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Klug, Daniel: Popular Entertainment between Fact and Fiction. The Case of German Scripted Reality Television

Klug, Daniel: Popular Entertainment between Fact and Fiction. The Case of German Scripted Reality Television Paper presented at EUPOP 2015, 4th International Conference of the European Popular Culture
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Klug, Daniel: Popular Entertainment between Fact and Fiction. The Case of German Scripted Reality Television Paper presented at EUPOP 2015, 4th International Conference of the European Popular Culture Association, Humboldt Universität Berlin, My talk addresses the question of television shows that consist of factual and fictional elements. More precisely, I will discuss this issue for so-called scripted reality shows, a subgenre that is linked to traditional reality TV. My talk is based on my current research project, which is called: Varieties of scripted reality programs in television and on the internet. Comparative analyses of production, product and reception in (german-speaking) Switzerland. It runs from 2014 to 2016 and is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The project combines the analysis of the televisual product, which is the actual scripted reality show, with the analysis of its production contexts. Before I explain the characteristics of scripted reality, I first want to outline some general aspects of reality TV. Ever since the first talk shows and court room shows, every type of reality show is characterized by a self-imposed claim to the real (Holmes/Jermyn 2004, 5). No matter if it is a reality show like Big Brother or Survivor, a Docu-Soap like Wife Swap or celebrity formats like The Kardashians, all of these shows claim to present at least some remains of real people in their real lifes. Some international reality TV formats This means, that these shows present snippets from certain people s life which already took place and will continue to happen in some other way once the camera is turned off. However, reality TV shows are also designed to be entertaining, therefore they mostly follow predefined scripts to create, recreate and stage realistic situations. Moreover, Reality TV tends to dramatize the actual event to stage a media reality that is distinctive to television. As a televisual product, reality TV always deals with being a mixture of factual and fictional 1 elements. Because of the underlying documentary concept, reality shows can be understood as made-for-tv-factuals (Hill 2007, 49). Scripted reality shows however are the inversion of that because they are typically based on a fictional script while also integrating factual elements. This is because scripted reality shows rely on the nonfictional performance skills of amateur actors to act out fictionalized versions of everyday scenarios. Since scripted reality shows adopt a documentary style of filming and aesthetic modes of presentation of documentary reality TV, a close relationship to factual entertainment is created (c.t. Klug/Schmidt 2014: 109f.). Some German scripted reality shows Given this perspective, scripted reality shows are however not made-for-tv-factuals (Hill 2007, 49) and they also lack a reasonable claim to the real (Holmes/Jermyn 2004, 5). They do not fulfill any documentary aspect but go beyond the constraints of the reality TV genre as they are in fact entirely fictional. In the last decade, scripted reality constantly evolved to a point, where in 2014 the genre of reality TV has shifted from journalistic to almost completely fictional. A short look at annual statistics of German television programs illustrates the extent of scripted reality. For example, looking at the TV channel RTL, in % of the program was reality TV of which 23.9% was fictional scripted reality TV and only 6.6% was nonfictional reality TV. For RTL this means three-quarters of so-called reality TV was actually entirely fictional (c.t. die medienanstalten 2015: 262f.). Overall in Germany there are right now 22 different scripted reality shows in the afternoon program, most of them air every day including multiple reruns. Furthermore scripted reality is no longer just a German phenomenon. Other European countries like Poland, the Netherlands or Austria are showing their own versions of mostly German-originated scripted reality. Especially the German show Berlin Tag & Nacht which translates to Berlin Day and Night spawned some national versions. 