This post by Ritter Ames
Get a group of friends together and talk tends to segue into what everyone likes and dislikes—sometimes all at the same time. I had lunch with some wonderful ladies, and the conversation moved into the realm of the burgeoning variety of reality programming television has today. Now, I hear you, we all miss the larger range of scripted shows. Yet even as we laughed and groaned, and sometimes cheered over the shows, I realized how many good business and life lessons can be taken out of the boiled down ideas of this viewing genre. Give me a chance to explain first. Okay, you ready?
There are a lot of good lessons we can learn from reality television.
Yes, I usually take things from a writer’s perspective, but business is business, no matter the business you’re in, and while I admit that I don’t watch a lot of reality TV, I realized there is some true substance to be found. Beyond the fact that “the public finds these shows interesting,” when I added up all my friends’ viewing habits and what we discussed about these shows, I realized I know quite a bit about the genre—even if I do flip the channel whenever most reality shows hit the screen. I’ll add a caveat here, reminding everyone that a good portion of this is based on what other people have told me about these shows. If I’m wrong, please feel free to comment and set me straight. If I’m right, I’d be happy to hear that too.
Here’s my take on the ‘takeaway’ writers and other business owners can gain from understanding this viewing venue:
- Like “Survivor”, writers must build alliances to win at the writing biz. I don’t like the idea of eating grubs or any other gross scavenger food I’ve heard has been on the show, so I want to keep my writing profits as high as possible. The best way to do that is to network, to forge writing partnerships with other writers and businesses that depend on writers, and to always be someone people can trust and work with in all situations.
- Along those same lines, “The Biggest Loser” shows how important support can be to a successful outcome. There is no better means of finding writing gigs than to join a writers group and getting involved with the membership. Likewise, writers and critique groups are often the best method to keep us motivated through our writing trips and traps.
- From “Undercover Boss”, I think the takeaway is that you should never think you’re too big to know what’s going on in the minds of the people who represent you. And you should always verify that people understand your viewpoint in a project/business situation as well. Good communication goes two ways. Also, never take for granted the people who helped you get to the position you have today.
- I’m a big fan of “Shark Tank” now that Mark Cuban has joined the sharks. The takeaway from this show is something we hear as writers all the time—know your project inside and out, and be able to succinctly present it to professionals who can help you succeed. Also, don’t be afraid to take risks—but don’t let ego blind you from a great opportunity.
- Another confession: I’ve watched “The People’s Court” ever since middle school when Judge Wapner presided over the bench, and I still watch Judge Milian. I don’t tune into all the other court shows out there, but I can say I’m pretty good at understanding the basics of contracts, and know how the judge is going to rule 99% of the time. It’s not rocket science, but it is “writer useful”.
- “Celebrity Apprentice” may make you want to fire Donald Trump, but it shows how we not only must do our best and stand up for ourselves, but writers have to be able to articulate why each of us has the edge over someone of a similar caliber who wants to grab the same brass ring. Everyone on the show has a favorite charity they are championing, just like writers have to champion their writing projects.
- On “The Amazing Race”, contestants not only have to follow rules, but must frequently think on the fly. Sound familiar? Writers have many rules in this business, and while it’s often tempting to ignore them, you have to understand why those rules are there before deciding whether it’s worth the risk to break one (or more). On this show, rule breakers are penalized, but that doesn’t mean those contestants can’t still make it through the round. Some rules can’t be broken. Some rules can only be bent. A successful writer understands how far to stretch things before a break occurs; and if one does, why that’s the best choice.
- “Dancing with the Stars”—one word, ‘practice, practice, practice.’ Yes, there are some natural writers, just like there are natural dancers or graceful athletes, but nobody on that show ever wins the Mirror Ball Trophy by sitting around watching reality shows all day. They practice—a lot. They build muscle as they go through the season. The only way to build your own ‘writing muscle’ is to do the same thing—practice, practice, practice. Then you can make writing look as effortless as they do the foxtrot.
This list, of course, does not cover all the reality shows out there. If I knew anyone who admitted to watching “Project Runway” or “Fashion Star”, I could probably add tips for writers that come from those shows. Since I can only guess, I’m going to pass on the challenge. Shows like “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent” triumph the folks who believe in their talent, or who have family and friends who’ve cheered them to this point through the years. All of the cooking shows are the same way—I know there are business tips writers can learn from “Iron Chef” and all the many versions of the show, but I’m not qualified to list any because I don’t watch them.
One final reality show I’ll freely admit to viewing is the game show “Jeopardy!” and the takeaway I get from watching that classic every day is tremendous. I not only pick up information on subjects I previously knew nothing about, but I’ve had ideas for article openers and parallel themes that generated sales for my writing business on both a fiction and nonfiction basis. But most of all, “Jeopardy!” makes me feel smart when I can answer the questions ahead of the contestants. And in the writing biz, my friends, you should never ignore any trick that helps you build confidence in yourself.
What are your tricks and inspiration?
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