Thanks to lowbudgetfun for this follow-up guest post.
In my last post I wrote about the three components of the ideal Netflix show and focused on discussing the first two: 1) being marketable to a global audience, and 2) evergreen/discoverability. In this post I am going to discuss the final component: ‘the franchise’. And then discuss some hypothetical areas for Reality television in the future.
Ever since Disney/Marvel released Ironman and announced a series of movies building up to The Avengers, the franchise has been one of the defining components of modern tentpole cinema. In the television space, the word franchise is thrown around from time-to-time, Bravo’s Real Housewives immediately comes to mind, but there is a big difference between what Disney/Marvel is doing and what is happening in television.
The Marvel Universe is occupied by numerous individual properties that come together and synergistically drive audiences to each other. The Netflix series Daredevil is a stand alone. You can watch seasons 1 & 2 on their own and get a satisfying story. But you can also expand into the Jessica Jones or Luke Cage series. To the audience, they are getting a deeper more immersive viewing experience. To Netflix, they are getting four stories (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and their combined story) for the price of three.
In streaming environments, like Amazon and Netflix, franchise amounts to a kind of choose your own adventure and you can see this revised concept of franchise at play at YouTube. They recently released Fight of the Living Dead which takes established Youtube ‘stars’ and places them into the well defined Competition Reality genre. Viewers of PrankvsPrank will watch Fight of the Living Dead to root for their star. But Youtube is betting that viewers will learn about, and start watching, Joey Graceffa’s or Stawburry17’s channel as well. For Youtube the sum is greater than the parts. It’s also worth noting that the entire series of 11 five minute episodes was produced for less than the post production budget of one 60 minute reality show.
What AMC did with Better Call Saul and Bravo did with Vanderpump Rules is the ‘spin-off’. That is to say, someone who watches the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills may continue onto Vanderpump Rules, but that’s about it. The spin-off is unlikely to lead viewers onto any of Bravo’s other properties. In order to thrive in the future television landscape I believe that reality television is going to have to adapt.
For example; one of the hallmarks of the Real Housewives shows is the seasonal cast trip. Every season the a city’s cast fly away to an exotic location and have emotional moments together that serve in their way to summarize the season. Perhaps Bravo should consider a future trip on the Below Deck ship. This would be an unique opportunity to introduce the Housewives viewer to the Below Deck crew. This kind of interconnectedness is the defining feature of the modern franchise and is critical in the future. It will also certainly require a different way of thinking at the Network level and beyond.
The idea of having the Real Housewives vacation on a Below Deck yacht is exciting for another reason as well. It’s an opportunity to subvert the audience’s expectations about what a Reality television show could be. Having two casts converge and interact would update troupes in a well worn genre. I hope Bravo is brave enough to take the dive because this sort of high concept meta-reality scenario sounds exactly like the sort of thing I would expect to stumble upon on Netflix.
Reality television isn’t going to disappear in the immediate future, but it is going to have to change because the new media players have little interest in what’s currently being offered.
I highly recommend the following list of articles to further explore the ideas presented in my last two posts. I think they add considerable value to the conversation and I hope you’ll take the time to provide your own thoughts in the comments below.
Dance Moms and the broken promise of reality television – An oldie but goodie, if you work in Reality and you only read one of these, Please Read This One. The whole article is worth quoting, but I think the conclussion is especially potent:
Ultimately, what’s so bothersome about Dance Moms and so much of its ilk is that they aim to confirm biases, not to subvert them. … At its best, reality TV can expose us to people and places we rarely see on television, and can teach us about jobs and hobbies that might otherwise seem closed-off. But then there are the shows that exist merely to say, “Those people that you think are probably terrible? Guess what? They are!” These shows serve a function as guilty pleasures, yes, but do there have to be so many of them?
You Won’t Live to See the Final Star Wars Movie – Interesting exploration of what franchise means in today’s marketplace. What struck me most about this article is how the concept of franchise requires less ego and an even greater level of collaboration between creatives.
In that framework, the auteur gives way to the team player. The myth of the screenwriter as a loner who vanishes into a Starbucks purgatory for a couple of years and returns with a script isn’t necessarily wrong, but it doesn’t apply to universe-building. Paramount has structured its Transformers team explicitly like a television-series writers’ room, with a showrunner and multiple writers all working on individual stories and the overall arc, following a story bible that establishes themes, tone, characters, and even plot twists.
Big Gulp: Drinking and drama on “Vanderpump Rules” – The New Yorker’s thoughtful television critic, Emily Nussbaum, rightly describes the process of watching Reality television as less a binge and more a cultural IV drip.
I still sometimes have the urge to critique the reality machine; it’s certainly asking for it. But it’s also true that reality is where the action is. It’s an easily mocked mass artistic medium that’s corrupted by half-hidden deals, but it also provides a magnetizing mirror for the culture, dirty and mesmerizing. It’s television’s television.
TV Advertising’s Surprising Strength … And inevitable fall – If you have any doubts about why we NEED to start discussing the future of Reality television then you should really stop what you’re doing and really take the time to contemplate this article. (For extra credit read the companion piece about Dollar Shave Club)
Linear television and its advertisers were all predicated on owning distribution and thus owning customers. The Internet has or is in the process of destroying their business models for broadly similar reasons; for now the intertwinement of these models is keeping everyone afloat, but that only means that when the end comes it will come more swiftly and broadly than anyone is expecting.