Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What can we learn from watching reality shows? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
1. People dramatically overestimate their own, untried, ability.
We had so many viewers tear down contestants on Big Break, a golf show, because they could “hit that shot.” Most of our viewers were amateurs. On Big Break, contestants were mini tour pros playing for their shot at a dream prize that could change the trajectory of their careers. Every shot counted, happened in front of 12 cameras, and a crew of 80+ people. A six figure prize could hinge on each swing. But everybody at home thought they could hit the shot that they saw the contestant miss.
I also worked a travel show where we would play holes with a teaching professional. Two cameras, shots didn’t count, we didn’t even see the result of the shot. We had teaching pros completely fall apart on us. And they were playing for nothing.
Lesson: If you were really good enough to catch the pass, score the goal, or hit the shot, you’d be playing in the big leagues, not watching from the couch. When you’re sitting in the couch, your opinion means exactly nothing.
2. Nature abhors a vacuum.
I typically cut a pretty straight show. We often shot a 12-16 hour day per episode. I treated it like having 10,000 puzzle pieces for a 1000 piece puzzle. If you lived that day, you would recognize the show as a condensed version of the day. I would often cut a comment into a show to illustrate a point, with no agenda as to the character saying the line. Viewers would read things into the line that I could never have imagined while I was cutting the show. A player would explain the lay of the land, with no bias, and just get crucified online, because viewers would create the agenda and create the meaning as they watched the show.
3. People hate looking in the mirror.
I worked situations where I was concerned for my safety because someone on the show was losing their cool in a major way. I’m 6’4″ tall and played rugby in college, and I’m concerned for my well-being on a golf show. We had many, many times where someone just treated people terribly in the show. In seven seasons of producing, and probably another seven working on the show, I recall exactly one time that someone behaved terribly during the shoot, and then when the show aired, they accepted responsibility for their behavior. In every other situation they blamed editing or whatever.
More often than not the reverse was true, we would cut conservatively and our executives would ask us to take things out because the behavior was so outlandish they feared people wouldn’t accept it.
4. The identity of the protagonist depends on the audience.
When two people have a conflict in a show, there will be people in the audience that support both positions, no matter how awful one position is.
5. People will imagine conspiracies everywhere they don’t exist, but miss the obvious fake.
Example: Player A hates player B. There’s no clear reason why, he just does. It happens. Some people rub each other the wrong way. The audience won’t accept that though, because humans operate in a reality of cause and effect. I find Player B making an innoculous statement, and then cut a bite from Player A that makes it sound as though A is responding to B. The audience buys it hook, line, and sinker.
Conversely, someone throws a fit on camera, and everyone goes to interviews and reacts to it (“I can’t believe they did that, what an ass!”) and the audience reacts like producers were trying to make someone look bad.
6. Donald Trump loves golf.
One of his courses hosted a season, and he was supposed to appear on six episodes. The man was on set almost every day we shot. He loves golf.
Check out Jon’s website here.