that the network exec has asked to have the scene set up with an interview bite. Easy enough to address, we’ll just set it up with the bite and start our scene with Petey responding to Paul’s setup a line later with his sarcastic response: “So what do you think the issues are, Paul?”

Perfect… except that the first half of the shot featuring Petey saying that line was obstructed by a guy wheeling a dolly full of bottled beer right past us in the only clear shot of that line that we have, forcing us to back things up a few seconds to include Paul’s preceding line, “So, Petey, I brought you down here so we could settle our differences.” The beer guy still pauses as he walks right through our shot, but only after we’ve seen Paul and Petey at the bar and gotten a line out already.

Again, we’ve got a redundant setup, but the end product is less distracting than opening the scene with an out-of-focus shot of Earl the Delivery Guy’s name patch as he lingers in front of our camera.

Final Thoughts and an Apology

Usually, when asked to include a setup bite from an interview pickup, I’ll delete the redundant in-scene setup. My own philosophy is that interview content resonates with a viewer more than in-scene content does because it is in the interview moments that the cast members are talking directly to them: “That guy is looking at me through the television right now, so what he’s saying must be important for me to know.” The viewer isn’t overhearing two guys in a restaurant, he’s looking at someone who’s talking directly at him.

We know our setups are often repetitive, and we’re sorry — but forget it, Jake. It’s reality.


2 thoughts on “Two Guys Walk Into A Bar. So My Friend and I Just Walked Into A Bar.

Add yours

  1. Great article, but there’s another solution you failed to mention. The bite should set up the scene in a way that gives us the context, but also adds some additional information. Instead of saying “So I decided Petey and I should go down to the bar and settle our differences”, the bite could be rephrased as “I’ve known Petey for years, and I know when he’s upset. And when that happens, ya gotta talk it out.”

    As a show runner, “point to point” bites are one of my pet peeves. There are ways to satisfy a network note or reset a scene without using them. I think it’s lazy, uncreative producing.

  2. Todd, I absolutely agree… great additional solution. If any content isn’t adding a new thought or idea to the story, why bother with it?

    I’ll cop to often opening a show with a little bit of feather-duster fallout chatter about something that happened in a previous episode, mostly to humor the folks who might just be tuning in mid-season to see what all the hubbub is about… but even then, those scenes must end looking forward, with cast members wondering about how all that’s gone down will affect relationships and events to come.

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