HUNDREDS of millions of people may have been shocked by the election of Donald Trump but Jeff Probst wasn’t one of them.
Probst is the veteran host of 30+ seasons of Survivor, so he knows a reality TV ratings winner when he sees one.
Commenting on the US presidential race last year, Probst said audiences were engaged like never before by “the promise of the great story that’s about to be told to us, the public spectacle we’re going to witness.”
Donald Trump, a billionaire TV show host and ruler of the Miss Universe Empire knows all too well the power of entertainment. His successful 2016 election campaign was built on it.
Where Hillary Clinton was polished and politically correct, Donald Trump was brash and brazen. He was the Kim Kardashian to her Keira Knightly. He gave the media something to talk about every single day and they repaid the favour by doing exactly that.
Trump took a routine electoral contest and turned it into the most watched reality TV show the world has ever seen.
Many have scoffed at the new President’s seemingly petty obsession with crowd attendance at his inauguration. We’re wrong to do so. Trump takes audience numbers seriously because they matter. After all, a show lives or dies by its ratings.
While less than a fortnight old, The Trump Show is betraying no signs that it will be any less action packed than the pilot episode.
When the President fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday, the script was like something out of The Apprentice. Trump’s fire and brimstone inauguration speech was lifted from the newest dystopian doomsday HBO series. Muslims were first and if the rumours are true, LGBT Americans will be the next contestants voted off the island.
President Trump is not running his government according to the laws of a nation but the accepted rules of show business. That’s why there is a bigger, more outrageous, more egregious announcement made each day.
Every episode has to deliver the shockingly unexpected and the dizzy, dazzling thrills of another cliffhanger. It is car-crash viewing and none of us can look away.
GOOD CASTING, NOT QUALIFICATIONS, IS WHAT MATTERS
When Trump said Hillary Clinton lacked the “presidential look” he told us a lot about how highly he values appearances over substance. He has this in common with the entertainment industry and TV in particular, is all about appearances. What you say is far less important than what you look like while you’re saying it.
Bob Killian, an American branding expert, told the Washington Post that Trump has “cast for the TV show of his administration”. Trump’s key cabinet and staff appointments are a lesson in stereotyping; each person looks the part according to the most common of Hollywood tropes.
“They are all perfectly coiffed people who look like they belong on set,” explains Killian.
A SIMPLE NARRATIVE OF GOOD GUYS AND BAD GUYS
When they’re casting the contestants for The Bachelor the producers already know which women will be the villains and which are wife material. A television show is made watchable when the audience knows from the start who is the good guy and who is the bad guy and who deserves to win.
Trump enters the White House with a simple but fully formed narrative of who is in which category. For many Americans who are fed up with complex, obstructionist politics, this remains incredibly alluring.
The President speaks in single syllable words and can reduce the most multifarious of issues to eight-second sound bites. It can make him sound ignorant but ensures he is always understood.
His words of choice — good, bad, best, wrong, stupid, fake — are short, staccato and their meaning can be comprehended by a child of eight or nine. His binary narrative of right and wrong leaves no room for shades of grey. Its power is palpable and proven.
Everybody is arguing whether or not it is a BAN. Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 1, 2017
SUSPENSE GRABS THEIR ATTENTION. SHOCK KEEPS THEM COMING BACK
On The Trump Show even the most mundane of political and parliamentary processes become an extravagant exercise of tension and suspense. When choosing key roles in his administration, Trump tweeted “Very organised process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!”
Getting ready to deliver a VERY IMPORTANT DECISION! 8:00 P.M.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 1, 2017
After announcing Neil Gorsuch as his nominee for the Supreme Court, the President asked the crowd expectantly “Was that a surprise, was it?”
Good decision-making requires taking time to gather information, consider options and proceeding with caution. During Trump’s early days in office, he has done the opposite.
The frenetic pace of the President’s announcements and his increasing desperation to hold the media’s attention is terrifying. He is relying on surprise and shock tactics to keep people — his audience — engaged and interested. As his erratic behaviour becomes the norm, his stunt-like decision-making will only become more extreme.
CONFLICT LIES AT THE HEART OF EVERY GOOD DRAMA
Conflict is what makes a story interesting. When on-screen characters clash with one another, or are likely to clash with one another, the room becomes a little quieter and the audience leans in a little closer.
And while conflict can be physical, emotional or mental, Hollywood blockbusters prove that the climax simply has to involve physical conflict. The big battle scene is where viewers really get their money’s worth.
Emma Ashton is a reality television expert who says “viewers love seeing cliques form and people fighting … that’s what makes good ratings”. Trump knows this too. He is building his audience up to expect more and more and more from him. His ego requires that he will have to deliver on that. America has given this man the almighty power of the US Government and he will not be afraid to use that to dazzling, destructive effect.
The ratings will be huge.