h1Reality TV matters because it's another conduit for great storytelling ... and great storytelling is inspiring.
Ben Mandelker, B-Side Blog
Ben Mandelker founded TVgasm in 2004, which not only gave the screen shot a big boost within the recap medium, but also produced "But First," a supercut of Julie "Chen-bot" Chen's "But first!"s during one season of Big Brother. This was before supercutting was a matter-of-fact on the Internet, and it has inspired legions of other entertainment bloggers ever since.
Today Ben is the comic genius behind another great entertainment site, the B-Side Blog - a Los Angeles-based pop culture site that focuses on TV, food, drink, and everything in between. Ben is also on the SAY 100 as one of the online entertainment voices that matter.
We caught up with him by email to ask him about the grand spectacle of reality TV, what the essential ingredients of a good story are, and what the future of reality TV holds.
What do you love about reality TV? Why the obsession? I love the unpredictable nature of reality TV. As much as everyone loves to bash the genre or say that it's all staged, there are some moments that are simply too crazy to believe. No human, no mortal could ever stage some of the grand spectacles and disasters we've seen. Look at some of the fights on The Real Housewives, the meltdowns on Big Brother, the blindsides on Survivor. The surprise eliminations on Idol. The simmering feuds on The Hills. I could go on. Plus, let's not overlook all the unintentional humor that stems from many of these people. Love it.
You wrote an essay for the book Reality Matters. Why does reality TV matter? Reality TV matters because it's another conduit for great storytelling. That's what the best reality shows do. And if I may be incredibly cheesy, great storytelling is inspiring. Plus, there's something about a reality TV watercooler moment that is so special. How many times have you been with co-workers, on a date, or at a dull cocktail party when it's been a shared love of reality TV that has broken the ice. It happens all the time.
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Deconstruct the format for us: What are the essential ingredients of a great reality TV show? Characters, characters, characters. And minimal producer manipulation. Look, I get that these shows are all scripted to a certain degree, but the best shows stay as hands off as possible (or at least appear that way). When producers force their subjects to read lines, we can always tell. We're not stupid. It shows a lack of faith in the subject material and the audience. The best shows let the drama unfold naturally.
You were the founder of TVgasm, one of the first sites to do supercuts. What are the ingredients to a perfect supercut? Editing is essential. There needs to be a rhythm to a good supercut. The faster things move along, the more the viewer is overwhelmed by the repetitiveness. When it's too slow, it's just not fun. I mean, have you seen some of those eight minute supercuts? What's the point. At that point, it's just a montage.
What are your all-time favorite supercuts? I'm partial to two that we did at TVgasm. The Julie Chen "But first" supercut was my baby, and it went on to inspire her "But first" catch phrase, which is really exciting. We also did a supercut of every time Mischa Barton said "Hey" on The OC. It didn't catch on as much, but I really loved it. Other than those, there's this totally random but awesome supercut of Julianne Moore crying. Such a bizarre choice of subject matter but amazing.
What are your favorite reality shows right now and why? I love Real Housewives of Beverly Hills because that cast is just perfect. Interesting, occasionally smart women with just enough gravitas in their lives to make them compelling but enough banal crap to make them fun. Also, Survivor, Amazing Race, and Celebrity Apprentice all premiered this month. Hard to say how these seasons are going to shape up, but those franchises are always great, especially Survivor. Twenty-four seasons, and it's still full of jaw-dropping moments. (Gotta save some love for Top Chef too).
What else is in your TV diet besides reality TV? Any scripted shows? I'm utterly obsessed with Happy Endings on ABC. It remains the only TV show I've actually purchased from the iTunes store. I rewatch episodes all the time. I'm also digging Revenge - a perfect nighttime soap that tonally is right on the money. I had been watching Ringer, but it's too ridiculous for words. Oh, and how could I forget this vital addition: I'm living and breathing Downton Abbey!
You're the master of the TV recap - who else does a great job with recaps? Wow, master of the TV recap - I'm flattered! I think the master is Josh Wolk, who I believe is at Vulture now. Vulture has great coverage of just about everything, including TV. Entertainment Weekly also provides well-written and funny recaps. Plus, Ronnie Karam (Flipit) at TVgasm is a hilarious recapper.
What's a reality show you'd like to see that people would go crazy for? I feel like some sort of version of Big Brother involving old people. Old people are hilarious. Big Brother 10 had two crazy old people, and it was an epic season. Just sayin'.
Prediction time: Has reality TV jumped the shark yet - or where are we going next? Reality TV is never going to jump the shark. It's a full-fledged genre, and it's here to stay. There's good reality, there's bad reality - just like with comedies and drama. I will say that the genre is as unpredictable as the shows themselves. You never know where the next big hit will come from, but when it happens, I'll be there.
Follow Ben on Twitter @bsideblog
[Photo: Real Housewives of Beverley Hills. Credit: Bravo]