Reality TV, attention spans and editing

I think there might be something wrong with my attention span. By which I mean, I think there must be something wrong with everyone else’s attention span. This is the only way I can explain the success of reality TV.

Let’s be clear: reality TV sucks. It sucks in the same way that biographies suck. I don’t mean I have a problem with truth, of course not. The Great Escape is a truly magnificent movie. It’s just that biographies, like reality TV, fail to do the most important part of storytelling: leaving out the boring parts.

Imagine the following scenario: I head off to lunch to meet a friend. I’ve not seen him for a week so I ask, innocently enough, “Whadya been up to?” not really expecting an answer any longer than the question itself. As it happens, in the week since I’ve seen him, something truly unbelievable has happened to him: He was shot at in the supermarket by an angry yeti with a crossbow hand-fashioned out of root vegetables.

He, naturally, starts his reply with, “When did we last meet? Thursday, wasn’t it. I went home after that and had some dinner. I wasn’t that hungry as we’d had such a big lunch, but the wife was starving so I herded together some ingredients into a pan and made a stir-fry. After that we just chilled and watched TV. The next day was cold for a Friday…” Of course he wouldn’t. He just tells the yeti story.

This is exactly how I view biographies.  They are the interesting stories (usually) of interesting people (sometimes), told in the most long-winded unedited way possible. Which is why I very rarely read them. An exception here is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobio, but that’s because the guy has had about 15 remarkable and fascinating careers.

Reality TV is even worse than this. Reality TV is like a biography, except you take out the parts that would actually be interesting and just show the mundane crap. They are the exact opposite of The Great Escape.

Reality TV takes some really boring activity, say house renovation, and pretends it’s fascinating. Renovation is a task so dull that the most overused idiomatic cliché relating to boredom is based on it: watching paint dry. So, the TV studios take that activity and then film someone doing it. Make sure it’s just some regular member of the public rather than someone we might be interested in. Say, some guy who bought a run-down armpit of an apartment and wants to make a quick buck as a slum landlord. That’s it. That’s the entire show.  And apparently it’s a good enough idea to warrant have about a dozen shows following basically the same format.

Don’t get me wrong, I can understand the initial appeal of some of the reality shows. I mean “Ice Road Truckers” might have made an interesting one-off documentary special if it had been properly scripted, edited with care and actually had a point to be made. But no, it’s just cameras rolling on people while they do their day jobs. Not for that one episode, mind.


At least with soap operas (previously considered the lowest form of television) they have the decency to hire professional actors, write a script with some sort of plot arc.

So anyway, if you follow these programs you clearly have a much longer attention span than me. I’ll be in the other room watching The Great Escape. No you can’t join me. You don’t deserve it.

One thought on “Reality TV, attention spans and editing

  1. Sis

    THANK YOU! I’ve been saying the EXACT same thing about Ice Road Truckers! I mean really?? X

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