Friday, December 12, 2008

And the title of this post is . . . .

With TV and films saturated with competition narratives — game shows, talent judgings, feel-good historical "underdogs win" tales, and "last person standing" stuff like MTV's Rock of Love and Parental Control that are hybrids of everything — WB is feeling annoyed, irritated, and slightly homicidal about one feature all of these genres share, namely




the exaggerated dramatic pause.

Okay, we can understand a genuine pause for dramatic effect, the kinds of pauses we throw into normal conversation: "And now, she's going out with — Adam!" A pause about as long as it takes for your eye to skate across that em dash between "with" and "Adam." A realistic pause. A reasonable pause.

But now the exaggerated pause is ubiquitous. WB blames the old/original version of Family Feud, on which Richard Dawson polled families for answers to category questions: "Name an animal that rescues people," the dapper British host would say, whereupon the family would huddle up excitedly before reporting their answer: "Robots!"

Unfazed, Dawson would saunter over to the family for earnest, quiet discussion. "Those robots are difficult to breed," he'd say, deadpan. "The conditions have to be just right." The family would nod enthusiastically as Dawson turned to the big answer board on the wall and shouted: "Show... me... robots!" One... two... three... and finally: Nnnnnnnt. "Oh, too bad," Dawson would empathize. "I thought for sure it would be there."

The other variation was the "audience survey" question, framed by the host as "Our studio audience was asked to name a great U.S. politician. We have their top three answers; if you guess one of them, you win the game." After the family jumped around on invisible pogo sticks and consulted with each other, they'd give their answer: "Pope John Paul!" Earnest discussion. Crossing of fingers. Squeezing shut of eyes. And then a sweeping turn to the answer board before the host shouted: "Our... survey... said!"

One. Two. Three. Four. Nnnnnnnt.

"Gosh, I'm sorry," Dawson would offer. "You're such a lovely family."

Now, the exaggerated pause appears even on something as innocuous as HGTV's If Walls Could Talk, where people find cool old stuff in houses they've bought and then have an appraiser tell them the value of what they've found. After the appraiser says, "This item is worth...," there's a seven-second pause.

Deal or No Deal, same thing: although WB still has no idea how this convoluted game even works, we know that at some point where the highest of the high drama has been reached, Howie Mandel turns to one of the tall models in evening gowns and says, "Carolyn, open your case."

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven.



Then something happens, but WB can never figure out if it's good or bad.

On MTV's Parental Control, parents who despise their daughter's boyfriend choose three other guys to date her. They and the despised boyfriend watch video of the three dates, and then the daughter comes home to announce her decision. "Mom, Dad," she says, "I've thought about it really carefully, and I've chosen...."

Twelve seconds. And we won't even talk about the tedious "High Drama" music cues that go with them, a series of notes not as intense as the EEP! EEP! EEP! behind the shower-stabbing scene in Psycho, but still screamingly obvious: Oh-my-god-who-will-she-choose-there's-just-so-much-suspense!

Back to HGTV, Designed to Sell brings a team of renovators and designers to someone's house and asks what price the seller has in mind. Once a target price is named, the consultants suggest and implement a flurry of projects to make the place more appealing. Then the appraiser comes in.

"Joann and Bud, you guys said you want at least $450,000 for your house," the appraiser says. "I've looked at everything you've done, and I'm confident that you could sell this house for...."

Thirteen seconds.

In Denzel Washington's recent film The Great Debaters, when the obscure Black college's debate team travels to Cambridge to compete with the Harvard team, the moment itself creates its own tension and suspense. But in case we miss that, Washington throws this in after both teams have presented their best speeches and evidence: The Harvard president, dressed in full academic regalia, stands before a packed auditorium and says: "The winner of this debate is...."

Twenty-five seconds.

And for what? Do we really even have to ask who wins?

But even the nearly half-minute of Great Debaters "suspense" can't hold a candle to the undisputed king of the pause, Regis Philbin's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. This show raised the dramatic pause to a ludicrous art form. The contestant climbed steadily through the questions, each correct answer earning more money than the one before. And then came this:

"Kelly, for $250,000: Who was the first human to step on the moon? Was it (a) Neil Armstrong, (b) Tom Hanks, (c) Will Smith, or (d) John Glenn."

30 seconds. Silence. Music. Sweeping dramatic lights. Then: "Kelly, I need your answer."

"Well, let me think here. I've never heard of Armstrong, but I know that Tom Hanks flew the Apollo 13 mission, and Will Smith was one of the Space Cowboys who was interviewed on Jay Leno. John Glenn... the name sounds familiar. I can't be sure if he was an astronaut, though."

20 seconds. "Kelly, your answer please."

"Oh geez, this one is tough. I think I know for sure that it's not Armstrong or Glenn, because I would've heard a lot more about them, but did Apollo 13 land on the moon? And if it did, was it before the Space Cowboys mission or afterward? Oh geez this is so, so, so, so tough.... Okay, I think I'm ready. No, wait. Yes, okay. Whew, I am so nervous. Regis, it was Tom Hanks."

"Tom Hanks. First person to set foot on the moon. Are you sure?"

"I think so. Yes, I think I'm sure. I mean, I could be wrong, but I feel really good about this, I think, and I don't want to use any of my lifelines until the really big-money questions, so yes, I'm sure. Okay, yes, really, I am sure."

"Tom Hanks."

"Yes. Tom Hanks."

"Final answer?"

"Final answer."

One... two... three....

WTF? After seventeen minutes of wasted airtime, wasted energy, wasted brainwaves, and wasted life watching some anonymous dolt wrangle over a single obvious answer which is obviously wrong, we still need more pauses?

Here's an idea: if the networks and movie studios delete all of this inane and unnecessary pausing for the sake of "drama" and "suspense," and use the newly-available time to either tell more of the story or just shorten it so we have more time to live our own lives without pausing to watch other people live theirs, we all win.


Anonymous said...

Cure for this ailment: turn off the TV.

78rpm said...

Sure, but then we'd have nothing to write about! :)