A reminder about writing from the FIRST reality show.

If you think the first reality TV show was Survivor or American Idol, you’re wrong.

And if you think it was The Real World, you’re also incorrecto-mundo.  (Although TRW may be the first of the modern era.)

The first reality show that I can find a record of debuted on television in 1952 and was called . . . cue lights and timpani and studio audience applause . . . This Is Your Life!

Remember that show?

The host would introduce the guest . . . and then, while telling the story of that guest’s life, would bring out important people from the person’s past that he or she may not have had any contact with for decades!

What does this clever concept have to do with writing a play or a musical?

Obviously, the show didn’t have the time to bring out every single person that had an impact on the guest-of-honor’s life.  So they focused on the big moments in that individual’s life . . . .the tentpole moments . . . the moments that helped shape who that person is.

Plays and musicals are all about efficiency (unlike novels which can afford more meandering).  You may not have to worry about a 22-minute length and appropriate time for commercials, but you should look at your show through the same lens as This Is Your Life.  The scenes that the audiences sees?  They can only be those same tentpole moments.  Only the moments that matter.

That’s why on my shows I always play a game I call, “This Is Your Show!”  As I read or watch, I ask myself with each and every scene . . . if this scene or song was cut, would the outcome of the show be different?

If the answer is no, then the scene or song has to go.


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.