Bravo is “very research-oriented,” uses social media to plan reality show plot lines

Bravo’s success is no accident, as the cable network uses extensive, almost insane amounts of research to develop its programming, and as part of that, how you react to Bravo shows online may impact what happens on those docudramas.

That’s according to a New York Times report that details the way Bravo “finds and tests stars in much the same way that consumer products companies develop and market shampoos and mascaras,” and while research is nothing new, it “is now taking these business practices to their logical extremes,” including by “relying heavily on social media to fine-tune story lines in its programs, so that each episode is even more efficiently tailored to its audience’s taste.” The paper cites specific examples of how this research is used, like developing shows around Bethenny Frankel, Tabatha Coffey, Jackie Warner, and Fabio Viviani, and why shows such as Chef Academy failed.

Frances Berwick, who was recently promoted to president of the network, said, “We get a lot of information about story lines, and the different people, and what they want to see more of. We’re very, very research-oriented, and there’s a degree of the creative process which is scientific, and we will use every single bit of insight which we can generate.” Bravo research executive Tony Cardinale told the paper, “We do a lot of passive listening, lurking on the Web, interpreting the themes we see on our message boards, etcetera. There’s more information we have now than we’ve ever had before.”

Bravo executive Amy Troiano is in charge of its (generally terrible, sometimes misleading) on-air promotions, and said even those are crafted depending upon how viewers are reacting. “We definitely look at the research to see what parts of those characters people are responding to. If viewers like when they’re yelling at someone, we’ll use them yelling,” she said, but did not say anything about whether viewer research into the Bravo voice-over guy and his echoing voice.

At once, Bravo’s approach seems brilliant and horrifying. Their shows are supposed to be unscripted reality programs, but they’re manipulating plot lines and shaping characters to give the audience what they want just to make more money? Of course, the editing room is always where reality has been shaped into TV, it just seems that now, power is shifting from producers’ hands to viewers’. Considering the inane, incomprehensibly stupid shit that floods Twitter and Facebook and comment sections of blogs, that is a very scary prospect.

We’ll Make You a Star (if the Web Agrees) [New York Times]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.