So, at some point in the Fall of last year Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett announced a reality show. This pairing is pretty powerful, or was at the time anyways. Since that point, Burnett has actually lost some of his lustre with an atrocious season of The Apprentice and the further decline of Survivor. And, while Spielberg remains Spielberg, one wonders how he’d have time for the series between movies and his new venture into video fames. So, as we moved closer to the series’ late Spring launch, I guess you could say that expectations had cooled.
And for good reason: the show ‘On The Lot’ became, in its first weeks, was an American Idol-style boot camp with group activities, eliminations, and a misplaced focus on the drama of it all instead of the product of that drama. In other words, these first few weeks have been a bit of a mess in terms of reality television production…but it is my belief that we should stick with this show. Because the product of that drama is actually kind of cool.
The first episode of the series squandered its American Idol lead-in, and for good reason: while I personally got a kick out of people giving pitches for a few minutes, I did not get a kick out of it for 25 and fast forwarded through some of it. Well, most of it. That first episode was slow, and its biggest problem was that it did nothing to set up the premise in an interesting way, or give us an idea of why we should be tuning in week over week. On a personal level I love the idea of pitching a story (I came up with a great one for the country rat logline), but I seriously doubt millions would say the same.Which is perhaps why so few turned out for Thursday’s half hour episode, and to be fair the episode wasn’t itself an overly entertaining venture. It followed only a handful of the 12 teams in the competition, and didn’t show a single complete film in its running time. It’s like Burnett hasn’t done a show like this in a while, so he’s hearkening back to his Eco-Challenge days (This is an obscure reference for some, but I’ve been thinking about how much I miss Eco-Challenge recently) when he would cover the “stories” of only a handful of teams throughout the race. However, this is a very different situation: what they’re arguing about is not physically grueling and clearly defined, but rather subjective filmmaking that we need to see in order to judge.
And Burnett didn’t let us see it: we rarely saw footage from the films, and when we got them at the end they were merely snippets. While yes, we care about these people’s personalities (And they want us to if we’re voting on them), I think that the premise you really need to establish first is the films themselves, the product of this drama. And I think that product has a lot of potential.
Because that product can be featured online, where all of the 24-hour shorts from Thursday’s episodes can be watched. And some of them are really interesting, cool, inventive…and others suck.
And I think that’s what we really want to see: Carrie Fisher can tell me something is off all she wants, but I want to see it for myself. The product, which Burnett is treating like little but an unwanted byproduct at this point, should have been the focus from the beginning.
Which is why this show is really a test of the integration of online resources into a show’s success. The problem is that right now what they’re putting online should actually be in the show itself. Those videos are interesting, intriguing, and airing some of them in their entirety would make the show seem much more worthwhile. It’s not all about the drama, but also about what that drama creates.
As we head into the finalist-segment of the show where people will compete on a weekly basis, the show is in jeopardy of being cancelled and being replaced by repeats of House and ‘Til Death. I believe that the show deserves to continue as its real format that will be followed for the rest of the year has yet to be revealed. However, it needs to pull itself together and emphasize the product that it is creating. That website is worthwhile, interesting: I can only hope that the show, at some point, becomes the same.