Thursday, July 13, 2006

Do You Suffer From Short-Term Memory Loss?

I admit it. I got dragged kicking and screaming into the world of reality TV. I didn't want to enjoy it, but it won me over, and there are certain shows I'll do my best not to miss. Since I have a Tivo, my best is pretty good.

But here's the deal. I'm not a moron. And despite appearances to the contrary (co-workers, please hold your heckling until the end) I have hardly any short-term memory damage. So I don't need to see the same damn clip four hundred and thirty-seven times. Seriously. We saw it two minutes ago before we went to commercial. Those of us with Tivo saw it three b-boop's ago. I swear to you, I can remember the snarky comment. It may not be immortal, but it'll stick with me for a few minutes.

Even when we're not seeing the same actual clip, we're being drilled like slow children with laminated flashcards. Let's just look, as an example, at the instructions for the challenge on Project Runway. First, Heidi tells them what the challenge is, and we see their reactions. Then we get clips of a couple of the contestants, all of whom say something like, "When Heidi told me that the challenge was x, I instantly knew that I wanted to do y." By the time they start sewing, we've heard four or five variations on the instructions for the challenge--and it doesn't stop there, because someone helpfully summarizes the challenge as they explain their design process. By the time we get to about variation number six, I'm thinking, can I test out of this?

I understand that part of the nature of reality TV is that we want to catch the attention of the random channel-surfers, and I know we need to relentlessly recap every ephemeral moment of reality so they can catch up, but the deja-vu is getting to me. I can only hope that the editorial theory is that as we progress through the season, viewers become more familiar with the premise and then we can stop hitting them over the head with it every twenty seconds.

Of course, that hope has not been gratified by "Hell's Kitchen," which still has to recap everything in a "Dune"-style voiceover after every commercial break. Everyone who's seen "Dune" knows instinctively that unless you are certifiably brilliant, voiceover is the editor's crutch. When the footage you've been given lacks crucial exposition, or when there is no feasible way to cut from one shot to another--when, in short, it sucks so bad that you can't make it hang together into a coherent story to save your life, you have two choices. One is to reshoot (which I think we're still pretending reality TV doesn't do). The other is voiceover. "Hell's Kitchen," not to insult the program, is not nearly as complicated as "Dune," so why they use voiceover is beyond me, apart from the fact that they obviously think their audience has the collective IQ of a lima bean. Actually, writing your show so it could be understood by a particularly stupid lima bean may be the leading cause of voiceover in America. I'll have to look into it.

Editors, reality TV can make you stars. I beseech you, use your powers for good. I have a secret weapon, and I'm not afraid to use it. Closed captioning shows up perfectly when I fast-forward my Tivo, enabling me to skip a clip whenever I feel like it. Right now I can watch an episode of Project Runway in about 30 minutes. When you get to 20 (half as much content as an ordinary hour of TV), you're out.

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