Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Reality Show Candidate

I have to give Donald Trump credit for one thing: he certainly learned a lot from the producers and script writers for his "reality show" The Apprentice.  He is taking the formula developed for successful TV programming and turning it into a successful (for the moment) Presidential campaign.  And nobody seems to know how to "counter-program" that.

Think about what makes a popular TV show today: Over-the-top manufactured drama, "characters" that straddle the line of good and bad, and the ability to top last week's "shocker" with a "bigger one" next week.  It works for the Real Housewives series, the Kardashians and The Bachelor.

And now it is working for Donald Trump in the reality series that is the 2016 Race for the White House.  When there is no controversy in the race--he goes out and creates it on his own.  And each incident has managed to top the previous effort.  "Will he or won't he run?" was followed by "Everybody else is a loser", was followed by "The other candidates are ugly and stupid" was followed by "Don't let the refugees in" was followed by "Ban all the Muslims".  Each decried by Republican Party hierarchy and the media, each resulting in a bump in Trump's polling numbers.  In fact, the only time we've seen Trump's popularity dip has been when the campaign has focused on actual issues--a tune out factor for today's "reality audience".

Another lesson Trump has learned well is to get all the free publicity you can.  While the rest of the field is paying to get the majority of their air time, Trump is calling in to every TV morning show in the country to get into shouting matches with the hosts--more manufactured drama--which is then rehashed and replayed endlessly in 24-hour news cycle.  And what is the only thing every other candidate is talking about?  Trump.  ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and CNN may as well be TMZ, ET and E! reporting on the latest Miley Cyrus pictures or Kardashian family crisis--they are all being used for promotional purposes.

There is a built-in problem with reality shows--eventually, you can't create more fake drama to top the last fake drama--or things become so ludicrous that the "characters" become "caricatures" and even the most die-hard fans lose interest.  And that is the challenge that lies ahead of Donald Trump The Reality Show Candidate:  How do you keep topping yourself for another 11-months?  Stay tuned for the "Most Shocking Stump Speech Yet"!

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