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Setting the Pace

We sat down this evening to watch Dragon’s Den on CBC. You know the show, the one in which entrepreneurs make funding-for-equity pitches to super-rich celebrity business people. It has other names in other countries but the format is similar. I noticed right away tonight there appeared to be two technical differences in the show from past seasons.

The first thing I noticed is the super-wealthy personalities interrupted the guests quite a bit. Someone would ask a question and while the guest was answering, another of the panel would interrupt with another question. I presume this was a directorial decision, and not just rude panelists.

The second thing I noticed was the edits seemed noticeably faster than in previous seasons. By that I mean that space between the end of a question and the beginning of an answer seemed unnaturally short. When asked a question in real life, there is usually a very brief pause as the person responding digests the question, takes a breath and then begins to answer. There were some sequences on Dragon’s Den tonight in which the edits were so tight, there was no chance for anyone to even breathe.

I believe that in most reality type shows, the usual process is to film much more content than is needed. After the fact, in the editing room, a coherent narrative is pieced together, and music is added to heighten the drama. I know in the past there have been some people not too happy with the way they and their ideas have been portrayed, and there have even been (failed) attempts at lawsuits. I understand everyone on these shows signs a release which allows the show to do pretty much as they please. These portrayals form mini-story lines. We’ve seen it before in all kinds of shows, such as that Gordon Ramsey show where he goes in to help save a failing restaurant, making the owner look really bad along the way.

The way bits of content are edited together builds a particular pace or cadence for the show. The music really accentuates this. Just watch any of those big cook-off game shows, for instance, and close your eyes and pay attention to the ultra-dramatic, sometimes bombastic music. After all, just watching people cook isn’t all that exciting. The way it is done now is a far cry from the days of Julia Child, where the shows were carried by the strength of the host’s ability to be entertaining and knowledgeable and even funny.

It may be that I’m more than usually tuned into this kind of thing since I’ve been co-hosting The Agency podcast. I also normally take care of whatever post-production work needs to be done, including any editing. Along the way, we made a decision that when it comes to editing, less is more. We try to preserve the spirit of the conversation. Somewhere in there lies the strength of The Agency if in fact we have a strength.

In some episodes of The Agency, I clip the beginning and the end, add music (I have pre-recorded a few banjo bits and pieces to use), and make minor enhancements to the sound and that’s it. In others I have made some very minor edits, such as taking out an ugly cough or reducing a particularly long bit of silence. Sometimes though, keeping a cough or a noise in seems fine. Preserving the flow of the conversation, complete with ideosyncrasies, trumps most efforts to smooth out the rough edges. I’m reminded of an interview I heard somewhere with the late U. Utah Phillips, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest, in which he quotes the “worker’s writer” Jack Conroy as saying something like, I prefer a rude vigor to a polished banality.

In one episode of The Agency, we experienced a computer crash due to a bug in the recording software we were using. We wanted to preserve as much of what we recorded as possible, so I found a natural spot to do a hard edit before the software problem occurred and added in a car crash sound effect. Then, when we resumed recording, we abandoned the topic I had started into previously and talked about something else altogether.

The flow of conversation is a unique phenomenon. I know it can be very compelling when things get warmed up and the participants relax into it and be themselves. The biggest compliment I’ve heard about our podcast has been in a few emails and conversations in which someone has said, I want to start talking during the podcast, telling you the the things you forget, adding an opinion or setting you straight.

The reality tv shows have no interest in either the risk or the potential chaos involved in sticking to the flow. Instead, the shows are pieced together for maximum dramatic effect. It looks and sounds to me that an effort has been made to make the Dragons show a little slicker this season with a faster pace. I wonder if after several seasons, ratings were falling off, causing network executives to interfere?

I’m not sure if the faster edits are better or worse than earlier efforts. Maybe it’s just a different approach. Or maybe there has been turnover on the editing team? My question to 27th Street visitors is this: am I imagining things or is the editing and pacing different on Dragon’s Den this season? Is it an improvement or does it bother you?

2 Comments

  1. I think trends in pacing are the cause. Maybe they want to fit more guests into the segment? I’m sure there is a change however I haven’t watched recently and I do enjoy the show. But just lost track of it. People say there isn’t any writing in reality tv but of course editing is writing. I just watched a lovely show called Interior Design Masters. It’s worth it for the footwear alone! And the line “gypsy never goes out of style”. Its a British design competition ad the charming British settings are also worth watching. It is slower paced than many reality shows and I liked that.

    • I suppose it could be any number of reasons. You might be right suggesting trends in pacing are the cause. It must be a deliberate change thought, as it is immediately noticeable starting with the new season.

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