Just Like a TV Show

I never want to hear the phrases ‘It was just like a TV show,’ or ‘It was just like a movie,’ or any variation on those in word choice or arrangement, ever again.

A few nights ago on the 10 o’clock news—which I never watch and shouldn’t have—the lede for a story about a local bail bondsman who (1) was kidnapped, (2) was tortured, and (3) escaped, was the following: “If you were a TV writer for a show like LAW & ORDER, you’d probably come up with a story like this.” That was the anchorman’s introduction, after which the show went to an eyewitness who said essentially the same thing: “It was just like a TV show.” Must we revel in our detachment?

The bondsman was tortured for days and that’s how his story’s introduced. No focus on the pain/suffering. Focus rather on his story’s similarity to an episode of your favorite cop/lawyer show, which by the way has stories “ripped from the headlines.” TV reflects reality, reality is compared to the TV show and then turned into a TV show—and so on and so on until we can’t live through any sort of life-drama without seeing ourselves as fictional figures at the center of a television show that must, therefore, have some epiphanic moment, or closure, and end with a song by Los Lobos.

I wouldn’t level the same complaint at those who—of 9/11—said, “It was just like a movie.” That was an incapacity to describe a tragedy whose magnitude we’d never witnessed except in films and so is forgivable. What happened to this bail bondsman goes on every day, though. We are capable of a fitting description. By reducing his story to the level of an L&O plotline, we’re reducing what he suffered through and the achievement of his escape. We aren’t doing his story justice.

Neither would I complain the same of someone who says, “I feel like a character in a novel,” because the long forms of fiction and non-fiction writing allow for a fuller approximation of reality. Television shows and movies are, by necessity, boom-boom-boom, from set piece to set piece, from one emotional drama to the next. Every scene/shot is essential. Meanwhile, novels can afford to include sections that reveal only character, that focus on the events of everyday life. So, novel readers are allowed this, thanks.

I hate this even more: “Everyone tells me I should have my own reality show, because blah blah blah…” Such statements are always followed by the most boring stories you’ve ever heard.

One Comment

  1. Another example (you can see more every night) of the pitiful state of “broadcast journalism”. I also love the so-called special reports that have a show or movie as a lead-in–tonight’s episode of L&O featuring a pedophile followed by the top news story about sex offenders in your hometown. Not that the story isn’t newsworthy, but the connection between fiction and non-fiction gets increasingly blurry. Take the “CSI effect” wherein perfectly rational (one supposes) people on actual juries expect the kind of concrete forensic evidence they “know” is available because they have seen it on numerous television shows. This begs the question, is all television “reality t.v.”? Conversely, if it isn’t on t.v., is it really real? Are people losing the ability to distinguish between reality and make-believe?

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