2 Slovakian and Austrian versions of Berlin Tag & Nacht ( Berlin Day & Night ) This type of scripted reality show deals with young people living together and with their everyday struggles in work life and relationships. The lifestyle of the actual city is used as a significant background for the fictional stories. Therefore it seems reasonable and also easy to transfer the show concept into other cultures and countries. Other types of scripted reality shows, like Verdachtsfälle (which translates into Cases of Doubt ) are more action-centered. They deal with the profession of investigating fictional everyday crime issues like fraud, theft or cheating or sometimes just with false suspicions within families or small businesses. Furthermore, Poland and the Netherlands produced their own original scripted reality shows, which indicates the popularity of this sub-genre in Europe. German-originated scripted reality shows and their European spin-offs In shows like Berlin Tag & Nacht ( Berlin Day & Night), the fictional stories revolve around mundane and prototypical conflicts about love, friendship, money and about general attitudes towards life, relationships or family issues. The narrative structure follows a certain pattern: conflicts are build up quickly, followed by excessive coping and arguing by the characters just to be subsequently solved with a sudden happy end. 3 Amateur actors acting out a conflict in Berlin Tag & Nacht ( Berlin Day & Night ) The main characteristic of scripted reality is that the fictional stories are acted out by amateur actors who are cast for fictional roles that are similar to their real life attributes, habitus, professions and to their characteristic looks. The same idea applies to the settings of the fictional stories, because scripted reality shows use public spaces or actual existing private houses instead of artificial sceneries. In this way, scripted reality shows aim at including nonfictional elements to the underlying fictional script. By trying to generate non staged documented aspects of alleged real life outside of television media, the fictional stories should appear more realistic. The dramatic stories in scripted reality are built upon pre-given dialogues. The premise in the adaption of the dialogues is the displaying of emotionality by the amateur actors through speech, voice, facial expressions and gestures. The basic assumption is that more emotionality and more extreme emotional reactions create more realness within the fictional actions. But mostly it leads to overacting which in turn emphasizes the fictional concept. Emotionality in the facial expressions of amateur actors in Berlin Tag & Nacht ( Berlin Day & Night ) 4 Scripted reality shows furthermore draw on a certain inventory of key components. The main component is the interview-like statements in which the characters talk directly to the camera about what just happened. In addition, inserts (or lower thirds) specify the situation or the character, often by mocking or embarrassing the character. Use of inserts in Mitten im Leben ( In the Middle of Life ) In this example of the scripted show Mitten im Leben ( In the Middle of Life ) the insert translates into cuts her own hair, which is a minor information that only plays a mean pun on the woman s weird haircut. Scripted reality shows also frequently use voice-overs to provide background information for the depicted conflicts and a lot of shows also use inner monologues to intensify the characters emotional state. ll these components are frequently combined, which creates a multiplication of narrative perspectives on the actual often trivial event. Together with the adaption of documentary modes of presentation, for example sequence shots, the use of shaky hand camera and diegetic sounds, scripted reality productions aim at factualizing the underlying fiction. This way of production causes scripted reality to oscillate between fact and fiction. Therefore, scripted reality is not a made-for-tv-factual but a fictional format that imitates and fakes nonfictional aesthetics as a supposedly claim to the real. Scripted reality differs from traditional reality TV, because the concept is not to document non-mediated reality or to document staged television reality but to create reality based stories (Hißnauer 2011: 340). After looking at the televisual product, the question is still, which of the show s components are indicating facts and which fiction? While a product analysis can illustrate the dramatic 5 course of the fictional narrative structures, stereotypical role models or inherent social norms and values, it cannot unveil the true factual elements of a scripted reality production. Therefore one needs to analyze the actual production, that is the processes of writing, directing, filming, acting out and cutting scripted reality. The following are some first results of the analyses of interviews I did with production staff to illustrate the concepts and strategies of factualization that are used in the production of scripted reality shows. Before the filming starts, the authors create a fictional script by drawing inspiration from everyday news in print and television media. Everyday events therefore serve as basis for a fictional dramatization. For investigative formats like Verdachtsfälle ( Cases of Doubt ), the producers cast real everyday experts of a certain profession, like police officers, to act out the fictional story. That is to give correct and understandable