Thursday, December 22, 2005

Snap Back to Reality

I had a conversation recently with a sitcom writer who wondered how I could support reality writers in their struggle to join the Writers Guild.

Putting aside that I didn't think that, say, garment workers were kept out of unions if you didn't like the garments they made, I pointed out that there was a time when the Guild looked down on writers who worked in cable or animation, and today those are pretty elite gigs. You never know how the business will grow or change, and someday hybrid scripted/reality shows may be very prestigious indeed and we'll be glad to have them covered by union contracts.

This writer sneered and said he would NEVER work in anything even remotely connected to reality. He sniffed that he'd rather clean bathrooms at McDonald's than work on a reality show.

I was astounded by this writer's seeming willingness to repeat the mistakes of the past, and by his flat-out rejection of such a broad genre. I mean, sure, there's Fear Factor... but there's also The Amazing Race, isn't there?

There was no convincing this guy. No way. Reality was crap, and this guy doesn't do crap. He was adamant. Reality was ruining TV. I thought it best to drop the whole subject, rather than point out that it was reality, in the form of wrestling and Truth or Consequences and Queen For a Day and so forth that really kinda got there first. I changed the subject.

And then this writer started telling stories of shows he'd worked on. Some of the vilest, most infantile, lowest-common-denominator pieces of shit you've ever seen. (Or actually didn't see... None of these shows lasted.) The worst of the worst. Shows that aren't fit to stuff in the horse anus a Fear Factor contestant would refuse to eat.

There is no automatic virtue in a show merely because it's scripted, just as there's no automatic vice in a show merely because it's unscripted. And a "reality" show can have drama more compelling and comedy more hilarious than those in scripted TV.

There's something sad about a writer, schlepping his tattered sample case of worn wares, blaming the audience for being too "stupid" to want to buy what he's selling. Or the network that says, "Yeah, I know the audience has rejected the last six formulaic sitcoms starring a comedian, a couch and three kids... but they'll love this one."

The audience votes for the new, the different, the funny, the better... or they just vote to not watch at all. And those that ignore the audience will end up cleaning the bathrooms at McDonald's.

And by the way? There is no dishonor in cleaning the bathooms at McDonald's, if you work hard and do it well. But there is dishonor in being a bad writer on a crappy show while shitting on hard-working writers who only want the right to join a union.

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