A lot of writers have a grudge against reality shows since they are to blame for the decline in scripted shows. But there’s no arguing that they’re cheaper to produce and draw an audience so I don’t see them going anywhere anytime soon. And they’re not all bad.
Can a writer learn anything from watching these shows? I like to think so. I like to think that these shows become popular because of the characters and because each season ends with a big finale. That’s something scripted genre should strive for. But one of my favorite reality shows is Face Off on the SyFy channel. And I think all would be writers should tune in especially science fiction and fantasy writers.
Because this is the show where concept plays such a huge role in who comes out on top. The make up artists don’t just come up with ideas randomly. Each challenge their creations have to reflect a concept. This is something screenwriters need to do as well. They need to work on their screenplay concepts and how to express those ideas. In fact I think the Face Off contestants could benefit from working with a screenwriter.
Take the opening episode of Season 2. The first challenge was to reinvent the characters from The Wizard of Oz. The two teams came up with some good concepts but watching this at home I was saying to myself “Space Opera. Space Opera. Space Opera.” Admittedly I’m sort of stealing from the Twilight Imperium game. But in the end I think I came up with a concept that produced very unique takes on the characters; a pod person Scarecrow, a cybernetic tin man, a cowardly lion/fat space merchant, and a wicked witch with telepathic powers.
It’s interesting because both writers and make up artists use their imaginations but they often take different avenues. It’ll be fun to watch this season and see if the other challenges are as writer-friendly as the first one.