home
WIMN’s Voices: A Group Blog on Women, Media, AND…

Reporting on writers’ strike reinforces myth of “unscripted” reality TV genre

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

November 5th, 2007

The big myth of the “reality TV” genre is that the action isn’t scripted — that it’s “real,” not simply crafted by storytellers to achieve specific, pre-defined, calculated results. Yet lead-up stories to the looming Writer’s Guild of America strike have repeated a thread that reinforces confusion over the production, creation and content of so-called “unscripted” programming.

Take “Reality shows on tap if writers strike,” a typical USA Today story from the Associated Press, which notes that in the event of a strike, “Networks are busy mulling proposed reality projects that aren’t governed by guild contracts.”:

Viewers could start seeing an onslaught of unscripted entertainment by early next year, when popular series such as Desperate Housewives and Heroes run out of new episodes.

“I was in a network meeting today, and they were referring to the fact the timing is really good for reality producers,” said producer Mark Cronin.

He and partner Cris Abrego have been consistently busy with shows such as Flavor of Love, I Love New York and The Surreal Life.

A similar alert came from “Reality Looms: Writers’ Strike Could Change Pace of Television,” an appealingly snarky Washington Post piece on Thursday that began this way:

Dear Viewers of Television:

Do not adjust your sets.

You might soon notice even more reality television emanating from your plasma boob tube. This depends on the outcome of contract negotiations between Hollywood screenwriters and Tinseltown producers and is not the fault of your local cable providers, no matter how much you hate them.

Contracts for the 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America expired at midnight last night. Writers have a rally scheduled for tonight. Anything could happen. It’s Hollywood.

If writers walk out, you might see more “unscripted” reality television, which is by and large produced by non-guild writers. In a worst-case scenario, this could result in such things as reruns of “Temptation Island” or even “Anchorwoman.”

While technically accurate — so-called “reality” shows don’t usually involve WGA members — news reports have generally not clarified for readers that these shows do, indeed, involve writers. Non-union writers (and story editors, video editors, and hands-on producers and directors), all of whom collaborate to achieve the networks’, executive producers’, and integrated advertisers’ desired story arcs.

Inside the media industry, this is perfectly understood. Outside the industry, not so much. For example, how many regular reality TV viewers know that groups of reality TV writers have, with the help of the WGA, attempted to sue producers of reality shows such as “The Bachelor” for violating labor laws and working them in “sweatshop conditions,” claiming that their storytelling services have been drastically underpaid?

I’ve written for years about the manipulative and varied ways in which reality TV shows are scripted:

scripted to hawk integrated advertisers’ products in dialogue plugs (see: every episode of Fox’s “American Idol,” ever), set dressing and as integral to competition show challenges;

– scripted to conform to regressive gender norms;

– scripted to reinforce dangerous ideas about beauty, body and violence against women; and,

scripted to appeal to the most base notions about women, people of color, LGBT people, low-income people, youth and more.

Yet whenever I write about these shows, and whenever I speak with students on high school and college campuses about the commercially-manipulated, ideologically rigid reality TV genre (NOTE: contact WIMN if you’re interested in organizing a multimedia lecture on reality TV - or on other issues related to women, news, media, politics and/or pop culture), students — and sometimes faculty and staff — constantly tell me that while they know that the shows are manipulated by producers, they also believe that the shows portray “real people” in “real situations,” interacting with each other in a “real way.”

In a culture which doesn’t emphasize (and generally avoids) media literacy education, many reality TV viewers simply do not understand the role of paid storytellers in the creation and production of this genre. Because of that context, it would have been helpful — and could have done some clarifying good — if reporting on the WGA strike had included a discussion of the active role that non-union writers, editors and producers play in scripting so-called unscripted television. Instead, the constant stream of headlines and warnings about how all we’ll get is reality TV when “the writers go on strike” contributes to the misleading impression that the genre really does function without writers, as if these shows were documentaries rather than the fictions they truly are.

The most notable exception I’ve seen to the confused “reality isn’t written” WGA strike coverage came in a brief, 143-word blurb in Entertainment Weekly’s Nov. 9 issue. Headlined, “Bubble-Bursting Alert! Reality TV Has Writers,” Jennifer Armstrong breaks it down for us in EW’s “News and Notes; Strike Watch” section:

Here’s a weird postscript to the recent charges that MTV’s The Hills is particularly staged well, more staged than other reality shows. Last year, the Writers Guild of America tried to unionize the folks who give unscripted programs such as America’s Next Top Model a sense of plot and pacing they even went so far as to picket the CW show (in coordinating T-shirts, naturally). But when their efforts fell massively short, executive producers replaced writers with story “editors,” who are covered by a different union. For the most part. Now with a possible writers’ strike, there’s an outside chance that a few of these dialogue polishers who are employed on such series as ABC’s Dancing With the Stars could walk off the job, since they have some limited WGA coverage…

Responsible entertainment reporters would do well to follow Armstrong’s lead and run more stories delving into the issue of who actually scripts the unscripted schlock we’re likely be buried under if the WGA strike is not speedily resolved.

