The Money Shot: Production of TV Talk Shows
The following paper discusses the art world and the production process of the daytime TV talk shows. To understand the art world of TV talk shows, it is necessary to study its conventions, routines, and the ‘money shot’ phenomenon. Reviewing the concept of production culture perspective by Peterson and Anand as well as the constraints of the organizational structure and the market in the music business will also help to comprehend the production process of the daytime talk shows. The paper also raises the issue of reinforcement of socio-cultural hierarchies by these shows. The main goal of the paper is to analyze the cultural, social, and ethical aspects of the talk show genre.
According to Howard Becker, the art world is the complex network of people who cooperate to produce art, organizing their work according to the joint knowledge of conventional means and routines. These people include artists, suppliers, art distributors, producers, people who deal with financial and organizational arrangements, critics, and the audience. Art worlds routinize and institutionalize the making of art. All aspects of art works are governed by the conventional rules and understandings of how they can be done (for example, music scales, history painting, and so on). On the one hand, conventions facilitate artists’ cooperation and create standards, according to which the audience can understand the value of the work of art. On the other hand, rules constrain artists. In the art world, artists also have to anticipate the reactions of people who consume their work. They often have to tailor their work according to anticipated reaction of people or face the consequences in the case they refuse to do what others want. At the same time, characteristics of the product depend on the changes of conditions of the art world and its internal organization (Becker 1-68). The concept of production of culture perspective will help to understand which factors influence art and culture.
Scholars, who represent the concept of production of culture, study how the systems and the context of the art world shape symbolic elements of culture in the mundane process of their production (Peterson and Anand 311). Within the framework of this theory, culture does not necessarily reflect social structure, but it is rather situational and prone to rapid change. As Peterson and Anand claim, six production can bring about massive cultural change. These are technology, law and regulation, industry structure, organization structure, occupations and careers, and the market (Peterson and Anand 311). The major change of a single factor can result in the reorganization of entire production process. For example, the displacement of swing bands and crooners by rock bands in the 1950s validates the theory. Due to technological progress and legislative changes, small independent record companies entered the market by making music targeted at a specific audience. Musicians and producers left the stifling atmosphere of big corporations for the creative spirit and innovation of independent ones. Thus, the changes in production facets spurred the rock revolution (Peterson and Anand 311-334). As it has been demonstrated by Peterson and Anand, the concept of the production of culture helps to explain many cultural and social phenomena.
The documentary Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful, directed by Phil Griffin, shows some constraints of the organizational structure and the markets. The lead singer of the band, John Bon Jovi, admits that he performs intimate songs not as often as he would like too because the public does not accept them very well. He also admits that he can afford to take roles without expecting commercial success, whereas in music, he wants not only to share the positive message through his art but also be popular and commercially successful. Since he is afraid of losing the interest of his audience, he has to find a compromise between doing what listeners want and what he wants. It is also shown in the movie that music is not only a form of art but also a business. To run a business, Bon Jovi created a corporation and became its CEO (Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful). Thus, he also has to take managerial and organizational decisions, deal with legal aspects instead of just making art.
Laura Grindstaff’s book The Money Shot: Trash, Class, and the Making of TV Talk Shows examines the art world and the production process of talk shows. The first show that started to focus on the audience and hot social issues was The Phi Donahue Show that debuted in 1967. Initially, the program adhered to the standard host-guest interaction, but later, Donahue switched to soliciting the studio audience for questions. The issues covered in the show included women's rights, homosexuality, and misdeeds of the Catholic Church. It was the first show that had combined serious and sensational topics. Soon, TV talk shows became very popular and increased in number. Such programs as The Jerry Springer Show, Geraldo at Large, and The Sally Jesse Raphael Show popularized the genre of daytime trash TV and replaced classy shows that used to highlight serious issues in a more or less dignified manner (Grindstaff 44-80). For the purpose of this paper, one should explore the art world and the production process of these shows.
All of the actions of producers are routinized conventions built into the art world of daytime TV talk shows. They facilitate their production, especially in the face of uncertainty and conflict but also put certain constraints on producers. The main goal of these conventions is to ensure the money shot from the audience. These conventions include inviting so-called ordinary people, who face personal crisis or some other misfortune, initiating frank conversation about their personal problems, eliciting conflicts and emotions, and discussing sleazy topics. Such topics include spousal infidelity, siblings’ rivalry, sexual abuse, violence, addictions, life outside the law, marginalization, and so on. To achieve a climactic moment through a display of extreme emotion or dramatic confrontation, producers invite people who relate to such topics and have poor control over their emotions; therefore, they promise good performance in the studio. Since losing control is stereotypically associated with lack of class and culture, producers invite the representatives of low class. Although such shows seem spontaneous and natural, performances are scripted and topics are framed to ensure the money shot. Every issue has a certain topic, and everybody in the studio performs a certain role. Show hosts, for example, often assume the role of an empathic counselor, who will offer assistance in search of a solution (Oprah Winfrey), or vice versa, an aggressive provocateur who will indulge humiliation and embarrassment (Jerry Springer). Their task is to make participants start talking about their problems or provoke a quarrel or a heart-to-heart talk between the guests. The process of preparation of guests is a part of the production routine. They receive detailed instructions from the producers who urge them not to suppress their emotions, not let anybody insult them, get straight to the point, and entertain the audience. In such way, creators of the show suggest the tone and influence the outcome of the conversation (Grindstaff 80-148). Therefore, a talk show is the art world that relies on conventions and routinized production process to achieve commercial success.
Initially, talk shows were intended to challenge the cultural low/high hierarchy and class inequality. They did so by giving visibility to the people who were previously excluded from TV, thus preferring ordinary people over experts and celebrities. These shows focused on practical experience and authentic emotions rather than formal education and discussed private matters in front of the cameras. Ironically, talk shows also reinforce the cultural hierarchy by using excessive emotional and bodily displays, as well as conflicts and heated emotions, as the markers of class differentiation. To ensure the money shot, producers force guests to exhibit behavior that is stereotypically attributed to lower classes, thus reinforcing class-based assumptions. They continue to marginalize people by pairing inappropriate or offensive conduct with outsiders and marginals and exploiting them to entertain the middle class (Grindstaff 242-275). Therefore, the reinforcement of class inequality and the specifics of the production process often become the reasons for the criticism of these talk shows.
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Critics mainly express concerns about class exploitation and the manipulation of guests into participation and discussion of their private matters in public. Some people are tricked or duped into participation. Other people see the television as the only chance to get help, some reward, or fame. There also are those, who want to raise an important social issue, and those who just enjoy the media attention. Grindstaff argues that no matter what the ulterior motives of guests are, it still might be unethical to boost ratings by making a sensation out of people’s personal drama (148-176). She also stresses that even though manipulation is typical for all media forms, talk shows raise manipulation to the unacceptable level by making it more visible and targeting ordinary people (Grindstaff 252-255). Grindstaff also argues that critics are actually not concerned with the issue of manipulation. Since they employ the middle-class standards of a bodily and emotional conduct and blame guests of the show for their behavior, they aggravate the marginalization of the latter (265). Thus, the socio-cultural hierarchy is exacerbated both by the shows and the critics.
Daily talk shows continue to be a controversial socio-cultural phenomenon. Despite the fact that they manage to help disadvantaged people or raise pressing social problems sometimes, their melodramatics, manipulation, and revealing personal matters in public remain to be the target of criticism. However, such shows have become popular only because there is a demand for them - the hidden desire of people to pry into the matters of others, their craving for melodrama and entertainment. It is up to the viewers either to yield to these instincts or try to rise above them and contribute to the development of more sophisticated forms of art and culture.
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