Coping with Bad Reviews

We’ve all read them. Many of us have even written them, but how do you handle it when the bad reviews are about something you worked on? I’m a hack writer working in reality TV and recently finished work on a show called THE WILL which premieres tomorrow night 8PM ET/PT on CBS. I need your help.

The New York Daily News called the show, “the worst show of the year,“ but quickly backpedaled, admitting, “the year is only six days old at this point.” Daily Variety focused on the positive and said, “The show’s most salient attribute involves several prominent breasts almost surely not created by nature.” Ouch.

I console myself by telling myself two things. First, our audience doesn’t read newspapers (after thinking it over I decided that was unfair) and second, the critics don’t get reality TV. In fact, the New York Times review had a sentence like this, “While scripted television is preoccupied with 20th-century forms like the detective story and the psychosexual bildungsroman reality television has built up an impressive anthology of 19th-century melodramas of love, money and the middle class.” I read that and I think this is a person desperately trying to legitimize their own job as a critic, not someone who would ever herald the guilty and voyeuristic pleasures that reality TV holds.

The New York Daily News critic admitted that the show reminded him of KING LEAR. The similarity wasn’t lost on me when we were putting it together, but if you’re looking for Shakespeare-level art on American television you better expect to look long and hard.

My problem is what do I do now. At the very least the show gave critics a chance to compose reviews that they relished writing, so I feel good about that, but I told dozens of people to tune in. Do I get cold feet and tell them not to watch? Or do I hope for the best and curl up in the fetal position gripping my copy of Entertainment Weekly close to my heart (they gave us a B+)?

Help me out, or better yet tune in tomorrow at 8 PM ET/PT on CBS and see if it’s as bad as they say. (A shameless plug, I know, but apparently it’s the least of the things I should feel ashamed about right now).

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20 thoughts on “Coping with Bad Reviews

  1. A B+ from EW? That’s great! I’ll watch it.

    As for bad reviews, well, i get plenty of those at work, but with one key difference: I don’t really care too much about my job. So, even the worst day doesn’t affect me too badly.

    I’d like to hear more about the writing process for this type of TV, and what boundaries there are or should be with steering reality.

  2. I don’t know if I could handle that kind of exposure. I remember when I was the bulletin specialist in our ward just cringing throughout Sacrament Meeting if I had a hymn numbered wrong–even if it wasn’t my fault and the info provided to me was incorrect. I felt like asking the Bishop for a less public calling, like Relief Society President.

    That said, does anyone really care what tv critics think? I think the only people reading what they say are the people creating tv.

    What’s the show about?

  3. There’s something odd about reality tv shows having writers. Can’t quite put my finger on it….

    /really gets it, but someone had to say it

  4. Hopefully, the way you deal with a bad review is to laugh all the way to the bank.

    Most critically acclaimed shows get the ax after a season, followed by a loud but ultimately unfruitful letter writing and petition campaign staged by the show’s devoted fans. Fortunately, we have DVDs now, so we can relive the glory days of our favorite one-season wonders, which had the benefit of never having to come up with another seasons worth of material, and thus avoid the inevitable decline that leads to such annoying phrases as “jump the shark”.

  5. As for bulletin specialists, a friend of mine attended church at his parent’s ward. The opening hymn was “I don’t know!”. The sacrament hymn was “They didn’t tell me!!!”. The speaker was “Look at the podium!!!”.
    The closing hymn was “No one tells me anything!!!”

    Apparently there were some ongoing issues…

  6. We’ll have to see if my words can be of any comfort — but from my perspective here’s one way to look at it. Most people never ever have anything to do with television. The fact that you’re writing a show and that it’s being viewed by so many people is an achievement in itself.

    I watched a bit of a VH1 special on one-hit-wonders and of course the hosts were mocking the writers of these songs … but it left me wondering how many of us are no-hit-losers. So cheer up bud. Good luck with your show.

  7. Brian, congrats on getting your stuff on the air. That’s fantastic.

    Being in a creative field is difficult because it is open to criticism. But not just criticism of your work, because a receptionist can be criticized for his work as well. But when you create something that comes from you, taking bits and pieces of your thoughts, connections, past, etc, and someone criticizes that, it’s difficult to hear. I’m not following orders, I’m creating something that only I can create. The tough skin is tough to grow.

