Rebirth and Reboot: Reality Show Confessions

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SYTYCD Season 5 Winner Jeanine Mason

Easter always marks the beginning of spring for me. The time when Mother Earth begins its cycle of birth, transformation and growth.

How, you may ask, does this tie in with reality shows? We all know they are the plague of intelligentsia worldwide and have single-handedly slam-dunked primetime TV drama. I admit, I used to be a reality show snob. Now, I confess, I’m a reality show junkie. With the aid of my trusty DVR—which ranks up there with my coffee grinder and French press as things most essential to my mental health-- I happily record American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, and So You Think You Can Dance. To research my next book, I ordered Season One of Miami Ink and used it to nurse my way through a nasty cold.

Have you noticed a theme to the shows I enjoy watching? Idol, DWTS and SYTYCD are all performance shows. As a writer, I am inspired by performance, art, music. I love to see creative interpretation, especially dance. I am filling my well, as Julia Cameron describes in The Artist’s Way. Or, in other words, I’m getting a reboot.

There are times when I see a performance, especially in Season 5 of SYTYCD, when the choreography, the story and the movement melded so perfectly that I was in awe of the artistry.

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I have to digress from my reality show confessions to add: no matter your opinion on Michael Jackson’s surgery or his private life, you cannot beat Michael Jackson for pure artistry. Sadly, it wasn’t until his death that I truly appreciated the measure of his genius. Last weekend, I watched This Is It. The man wasn’t like the rest of us. He was born to move, to sing, to perform. His talent was a filament, rendering him incandescent when he was on stage.

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The rehearsal footage showed his dancers – probably thirty years younger than him – clustered around the stage, watching him perform, emulating his moves – wanting to be him. And yet, not. He was in a plane of his own. In my mind, the highest plane of artistry.

Now, back to my confessions. I also love reality shows that reveal personal transformation. Good old rebirth. Transformation is a key element to developing a character arc, so I find it both fascinating and stimulating to watch “real” stories across all walks of life. I recently got hooked on Miami Ink for “research purposes.”(My third book, TATTOOED (August 2011), will feature a tattoo artist). What I love about Miami Ink is that the show’s format devotes a lot of time to the stories behind the tattoos.

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And for me, I’ll happily devour a reality show when it’s about the art, the performance, and the stories of transformation that inspire it.

How about you? Do you have any favourite TV shows/performing artists that give you the reboot or fill your creative well?

Happy Easter!

Pamela Callow is the author of DAMAGED (June 2010), the first of four books in a new legal thriller series for MIRA Books -- and a Levy Home Entertainment "Need to Read" Pick for June!


  1. Good morning, Pam. I'm intrigued by your comments about reality TV shows. I have never watched one as I'm a Law and Order junkie, but hearing you sing their praises I'm going to check them out.
    Also, you're right on about Michael Jackson and his ability to move, his total concentration when he was on stage. He was enclosed in his own world when up there, and no one could doubt the power of his creativity. Thanks for your tribute to a legend.
    August 2010

  2. Hi Stella,

    Thanks for dropping by. What I like about the shows I mentioned is watching people strive to express themselves. Sometimes, when it all comes together, it's great entertainment. Other times, it isn't .

    But MJ... even in rehearsal, he was an artist through and through.


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  4. I like these programs because they show what's best in people - individuals digging deep and working hard, surprising even themselves with their talent and abilities. It makes you think about all the untapped resources each of us has inside and makes you want to work harder.

    Can't stand reality shows like Big Brother that showcase the worst in people. Grinding someone else down in order to win. Not people I want to spend any time with - IRL or TV.

    Friday, April 02, 2010 9:01:00 AM

  5. Fun post Pam! Funny you should mention "Miami Ink" I know a guy who was in Miami recently and they went into the Miami Ink tattoo place to see about getting a tattoo for him and his wife - they were virtually ignored - and the guys were extremely rude not to mention super expensive so they went to a place down the road and got awesome tattoos at a fraction of the price. Kind of makes you go hmm...but that's TV land for you. ;) Cheers!

  6. Hi Anne,

    Totally agree with you. I really dislike those reality shows where people just snipe and put each other down.

    But the ones where people are given an opportunity to fulfill a dream or dig deep in themselves, I really do like.


  7. Hi Joanne,

    Yes, I'm sure there's a totally different story behind the 'reality'. But Miami Ink for me isn't about the tattoo artists so much as the artistry and tattoo stories. That's why I prefer it to LA Ink. There is too much focus on the personality clashes.

  8. I don't consider performance-driven shows like American Idol or Dancing With the Stars as reality shows. I find the shows are more like the variety shows of old.

    Reality shows follow the general public and go to far different places. These are more like cinema verite. The more that technology is available to regular folks - not just producers with the money to afford fictional dramas or comedies - the more comfortable people are getting with the camera. People relax more before the camera and let it all hang out. I think it's taken 50 years, but we're closer to true cinema verite than ever before. So I don't think reality TV is going anywhere.

    Having said that, I only watch produced drama or comedy shows. It's probably because I'm not interested in the contemporary world. I'd much rather go to ancient Rome and watch the over-the-top stylization of Spartacus, or the wizardry and swordplay of Legend of the Seeker.

    As for dance - you know I love ballet more than anything in this world. So to fill my well, I go on You Tube and watch all the ballet I can get. Really does the trick.

  9. Julia -

    You always bring such a wonderful perspective to the discussion. I love how you categorized the shows I listed.

    I also love dramas/comedies produced by HBO. Network tv doesn't seem to thrill me as much.

    And I do know you are the balletomane of the group. Youtube is pretty amazing, isn't it, when you can find whatever flavor you are looking for.

    Have a great weekend!

  10. None of the performance reality shows have really hooked me -- not sure why.

    I'm a What Not to Wear addict -- I think it's the Cinderella aspect of the show that appeals to me, something like the transformation theme that you mention in the performance shows.

    Though they aren't (or aren't supposed to be) scripted, I feel like many of the relaity shows are edited to tell an underlying story. It probably wouldn't be hard to pick out the Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Perhaps even a rough Hero's Journey.

    Thanks for your timely thoughts on rebirth. Happy Easter!

  11. The two reality shows I watch are Survivor (but only when Boston Rob is on) and Jockeys. Most of the time I don't have a clue what anyone is talking about. But I will check out Miami Ink! Look forward to reading your book, Pam.

  12. I have to admit, Reality Shows have never grabbed me. Even though I love performances, I still prefer scripted dramas and comedies.

    Maybe because I had been with an actor for a decade and spent two decades in performance mode, there's always been plenty of opportunities to watch or jump up on stage myself.

    Still, I see why certain ones hold appeal--particularly those which focus on real people striving to reach an artistic goal.

    Tonight, I'll be playing music with friends, and striving for my own artistic excellence!

    Interesting article!

    --Chiron O'Keefe
    Weekly Motivation for Writers at
    The Write Soul:


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