Indie News Beat: TV Talent Shows for Writers? Seriously?

Literary media has been buzzing with the news of Masterpiece, an Italian game show which is offering one lucky author the chance of mainstream publication with a planned 100,000-copy print-run. Well, it had to happen, didn’t it?

Masterpiece whittled down 5,000 applicants to 70 wannabes, and thence to four “contestants” in each edition. The key section of each 90-minute show is to drop the writers in an unfamiliar environment (for example, spending a day with the blind), then take them back to the studio, sit them in front of a computer – and a studio audience, and give them 30 minutes to write what they can about it. For the two contestants who survive to the final round, each gets 60 seconds to give their “elevator pitch” to the Editor-in-Chief of the sponsoring publishing house as they travel with her in, er, an elevator.

This all sounds perfectly hideous to me; a crushing commercialisation of fiction writing thought up by desperate TV execs who are running out of ways to milk the talent show genre further. Putting writers on a stage with an audience and expecting them to produce their best, most compelling work, seems utterly ludicrous.

However, the most insidious aspect is that Masterpiece constitutes little more than yet another writing lottery, albeit a very public one. Yes, one of those 70 will win a contract and may go on to have a glittering literary career. Perhaps. But 69 of them most certainly will not, and will likely spend the rest of their writing careers hoping no one recognises them as a loser on the show. Wannabe authors are not the same as wannabe singers, comedians and actors. For many writers, the very attraction of the craft is the solitude; the crafting of characters, stories and themes in the privacy of our own heads.

On the other hand, what do I know? A look around suggests that I might be in a minority. In this piece on Publishing Perspectives, Claude Nought watched the first edition and reported on the show’s structure, and how the writers had a coach. Nought concluded that none of the contestants were in any way humiliated. Perhaps they weren’t humiliated in a manner seen on some talent shows, but that doesn’t mean their failure to progress won’t affect them in other ways. Yes, a setback can be a Good Thing, if their very public failure doesn’t destroy their will to write.

So, is it only a matter of time before someone in US and UK television buys the format? According to the author and co-founder of Writer Beware, Victoria Strauss, it looks like we’ve already been there. Strauss is generally not impressed with Masterpiece because “who but another writer is interested in writers writing?” and then lists half-a-dozen writer-themed talent shows which, ahem, didn’t get past the first draft. Way back in 2007, shows with titles such as Publish My Book!, American Book Factory, and The Ultimate Author were being bandied about as the Next Big Thing. If Masterpiece succeeds where they failed, it must surely be just a matter of time before the format spreads virus-like to TV screens around the world, in a manner not dissimilar to the oft-forecasted zombie apocalypse.

Author: Chris James

Chris James is an English author who lives in Warsaw, Poland, with his wife and three children. He has published three full-length science fiction novels and is currently writing a series of short story volumes inspired by characters in songs from the rock band Genesis. For more information, please visit his website or Amazon author page.

14 thoughts on “Indie News Beat: TV Talent Shows for Writers? Seriously?”

  1. I hadn’t heard about this horrid tv show but you’ve outlined the downside perfectly, Chris: “But (… the rest of them) will likely spend the rest of their writing careers hoping no one recognises them as a loser on the show.” I hasten to add that the winner of the show will most likely hope no one will remember they won.

    There has to be a better way to highlight authors, writing and literature.

  2. It was weird when I learned about it from fellow Italians as I was sure it had to be a US production. I mean, that idea coming directly from Italy? Possible? Amazing (not in a positive way) but I bet it will be a success. As you say, I wonder what will happen to the other 69 losers, and I wonder if the number has been chosen by the producers for a reason…

  3. A crazy idea, to be sure. And there’s even no guarantee that the winner’s book will be a big seller — just because the publisher is printing 100,000 copies doesn’t mean a bunch of them won’t be returned….

    I would hope the 69 “losers” wouldn’t have their hopes completely dashed. But I’m probably being optimistic. 🙁

  4. ‘Australia can Spell’? The mere idea is enough to give me a panic attack, but it must have appealed to a lot of writers if the numbers of wannabe contests is anything to go by. 🙁 I guess there must be a lot of extroverted writers out there…

  5. I’m definitely with you on this one, Chris, I can’t think of a more diabolically, disgusting thing to be in or to watch. Then again I never watch reality shows, I don’t know how those people can humiliate themselves in front of the whole of humanity. But then again maybe it’s me that’s the strange one.

    Thanks for that, Chris, excellent article.

  6. Thanks, Chris.

    I’d probably watch something about writers, but I wouldn’t want to participate in a reality show. Mind you, entering the Flash Fiction Challenge every week does teach you to write faster. Let me think about it for a sec. NO.

  7. Thanks, Chris. I hadn’t heard about this, but was wondering when it would happen. It was just bound to with all the other stupid, idiotic, assinine reality shows out their like Honey Booboo and the redneck who looks for animals in the swamp. I swear humanity is getting dumber if they don’t have anything else better to do in their life but to watch reality shows like those two and others just as equally retarded.

    I’d probably watch this one just to see what it is all about because I’m a writer. I agree with everyone else who said they’d be embarrassed for the other 69 losers and no guarantee anyone would want to buy one of the winner’s 100,000 copies.

  8. Dear All,
    Thank you for your comments. The more I think about it, the worse a thing it seems. Fiction writing simply won’t bear such head-on commercialisation, mainly because consuming fiction is an intensely personal experience. A rock group can get a hundred thousand people head-banging in unison, but famous authors, when they publish a new book, do NOT go on a sell-out tour where their fans writhe as the author reads out the opening chapters on the stage.
    However, as Jo points out, there must be a better way, but then how difficult is it for unknown (esp. Indie) authors to get on a popular book show? All Indies are faced with the same Catch 22: we won’t get readers till we get exposure; we won’t get exposure till we get readers.
    In any case, if this show does work and a version turns up on US or UK TV, you can bet I’ll report on it 🙂

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