information through the characters to create supposedly authentic events. While filming on set, the pre-written script functions more as a lose guide for the progression of the overall story. The amateur actors are instructed to use their own words and their habitual expressions to act out the dialogues in an emotional way. Everything else, like the location or the scripted order of events is open for spontaneous adaption. The key aspect in the factualization of the fictional concept is the representation of emotionality in the freely adapted dialogues. Therefore the directors need to stimulate and motivate the amateur actors to get into the spirit of the fictional situation. This means that emotions do not emerge naturally to be documented but are instructed and fictional. This clearly exemplifies the fictional basis of scripted reality and shows the effort that is needed to make people transfer their non-mediated self into a fictionalized scenario. For example, the investigative show Auf Streife (which translates to On Patrol ) does this by creating unpredictable situations for some of the cast. In the show real police officers who are actually off duty are confronted with a staged situation that is unknown to them, and are instructed to act as if it was their real work life. The idea behind this is a type of simulation of real life that leads to improvised decisions and actions by the police officers which then should be understood as non-staged reality. But still: it is a scripted situation within a fictional TV show. 6 Real police officers (off duty) acting together with amateur actors in Auf Streife ( On patrol ) Another supporting aspect in the overall strategy of factualization is the additional use of social media. Especially shows like Berlin Tag & Nacht ( Berlin Day & Night ) turn to Facebook to create the illusion of reality in the television events. For example, pictures from daily activities are posted by the characters in real time on the show s Facebook page. The characters, respectively the actors, also interact with the viewers through Facebook and use the Facebook page to give additional information to the television show. Additional Facebook postings by the amateur actors of Berlin Tag & Nacht ( Berlin Day & Night ) about breaking up about free time activities 7 So in general, this way of producing factual entertainment is much more cost efficient because it is mass produced and only little reimbursement is needed for the amateur actors. But the major benefit in scripted reality productions is the gained control over the pre-planned reality. You don t need to wait to film an intended event because it is scripted and will be acted out. By hiring amateur actors and by letting them freely interpret the scripted dialogues, a factualization of the fiction can be achieved but it does not create reality outside of television. The adoption of the aesthetic style of traditional reality TV supports the feeling of non-staged or only minor scripted actions but at the same time it also gives false impressions. So another bottom line is, that German studies on the perception of scripted reality have proven, that especially kids and young adults mistake the fictional contents of scripted reality as actual documented reality or at least as reenactments of real life events For example, studies prove that kids and young adults perceive the scripted reality show Familien im Brennpunkt ( Families in Trouble ). 30% of the respondents think the events are completely real and documented, 48% think that the events are reenactments of real everyday events and only 22% perceived the shown events as fictional (c.t. Götz et al. 2012: 46f.). It is the most severe within 13 to 14 year olds, because circa 90% of the respondents think that the fictional events of Families in Trouble are real or at least reenactments of actual reality. This is supported by the fact that scripted reality shows disguise their fictional status by only stating in the shows closing titles that All acting persons are fictitious. 8 die medienanstalten (2015): Programmbericht Fernsehen in Deutschland Programmforschung und Programmdiskurs. Berlin. Götz, M./Holler, A./Bulla, C./Gruber, S. (2012). Wie Kinder und Jugendliche Familien im Brennpunkt verstehen. Forschungsbericht zur Studie,,Scripted Reality: Familien im Brennpunkt. Düsseldorf. Hill, A. (2007): Restyling factual TV: audiences and news in documentary and reality genres. London. Hißnauer, C. (2011). Fernsehdokumentarismus: Theoretische Näherungen, pragmatische Abgrenzungen, begriffliche Klärungen. Konstanz. Holmes, S./Jermyn, D. (2004): Introduction, In: Holmes, S./Jermyn, D. (Eds.): Understanding reality television. London, Klug, D./ Schmidt, A. (2014): Scripted Reality-Formate im deutschsprachigen Fernsehprogramm. Trinationale Programmanalyse und Konzeption einer kombinierten Produkt- und Produktionsanalyse. In: Studies in Communication Sciences, 14(2014). S
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