The Shows of Bravo

Bravo executive Lauren Zalaznick’s reformatting of Bravo’s programming to reality-based docudramas and competition shows (featured in The New York Times Magazine November 4th issue) presents some insight into some key Carpignano concepts regarding what he calls “televisuality”.  Carpignano has developed a theory of TV aesthetics supported by the theories of Cavell, Weber, and Foucault, which look at issues of time, space, and vision to discuss TV, rather than the content.  Using these concepts like monitoring, habitation, flow, presence, and formatting to examine “the Affluencer”, provides us some insight into these concepts in practice.

First, Carpignano describes monitoring as a continuous space, where inside and outside are connected, where our vision is reproduced by the camera.  In such monitoring, no revealing or discovery happens.  In “The Affluencer”, Zalaznick tells us that a whole genre set up as the “unexpected dramatic twist” is called the ‘reveal’ (2).   Perhaps the ‘reveal’ has similar root in discovery for the viewer, but the formula or engineered ‘reveal’ that takes place on Bravo reality shows bares little resemblance to Carpignano’s concept of revealing.  Monitoring is active, according to Carpingnano, because the viewer is invited into and acknowledged by the TV program.  In the case of Bravo’s reality programming, that can take place in many forms – in our identification with, or opposition to the actual characters, or our participation in (and production) of feedback in the form of surveys, votes, and online interaction.  These kinds of interactions, Carpignano claims, problematizes the notion of audience, and creates, what Weber calls “ambivalent space,” or “space without orientation” (Carpignano).   Or as the article states, “Bravo’s shows have a knack for flattering the viewers sense of their own good tastes (Dominus 2).

Carpignano summarized the history of programming decisions in early TV, by discussing how formats were created in the likeness of and ideology of the programmers themselves – white affluent straight men.   Interestingly, the Times title, “The Affluencer” is a double entendre, as it represents both a demographic of Bravo’s marketed and desirable audience and the biography of Lauren Zalaznick.  While one would say her programming decisions are more informed, and a product of postmodernism, the “affluencer” audience is similar to Zalaznick’s personal history – that being “most educated”, “upscale” and “savvy”.   A Brown graduate of semiotics, Zalaznick sees her programming more than the promotion of consumerism, but “social anthropology” (Dominus 6), but what Carpignano would term “social engineering”, where viewing and consumer habits are developed as a direct result of the ingrained advertising and product promotions.

Bravo’s use of regular folks to engage the audience helps us perform as ourselves, creating a dialogue between the programs, where unscripted results and the orchestration of chance are all part of the format of reality TV, according to Carpignano.   Bravo’s programming has gone further than audience engagement and attachment though, because the reality TV setting allows the viewer “to feel a little bit superior” to the spectacle of the program – be it the chefs eliminated in “Top Chef” and our enjoyment of their dismissal despite their hard work, or our engagement with the metatext of the industry of reality TV (Dominus 7, 11).

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