Monday, July 12, 2010

Reality Books?

Confession: this weekend was a total guilty-pleasure marathon for me. Home in Cincinnati for a “girls weekend,” I spent a number of consecutive hours so large I won’t horrify you with it watching reality television with my mom and sister. About halfway through our couch warming session, a thought occurred to me: there is a reality show dedicated to almost every creative and or glamour industry, with the exception of book publishing. There’s Top Chef for the culinary arts, Project Runway for clothes design, Shear Genius for hair stylists, Kell on Earth in the PR vein, and the recently added Bravo shows Work of Art, Nine By Design, and Double Exposure take care of modern art, interior design and high fashion photography, respectively. There was an MTV show the winner of which won an internship at Seventeen Magazine, a reality show about working at Rolling Stone, and the girls on The Hills worked for Teen Vogue. As Hannah mentioned in her recent blog post, a Penguin Books employee was a guest judge on the afore mentioned Work of Art, but it was a one episode gig centered around one challenge on the show.

Mulling this over, I started soliciting potential reasons for this absence from friends and coworkers. My beau Ben thought it was because book consumers are less brand-conscious. While various magazines and clothing brands carry enough weight to be significant, even the most voracious readers base their hierarchies on authors or genres as opposed to specific editors or houses. While I do think there’s some truth to this, the fact that I’ve never heard of the celebrity chef judges on Top Chef doesn’t stop me from—perhaps foolishly—investing some stock in their opinions, figuring if they’re enough of an expert to be asked on the show they have some professional cred and that they’ve been vetted by people who are in the food know. I asked my fellow TK reviewers what they thought at a meeting earlier this afternoon. Hannah pointed out that there’s less urgency in our industry and thus less drama. We only have three seasons a year, so there’s a lot of long term planning that goes into books while magazines come out once a week. Jess mentioned that a pilot about the book publishing industry was in development, but after the two of us did a little research later we discovered that the project was recently quashed (it was a CBS sitcom entitled “Open Books,” and Patti LuPone and Laura Benanti were set to star in it).

The question remains, though: which party accounts for the lack of documentary or reality style book publishing coverage, the members of the industry or viewers? I think it would be a pretty safe bet to say that most senior editors at the more literary houses in the city haven’t heard of or seen a single episode of many of the shows I referenced in the first paragraph. Would their unfamiliarity with these types of shows make them less likely to grant any sort of access to their day to day lives or be a participant in one of them? Or, do the reality TV minds behind the curtain feel uninspired to execute such a show based on the fact that not nearly as many people buy any given book as do watch any given reality show hit? Do people simply not read enough to generate interest from the reality-show-watching demographic?

If a reality show about the people who find and edit the manuscripts that become books was to hit the air, would you watch it? Outside of your own interests, do you see a place for a reality series about heavy weight editors nestled in between the Jersey Housewives and the Millionaire Matchmaker? And, perhaps the million dollar question: would such a show prove good publicity and create enough new readers to give the industry a jolt of new life?

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