Flashback Friday: U R Reality TV

(Another oldie-moldie, dusted off from the distant past of January, 2010. I keep thinking about that editor, the one that keeps the action interesting . . . an important job!)

I got home last night with a handful of things to do.  Television is rarely a distraction for me (though I do admit a minor addiction to Survivor and old black and white movies), but last night, dinner was ready just at 8 and I flipped on the mush-box for no good reason as I ate.  What glimmered on the tube was a whole new season of The Biggest Loser.

I’ve seen bits and pieces before and have been surprised at how noble and human all of that exercising seems to be.  Last night, five minutes after I sat down,  as I shovelled a pasta/chicken dish and Brussels sprouts into my mouth, I began to blubber like a little girl.  I finished dinner and reached for a Kleenex.  Next thing I knew it was two hours later and my eyes were all red and puffy.  Is that stupid or what?

Not really.  It’s a tribute to the power of production, direction and editing.  I think it is amazing how this kind of television can elicit such a strong emotional response from viewers.  And it’s accomplished very cleverly.  They do it by being very clear about the objective – which is to get that strong response, get it quickly and sustain it;  by arranging situations where the drama can unfold;  and then by editing, editing, editing until it all comes together in a big sob-fest.

Here’s what I’m thinking today:  Your life is a Reality Show.  There will be a winner at the end of it and at each little challenge that comes along.  Most of us are so busy participating in the action that we ignore the aspects that bring power to the experience.  Put plainly, are you producing, directing and editing your own reality show to get the response you expect and the result you want?

Production occurs at the 30,000 foot level.  It’s where the producer gets clear about what he or she wants to do and maps out a grand schema to get it done.  Producers are rarely involved in the day to day creation of the show:  they define the bulls-eye and delegate the doing to competent others.  If they become involved in the day-t0-day it’s to make the call when decisions are tough.  You are the producer of your show (actually, I’d argue that you share production credits with God, who probably deserves the title, ‘Executive Producer’).  Are you clear about what you’re trying to accomplish?  Have you thought about what you want to see when you flip on the tube to watch the story of your life?  When the tough stuff comes, do you withdraw to 30,000 feet to consult with your Executive Producer about which decision fits best with what you’re trying to accomplish?

Directors craft the look, feel, plot, drama and orchestrate the desired response.  The director tells everyone what to do and how to do it so the producer’s vision can be achieved.  Funny about movies and television:  They almost never put anything on the screen that’s not important in moving the plot forward or creating the desired response.  Are you doing the same?  Are you so clear in your vision that everything that makes it into the movie of your life is relevant? Or are you running in ten directions at once, trying to do a passable job at dozens of things rather than a great job at one or two?   Is there a (self-disciplined) director sitting in the back of your head, guiding you to your goal?

I knew a top producing agent some years ago in Northern California.  He was about 27 and grossed about $300,000 in commissions the previous year (this was 1989 — and that was a lot).  I asked him about getting started so young and if he had to overcome credibility issues at age 22. He said he did for a short period of time.  I asked what he did to overcome that.  ‘I had to make changes in the way I saw myself,’ he answered.  ‘I’d been in college and I was a daring rogue, partying too much and taking stupid risks.  I saw myself as a pirate.  I realized if I wanted to be successful — and I did — I needed people to see me differently.  Nobody wants to buy real estate from a pirate!  So I cleaned up my act.  Got a haircut, started shaving every day and bought some professional looking clothes.  Then I started listening to some good teachers:  Tony Robbins, Tom Hopkins, Danielle Kennedy.’  In essence, what this young man was saying was that the director of his show stepped in and had him adjust his performance.  Smart move.

Finally, there are the editors — who I’d say are the real stars of shows like The Biggest Loser.  They take raw and probably very boring footage and slice it up so that it depicts exactly what the director wants to depict.  It’s like what the cartoon character, Jessica Rabbit said in Who Framed Roger Rabbit:  ‘I’m not really bad — I’m just drawn that way.’  Maybe Survivor’s Russell wasn’t really evil– he was just edited that way.  You have to become your own editor, too.

A couple of years ago I was interviewing people for a job.  One of my candidates was qualified, but she talked more about the trauma of her recent messy divorce than she did about her goals, aspirations, joys and abilities.  Of course I didn’t hire her.  But  it turns out the woman I eventally did hire — bright, energetic, capable — was also embroiled in a nasty divorce.  Nobody had any idea for weeks, and when it finally came out it was nothing she wanted to spend any energy on at work.  Later, after we’d become friends, I asked her about it.

‘You know, I had no idea you were going through a divorce, and certainly not one this messy, when you came in for your interview,’ I said.

‘That’s because I keep that tucked in,’ she replied.  I gave her a questioning look.  ‘I don’t want my life to be about my divorce, so I keep it to myself when I’m doing other things.  You weren’t hiring a soap opera, so I left that part of my life at the kitchen table that day, just as I do every day when I come to work.’

Editors sometimes get Emmys and Oscars . . . and they deserve them.

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