I had a wonderful time last week catching up with a pair of friends who’ve been in the business about twice as long as I have. At one point, we discussed how frustrating it can be when you treat a cast or cast member as respectfully as possible, but they still come out of their experience feeling angry and used once their behavior is distilled into a few episodes of finished product.
The common cast complaints that have come up time and time again for all of us are:
“You didn’t show everything.”
Well, no. We didn’t. We couldn’t. It’s an hour-long (or half-hour-long) show. A movie can’t show everything that happens in a book, and a reality program can’t show everything that happened over a massive stretch of your real life.
The brilliant Martin Olson, in his new humor book, “Encyclopaedia of Hell,” defines reality as “The Infinitely Interwoven Broadcloath of the Cosmos of which Human Idiots can see only a single thread.” Well, I’m not calling anyone an idiot, I’m just saying that when you shoot for anywhere from two weeks to six months or more, much of it will have been cut away by the time that single thread makes it to air.
That means story might not use your phone call to your grandpa on his birthday or show you making peanut butter sandwiches for your kids. If you had a running feud with your cousin that ended in a screaming match in a restaurant, you’re probably more likely to see that in the end product than the time you brought in coffee one morning as a thank-you to your personal assistant.*
*unless, of course, you bawled them out the day before because they couldn’t get you into a restaurant on opening night with half an hour’s notice, and we’re trying to redeem you (like the nice people we actually are)
“Why Didn’t That One Thing I Liked End Up on The Show?”
You threw a birthday party for your kid complete with a bouncy house and a clown, but we never see or hear the tot anywhere else over the run of the program? Well, brace yourself… if that story isn’t part of an arc, it’s quite likely that it won’t make it into the show. If you had to decide between throwing the party and accepting a huge business opportunity in NYC the same day, arguing with your best friend (who’s also your boss) about it for a week prior with cameras rolling, your kid’s party would be paying off a story.
There are occasions when little non sequitur one-off scenes can find their way into shows, usually when the story department needs to show the passage of time between related events featuring the same cast members. If the story producers are beating out an A story where Mary and Beth have lunch and the fallout from that lunch first manifests itself in the next scene where Mary and Beth are out at a club, story might wedge your kid’s party between those scenes to give a fuller sense of the passage of time between lunch and the club… but it’s still unlikely.*
*All bets are off, however, if your estranged husband the 80’s sitcom actor is in attendance, in which case someone at the network will make us wedge it in whether it makes sense or not.
“You Made Me Look Like a Terrible Person!”
Reality TV is a reduction of actions into discernable storylines. In cooking, a reduction produces a smaller amount of something with an intensified flavor. By definition, a reduction is not the entire thing, and if you’re someone likable, you’ll probably come off as a REALLY likable person, and if you’re a sour old meanie, well, you’re going to come off like a REALLY sour old meanie.
Also, if you threw an entire taramisu at a twelve year old kid for drumming his fingers in a fancy restaurant, that’s story’s fault how?*
*seriously, a twelve year old kid?