20 Responses to “Reporting on writers’ strike reinforces myth of “unscripted” reality TV genre”

  1. Opel Astra Anhangerkupplung
    November 12th, 2013 06:48
    1

    Super - ich werde hier öfter gesucht werden!

  2. key generator download
    November 21st, 2013 10:58
    2

    I have realized some essential things through your website post. One other subject I would like to talk about is that there are lots of games that you can buy which are designed mainly for preschool age youngsters. They incorporate pattern acceptance, colors, creatures, and patterns. These usually focus on familiarization rather than memorization. This will keep children and kids engaged without experiencing like they are learning. Thanks

  3. louis vuitton outlet store location in usa
    November 25th, 2013 04:11
    3

    louis vuitton shop louis vuitton store online louis vuitton online shopping uk louis vuitton monogram louis vuitton bags prices louis vuitton leopard print scarf cheap louis vuitton bags uk louis vuitton store online

  4. Iola Ohora
    November 28th, 2013 12:30
    4

    Hello! I simply want to give you a big thumbs up for your great info you have here on this post. I am coming back to your web site for more soon.

  5. Markets Qld
    February 14th, 2014 17:05
    5

    However, there are no facilities like permanent bases and the
    like, can only get on the right path of life anymore.

    Customer AppreciationWhat have you done for your current customers happy.
    As rates go up and credit scores go down, further manipulation of it
    can cause a small business do not chance. As a Forex trader can choose
    thecurrency pair that you wait to act accordingly for the appreciation and the place 07scape economy for fun is Wild Wadi.

    Look into my website :: Markets Qld

  6. Health Care Kaiser
    February 26th, 2014 03:42
    6

    If you’re searching for quality pre-possessed
    items, the Camberwell Sunday Marketplace is the site of a one-day conference, Ethics and Globalization:
    The nhs online Tradeoffs Underlying Our Policy Choices, where a range of gourmet treats.

    The commercial part will be 18. 5% did not stop them.

    Our tour continued nhs online to the shop area which was a raving success, Thursday nights!
    Whether they succeed or fail depends on the economics status on the country the currency represents.

    My homepage :: Health Care Kaiser

  7. Egzon
    May 4th, 2014 20:55
    7

    Thanks, this post is so helpful.

  8. car gadgets
    May 7th, 2014 20:48
    8

    It¡¦s really a cool and helpful piece of info. I¡¦m satisfied that you simply shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Mexican Food
    October 17th, 2014 13:46
    9

    I carry on listening to the rumor talk about receiving boundless online grant applications so I have been looking around for the finest site to get one. Could you advise me please, where could i acquire some?

  10. Ip class c address
    November 7th, 2014 04:11
    10

    We’re a bunch of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community.
    Your web site offered us with valuable information to work on. You’ve
    done a formidable process and our entire group shall be thankful to you.

  11. Natalia
    December 18th, 2014 00:20
    11

    Thus, their life during their employment years is just like
    living in a world of security in terms of convenient living.
    0 is being referred to by experts as the introducing about searching word with the natural
    form of semantic web, semantic meaning and collect the information from internet.

    Sending out e-newsletters can also be a part of
    an effective Internet marketing strategy.

  12. article directory links
    February 25th, 2015 21:24
    12

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about latest xbox. Regards

  13. Bella Fleur Skin
    March 24th, 2015 14:38
    13

    Thanks for finally writing about > WIMN’s Voices Reporting on writers strike reinforces myth of unscripted reality TV genre

  14. naprawa komputerów lubin
    April 15th, 2015 05:02
    14

    Thanks designed for sharing such a good idea,
    piece of writing is nice, thats why i have read
    it completely

  15. gucci
    September 4th, 2015 09:53
    15

    Fantastic blog, I am going to spend more time reading about this topic

  16. pinoy tambayan
    September 9th, 2015 22:06
    16

    I ran across your internet site last week and started to follow your posts consistently. I haven’t commented on any kind of blog web site just however but I was considering to start soon. It is truly exciting to really contribute to an article even if it is only a blog. I genuinely don’t know exactly what to write other than I genuinely loved reading via a couple of of your articles. Great articles for sure. I will keep visiting your weblog regularly. I learned a lot from you. Thanks!

  17. Australia's most unreliable bank
    September 11th, 2015 00:25
    17

    I want to thank you for the outstanding post!! I definitely liked every bit of it. I’ve bookmarked your web website so I can take a look at the latest articles you post later on.

  18. My Personal Diabetes Success test
    September 12th, 2015 01:05
    18

    Hi, you used to write excellent articles, but the last several posts have been kinda boring… I miss your super writing. Past several posts are just a little out of track!

  19. more
    September 12th, 2015 19:24
    19

    I truly appreciate this post. I have been searching everywhere for this! Thank goodness I discovered it on Google. You have created my day! Thx once again..

  20. апартаменти софия без посредник
    June 1st, 2016 06:20
    20

    An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you become expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post!

Leave a Reply