you ever have a sense of déjà vu when watching reality TV? Like when a show comes back from commercial and you're like, "Wait a minute. Didn't I just see that?" Yeah, you probably did, and it's annoying as all hell. Why must reality producers treat us like imbeciles?
Over the past decade, reality television has settled into its conventions and quirks, but there is none more annoying than repeating the same footage multiple times an hour. It's become a custom thanks to the countless shows that employ it—Jersey Shore, every iteration of the Real Housewives, and just about every show that caters in dramatic confrontations (which means all of them). I especially noticed it last night on Celebrity Apprentice (which I am, for some godforsaken reason, watching these days).
Check out the clip above, we see Donald Trump ask NeNe Leakes a question about Lisa Rinna's performance and NeNe respond to it. Then there's a commercial break and when we get back, we see the exact same clip. We don't need to see that because we just fucking saw it. Seriously, do the editors think that we aren't paying attention to the show at all? That we're so idiotic or that our attention span is so short that we can't remember exactly what was said verbatim before the commercial break? It's like we watch a spot for Tide and we have some sort of cerebrovascular accident so that when we return to our regularly scheduled program we have the same aphasia the guy from Memento had where we can't remember what happened not even two minutes prior?
That's the worst part about this ubiquitous device. It betrays that the makers of reality television shows think that their audience is a bunch of twitching, ADD-addled idiots who can't keep their fingers off the the remote long enough to watch an entire television program through from beginning to end.
The other thing that shows their contempt is the near universal use of the "coming up" preview before every damn commercial break. They're giving us a little glimpse of what is to come (usually some sort of fight) so that we'll stay around and watch it. Guess what, we already started watching the show. Do you think it's so lousy that we're only going to stay if there's the threat of some sort of violence, confrontation, or meltdown? Well, it certainly helps, but we're not going anywhere. And if you think your show is so boring that we need to be enticed to stay, why not craft a better show! Or on a show like Extreme Makeover Home Edition they show us a preview of a family seeing their new house and freaking out. You don't need to show us that a family is going to lose their fucking minds when they see their brand new mansion. It happens every stupid week. We know it's coming. It's the reason we watch the show. Telling us that it's about to happen is like telling a death row inmate that he's going to die. It's all but an inevitability.
When the fight or big reveal that they're advertising finally comes around, it's not a surprise anymore, because we had to see it before every damn commercial break all night. And for those of us with the luxury of a DVR, we're going to fast forward through the commercials so we're going to see the event pretty much immediately after your little promotional premonition.
That's the problem with this constant repetition. The modern reality program is based around a sense of "drama," all the fights, screaming matches, name calling, drink throwing, roommate bashing, and other assorted kerfuffles that make us all tune in. However, if you know the drama is coming and exactly what the drama looks like, by the time it's delivered, you are completely unimpressed. The reiteration of what we've been waiting for creates a sort of slackness. Reality TV should be about surprise. We're a culture that prides itself on having seen it all. When you show us all the good stuff over and over and over again, we actually have seen it all, in a very literal sense.
What's really annoying is that the practice doesn't even make sense (except on shows like Celebrity Apprentice which at two hours is twice as long as it needs to be and needs some padding to fill the time). Showing the promos before the commercials seems to be a way to keep the audience through the break and get them watching the commercials (which is what pays the bills). However, showing the same exact thing both before and after the break is for the benefit of people who are flicking through from another show to get them up to speed. Reality producers are simultaneously trying to disparage and encourage the exact same behavior. What they're really doing is making it worse. Why not reward the faithful. Don't show that promo and give us new content when we come back from break. That way the audience will know that if they flick around or fast-forward through parts of the show (which is now possible thanks to modern technology) that they're going to miss something. That will keep them watching your ads for PopCorners.
But no, this is far too much for all the producers of reality content in the whole entire world, who have subscribed to the common formula. There used to be a time when the nation looked down on reality TV. Now they're looking down on us, playing the same few good seconds of human frailty over and over again on a disgusting loop, robbing it of its value and alienating their audience. It's almost enough to make us go read a book. Almost.