  8. I thank everyone. I found your comments surprisingly comforting. To answer Susan’s question, the show is about an aging millionaire who decides to make his family and friends compete for his inheritance in order to see their true colors. In each episode the heirs get “cut out of the will” until one sole heir remains.

    To explain the process a bit:

    Writing a reality show is, of course, different than writing a sit-com or one-hour drama. The process is essentially reversed—the writing comes after the shooting. Your typical reality show has between 100 and 200 hours of footage for every hour that makes it on the air (an hour being about 42 minutes after time is allowed for commercials). Teams of people cull through the footage, finding the moments that are entertaining and compelling. The writing staff edits and structures the material to find or manufacture compelling storylines. They add interview bites to clarify what’s happening and compose a script, often called a “paper cut.” This document is delivered to a film editor that uses it as a blueprint to put together the show in collaboration with the writer or story producer as we are commonly called. Music is added, sound effects, fancy editing tricks, and wallah—television! I compare the process to writing a research paper in that not all the material is original, but the coherence, the structure, the tone, and all the rest is.

    In this particular show I supervised a team of story producers and worked closely with many talented editors, so when I read a bad review I wince on behalf of the team. I don’t feel the pain I would if say my semi-autobiographical novel got panned.

    Like danithew suggests, I feel fortunate to be working in TV, it certainly came with a price, but I’m not any different from any other worker bee in America in that I wish my work was often more fulfilling and received more recognition. Maybe, I’m just greedy.

  9. Well, I watched a few minutes here and there. I’m not a fan of reality vote-em-off-the-island shows, so I didn’t get into it — I was drawn into other reality programming (ACC basketball, NFL playoffs).

    What I did see seemed as good as any other similar type show. I did laugh when three or four of the players crammed themselves into a sauna for “privacy”, with a camera operator in tow — the camera angles were very strange. Not much room to operate.

  10. I watched it too, and thought it was hilarious; the privacy seekers were funny, Penny was funny and trashy. Everyone was sooooo trailer-trashy, it was a definite guilty pleasure to watch. I agree that the camerawork was often iffy, lots of weird angles and very conspicuous cameramen.

    Here’s what I liked: the chain concept. Having them saved one-by-one by each other is a great dynamic. I just help but wonder, though, if it means that we’ll end up seeing similar chains from week to week?

    The dramatic structure seemed to be pretty straightforward, with challenges, secret pacts and then the climax, but it looks like there were quite a few interruptions of the drama with anecdotes to break up the monotony. Sounds like these guys must have been pretty hilarious to edit!

  11. Darn, I forgot to watch! I rarely make it to the tv before 9pm. Only on Sundays for Home Makeover.

  12. Thanks for watching everybody. Seriously. Thanks. Is anybody a Neilsen family, by chance? Oh. Thanks anyways.

    Bryce, I can understand why an NFL playoff game drew you away. My beloved Broncos were slaughtered today. Ugh.

    And thanks to you, Steve, for letting me plug my show on Kulturblog in the first place. I’m glad you got some yuks out of the show. One reviewer called the cast “feral White trash.” Yikes. That’s why I suggest none of you kind people ever go on television.

  13. To want for validation at the workplace ain’t greedy. It’s really something any worker giving good effort deserves. When you don’t get it, it’s great to receive it from Kulturblog! Good luck with the show.

  14. “Psychosexual Bildungsroman?” – Isn’t that some kind of font. I think I use that font for my e-mails. This reviewer is mighty impressed with himself.

  15. I just wanted to thank everyone who watched one more time. We heard today that the show was cancelled and is going to be yanked off the air.

    What can I say? It’s a tough business.

  16. Good luck Brian. Sorry to hear your show didn’t work out this time. Hopefully you’ll get similar (but better) opportunities in the future with a tv show.

  17. Yes, it really sucks about the show being cancelled. I still can’t believe how much money was poured into it only to let it air for one night. Networks must be made of money.
    Anyway, Brian is pretty down in the dumps about the news. Thanks., everyone, for your nice comments and well-wishing on this site. It has perked him up a little.

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