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Watching TV for fun and profit

16 December 2011

It’s no secret that I’m up on Netflix Instant — even though we have DirectTV, I tend to get more content digested through Netflix (as we don’t have a satellite hookup in the office where I get most of my work done). I usually put on TV or music for noise as I write, and while I don’t actively watch when I’m doing that, some things stick.

And now a confession — as much as creative people rail against it, there’s some reality TV I really like to watch. A lot of it is true crime stuff — Disappeared, 48 Hours, even Unsolved Mysteries (though the wife and I suspect that the “new” series of that with Dennis Farina is just a bunch of old, recycled clips). But I’ll have to admit to non-true-crime stuff too — Fear Factor is probably the most shameful of the lot, but I dig Dirty Jobs, Hoarders, and I just finished watching a Military Channel series called Special Ops Mission. And, again, while I do like scripted television (especially those shows with good writing), I feel there is some value in watching the reality stuff, as well.

Writers, if they’re doing their jobs correctly, write about people. Even sci-fi has to be about the people, not the events or the technology. Reality TV is, deep down, about people. Sure, sometimes they’re deeply unlikeable people, but there’s a certain value to watching that, as well.

You’re probably not going to make it onto a reality show if you’re a normal person. In fact, there’s probably something about you that sets you out from the crowd, good or (most times) bad, that got the producers of that show interested in you in the first place. And good fiction isn’t necessarily about likable people, either — if everyone in your story is great and awesome, it’s going to get very boring very quickly. If everyone’s just a jerkoff, same problem. There’s got to be a mix of different types in your stories — or even in each of your characters — to make them interesting. And one of the ways you, as a writer, can observe some really great jackass moments?

Reality TV.

I genuinely like the people I hang out with and surround myself with. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t hang out with them… so, all in all, they might make boring characters. Reality TV gives me a low-stress way to hang out with people I wouldn’t actually like, see how they operate. So, for that reason (and a couple of others, of course), I’ll admit to watching reality TV.

So, it’s OK to come out of the Reality TV closet here, folks. Any of those shows you watch, even if for no other reason than pure train-wreck value?

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