The Myth of Bravo as High End TV

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Teresa Giudice is back from prison and driving up ratings for Real Housewives of New Jersey as is her wont. Anyone who believed that Andy Cohen would somehow be above having a jailbird on one of his shows obviously hasn’t been paying attention. Ever since she flipped that table, Teresa has been Bravo’s go-to for most publicity on a show with an otherwise lackluster cast.

The idea that Bravo is above anything is farcical. Yet there is yet a persistent belief, if not among savvy viewers then certainly within the industry, that Bravo is an elite broadcaster. Or at least that is the view of the owners of companies. For those of us in the trenches – particularly in Post production – saying you are about to work on a Bravo show is to say, “I am going to be continuously abused for the foreseeable future and my production company is probably about to go into a deficit.”

Bravo is notorious for 20 pages of single spaced notes on a fine cut, after they’ve seen several versions of the cut that they have also given copious notes on. They will start these Fine Cut notes with a sentiment like,”WTF?” or “Are this editor and producer actually competent to work on this show?” Keep in mind, said producer and editor saw those notes (and it is the first law of note-giving that it tends to be more productive if you start off with a compliment before you go ham on an editing team).

But producers take the jobs because, frankly, we need the work. If we can afford to turn one down, believe me, we do. But it’s a dry time in the industry, and Bravo orders a lot of programming. They can afford to because they rake in viewers like few other cable channels creating Reality. Better yet they are partially subsidized by awestruck production companies. For some reason, perhaps because Bravo was formerly a serious Arts channel, these companies feel elevated by their association with it. They will, as a result, grit their teeth and put up with round upon round of excessive notes, often going well over schedule, and in the process, over budget. I actually asked one owner why they put up with – for example – submitting sometimes double the amount of cuts they were contracted to, and got the reply, “Well, you know, it’s prestige programming.” Oh, well OK then…

And it’s not that these production companies don’t like money. They love money, and are delighted to make producers work 16 hours a day without overtime in order to halfway meet their schedules in the cheapest way possible. But heaven forbid they should approach Bravo and request perfectly reasonable overages for the costs (both financial and human) that result from their relentless noting. After all, it’s fancy-schmantzy Bravo! Who would dare?

Possibly the most aggravating thing about this state of affairs is that Bravo’s programming isn’t any better than the fare that can be found on other channels. In fact I would argue that Love and Hip Hop has a far more thoughtful visual approach than any of the Housewives shows, and Keeping Up With the Kardashians is far more revolutionary in terms of cross-platform storytelling.

Most of the fuck-ups on Bravo shows occur in the field, an area that Bravo sees fit to completely disregard (except for the occasional location visit to fawn over the Talent); which is why the programming frequently looks like it was shot by your drunk uncle at last year’s Thanksgiving. “Fix it in post” is all very fine and well but, as anyone in post can tell you, there’s only so much lipstick that you can put on a pig.

My friend and frequent guest poster lowbudgetfun recently remarked on his blog …

I had the pleasure of hearing Andy Cohen speak about Modern art and Reality television at the MET some years ago, and he is as thoughtful about the television medium and reality genre as you’d want him to be.

I have no doubt that Andy Cohen is a thoughtful person, and certainly his credits are impressive, however I can assure lowbudgetfun that little if any of that thoughtfulness is being expended productively on Bravo’s slate of docusoaps. [I will grant, however, that Top Chef looks amazing and is extremely well-edited. Perhaps that is where Cohen’s aesthetic focus is.] Nor do I think viewers see Bravo as being any better than, for example, VH1. Luckily for Bravo, no one seems to give a shit about what viewers think.

In conclusion, a word to the Bravo execs out there: we.see.you. We know you aren’t dumb enough to believe that somewhere down the line someone isn’t paying for your relentless (and deluded) self-aggrandizing. But go ahead and comfort yourself with the knowledge that it isn’t you exploiting workers; just, you know, the people you hired to run your shows. Come to think of it, it’s appropriate that you’re so often represented in the press by Teresa Giudice, a white collar thief.

For an extremely thoughtful if more academic discussion of Housewives overall, check out this and this.

3 thoughts on “The Myth of Bravo as High End TV

  1. In many ways this is no different from any aspirational brand. Why do people pay way to much and wait way too long for a birkin bag when a canvas one is functionally the exact same thing? Even accounting for things like craftsmanship there are certainly cheaper alternatives. What is curious to me is, “why does Bravo have that aspirational status that makes ‘wise’ business people make irrational decisions?” If you spend anytime at TVbythenumbers, Bravo’s ratings aren’t that good. And Bravo’s programming rarely if ever gets any attention from the Emmys. So it is worth considering why does Bravo have aspirational status while TLC does not?

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