Sunday, October 30, 2011

Write a new formula

Note: Participants in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, click here.

I’m tired of watching people get “voted off.”

Every competition show seems to use this format: at the end of every week’s episode, one of the contestants has to leave. It keeps the stakes high and gives people a reason to watch to the end of the show, of course. But it has drawbacks.

On the first episode or two of the season, you’re still just trying to learn the names and keep everyone straight. You don’t really care about the first person or two who leave, because you never really get to know them.

Then when you do sort out the contestants and find a rooting interest, your favorite may not be around for long. One slip, and the person you most like watching ends up leaving—which doesn’t give you much incentive to watch the remaining episodes.

The other drawback is that this one-per-week elimination system is no longer fresh. Every show does it. At this point, I’m just pining for some creativity. For example, instead of weekly eliminations, a competition show could award points for each week’s challenges, and the highest point-scorers at the end of the season would proceed to the finale. If they started with fewer contestants and kept them around longer, there would be more incentive for people to identify with those on the show, and less risk of losing favorites too early.

Similarly, writers can push the boundaries of their own genres and tropes. Reimagine the love triangle; reinvent the murder mystery. Bring a twist to the romantic comedy. Turn the paranormal romance on its head.

Experiments don’t always succeed, but they get us out of our ruts. Sometimes they set whole new trends. Often, as writers, we’re following: following rules, following examples, following precedents. And readers find a certain comfort in knowing what they’re going to get. But every now and then, it’s fun to try leading instead of following, fun to play with the unexpected.


  1. I've never watched a competition show, partly for this reason. There's nothing new about the format, and something must be original to keep people's attention.

  2. Golden Eagle: There's only one I watch regularly, but I've seen enough stray episodes and advertisements and discussions to realize the similarities between all the shows. And yes, I wish they would take some risks with the format!