Thursday, September 16, 2004

Reality Bites

Stephanie just saw a commercial hyping the next episode of The Apprentice, which will be 90 minutes.

A little background: Shameful as it is, particularly for an aspiring writer of scripted TV comedy, I got sucked into watching the first season of The Apprentice. Part of it was that the challenges simulated, to some extent, real-world situations, part of it was that the business setting necessitated that the attention-grubbing wannabe actors also possess some actual skills, part of it was the "firing" system that actually eliminated people in a roughly merit-based fashion that gave people's actions consequences. Part of it was also the personality of the contestants, which make or break any reality show.

The new season has an okay cast of applicants. It's hard to compare them to the previous cast, since we don't know them well yet. But already this season is marred by an obnoxious smugness, personified in Trump, and a self-congratulatory attitude that "we're the big hit show."

The trouble with reality shows (one trouble of many) is that it doesn't actually matter how long they are. They shoot a shitload of footage, then cobble it into something watchable. An episode can be one hour or two, it just depends how much shit they want to cut. (Sure, we can "super-size" a Friends episode to 45 minutes, but without commercials, that's just filling out a half-hour.)

This means that once they have you hooked, climactic episodes like last season's finale or this season's premiere can be made as long as you want, and voila--another half-hour of advertising time you can sell for your network's top-rated show! Trouble is, you're just leaving in shit you should have cut, so the show is not only 33% longer, it's 33% more boring.

Now, it's one thing to do this for the premiere (though it was irritating then, as well). But now it looks like many, if not all, of this season's episodes will be inflated to 90 minutes, filling the pathetic gap in NBC's Thursday schedule that they're too scared to actually fill with new original programming. Now, when a sitcom like Seinfeld occasionally airs an hourlong episode, that feels like a treat. But bloating an already hourlong show to 90 minutes on a weekly basis is simply a waste of my time, transparently calculated for the sole purpose of increasing ad revenue by drawing out something they know you'll tune in for. If I wanted that, I'd watch American Idol.

It's insulting. The Apprentice was worth an hour a week to me, but an hour and a half? That's arrogant. We should punish them by not watching. Or watching for only the last hour.

I hate not being a Nielsen viewer.


Dutch said...

Gotcha on manufacturing more time for advertising.

Still, I am betting that the producers took a look at the number of fans who went to Yahoo! to see an additional 20 minutes of The Apprentice footage...mainly in the board room. By looking at the hit count and the duration of views, they probably figured that they could justify the time.

Since I did spend the time on it, the extra board room footage is quite dramatic and compelling to watch. I got a great sense of how the decision to fire is made.

The only thing I wish they would give a little more air time to is the Trump, George and Carolyn discussion. Man, that kind of inside look at decision-making is gold to my business.

Great Optimism,

C said...

gosh, i *heart* reality tv. I should use my iron ons and make that a shirt.

also, if you don't regularly, check my blog. apprentice ice cream would only be a short trip for you!