Last week I had the opportunity to attend the screening of the reality TV show, The City, and a live taping of The After Show. I, most definitely, cannot say that I knew much about either, but I wanted to do something pleasant for my best friend and her sister –safe to say, they are fans of the shows. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to spending time “behind-the-scenes” and observing the audience-to-host relationship.
I arrived, alongside thirteen other people, at the building of MTV Canada, where we were greeted by the MTV’s Digital Marketing Coordinator, Casie Stewart. Casie is an incredibly friendly yet professional female, who radiates optimism –it’s actually physically visible. After a very strict security check-in we were lead into the Red Room. This room is nothing like you would expect at a cutting-edge TV programmer’s headquarters –it’s better. The room looks like a castle chamber, that’s complete with dark wood and gothic-esque cutouts. There are hundreds of decorative wooden chairs with cherry red seat cushions alongside the walls of the room.
After enjoying a few snacks and a re-run episode, Casie took everyone down to the studio for the live taping of The After Show. The mid sized studio consisted of a stage (for the hosts), several dozen fold-out chairs (for the audience), countless overhead lights (with a purple-ish tint) and a total of 6 cameras (one of which was mounted on a crane that the videographer evidently enjoyed operating). The bloggers sat towards the back, watching the teenagers pour into the studio –giggles, sweet perfume, and braces filled the room. Although the GenY audience consisted of mostly females, there were also a few males in attendance.
Once the audience settled into their seats, a short, red-haired man appeared on the stage. He referered to himself as “the Crazy Ginger”, and that he was. He informed the audience of various hand gestures that are used (in the production world) to signal when to clap, laugh, etc. His main objective was to get the audience excited to a level that is equivalent of a kid high on sugar on Christmas morning. And he did: he was funny, relatable, and crazy.
Once the show commenced and the co-hosts — Dan Levy and Jessi Cruickshank — took their spots on the stage, the interaction with the audience did not stop. (If you’re one of the many viewers wondering if Dan and Jessi are drinking Martinis on stage –no, it’s Vitamin Water) In fact, during the entire show it was ALL about the audience –games were played, prizes were won, and opinions were given. The After Show’s main objectives were to get the audience involved and to generate buzz. Of course, The City did just that; it’s filled with crude young women thirsting to push each other off of their Manolos. What is it about Fashion reality TV that guarantees success with its targeted audience?
The one male blogger in our group (in his twenties) was completely baffled by the content of the show; he objected by saying “I don’t get this, where is the plot?” In the last decade of TV programming we’ve seen a decrease in “reality TV”. Contrary, most people, who are currently in their twenties and older, have been raised on traditional storytelling. Every novel, film, and cartoon we’ve been brought upon has a plot; and that plot is based on cause-and-effect, and has a climax, and a resolution. In contemporary media a plot is no longer necessary. It is about engaging. Why? Simply because engagement guarantees viewers, and viewers dictate the life of a show.
Attending this event helped me realize the difference in interest between generations. Most importantly, the experience itself was an illustration of how important social media has become not only online, but in the ways contemporary society tells stories.
I had the pleasure to interview Casie Stewart regarding storytelling in the digi-age and its relationship to the audience:
A: With Reality Television’s mass appeal, what have you learned along the way from audiences in regard to their demand in contemporary TV programming?
C: People always want something new; People willl watch almost anything entertaining. In terms of digital culture, – internet has the ability to add to the drama of any particular show. Ex. Twitter, spinning conversation, trending topic, sharing, Facebook, Youtube, parody.
A: How has fandom changed in the digital era?
C: People aren’t fans of only who or what media tells them they should be, they have more access to a wider range of things to fan. For example, a Blogger or someone on Youtube.
A: What are some unexpected challenges that you’ve come across in engaging audiences/ fans?
C: Annomity + freedom = idiots, people can be really mean/rude when they don’t have to show who they really are. Also, having access video streams has caused problems. For example, if a TV programmer doesn’t get the hills online first, people will watch it elsewhere.
A: Is multi-platform integration important for a TV programmer? Why or Why not?
C: Yes, you want to carry the conversation online not just on TV. Example, fan page on Facebook, commentary on Twitter, online viewing, mages, interviews, behind-the-scenes.
A: What qualities does a real social media expert possess?
C: They have to have: Personality, drive, determination, creativity, sincere hunger for knowlege, abilty to multitask, genuine (online/offline), good writer, good at self photography, tech savy, early adopter.
A: What are some risks and rewards that you’ve come across by being a trailblazing early adopter?
C: The major risks would be: being shut down, wasting money on new gadgets. But, the rewards include: a reputation for being an early adopter, trust in my audience, and knowledge about a wide variety of products or services over many years.