Reality Pro Tip: Fallout and Recaps

So it finally happened on your show.  Two cast members who’ve been simmering all season got into a huge fight and there was a lot of action and name-calling and hurt feelings and the source material looks great.  [Alternately, because it’s not always a fight: cast members finally kissed / broke up / something else happened that you know will make the audience gasp]

These are the kind of scenes that typically end episodes or even seasons, because nothing raises questions about the future dynamics of your cast like a heated argument or other noisy/shocking moment.   But here’s the downside… when the next episode or season rolls around, you’ve got to address the fallout.  Can Kathy and Marion get past the horrible things Kathy yelled right before she slung that salt shaker at Marion’s husband?  You can’t just ignore it.

You’ll need a recap scene right at the top of the next episode, and it’s important that it does more than just rehash what happened.

Here are my thoughts on how to accomplish that most effectively:

Typically, the next episode will start off with a “previously on,” highlighting a few moments from the previous episode or episodes whose action most usefully establishes backstory for this new episode.  The biggest, loudest, or most important content should always be the last beat in the previously on.  In this hypothetical case, the fight from the last episode.

Make sure, when possible, that the moment you select for your “previously on” dovetails with something in the recap scene you’ll be kicking this new episode off with.  If Kathy called Marion’s husband a “rich bully” and your first new scene (the recap/fallout scene) features someone taking issue with Kathy having called Marion’s husband a “rich bully,” so much the better for you.

Something to remember:  If, in the days following the fight, you shot four or five scenes with different members of the cast discussing it, use only the recap that postulates most effectively what the implications are for the future.

A recap that doesn’t tee up anything new is a failure.  Even a statement from Marion like “Kathy had better not cross my path again or she’ll be sorry” works, because now viewers will be looking forward to Kathy and Marion crossing paths, eager to see them either reconcile or fight some more.

You know that middle-aged uncle of your who can’t let go of his 1970’s polyester shirts?  He’s trapped in time.  He loved the 70’s and he wishes they would last forever.  Don’t try to make a big story beat last forever with multiple recaps, or you’re just as bad as your uncle.

My general rule is one recap scene at the top of the episode and then it’s on to new story.  Sure, the big fight has changed the dynamic of the group, and you should feel free to reference it in the future.  But only in passing, in-scene, in fresh story.  If two groups of people within your cast have very different takes on what happened or how it will affect future interaction, by all means, use two recap scenes.  Just keep them short and keep things moving.

Can cast members reconcile in the recap scene?  Sure.  Sometimes it just happens that way.  Kathy and Marion could have made up on the phone the next morning.  But that doesn’t mean you’re free from having to explain what the fight means moving forward.  Even an anemic interview bite like  “I’m pretty sure Kathy and I can move past this, as long as it doesn’t happen again” from Marion still tells us to be on the lookout for something.

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