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Face 2 Face

— Critical Analysis of Narrative Elements for an Non-scripted Series

The dating reality show began in 1965, when “The Dating Game” premiered on ABC. Since then, this type of reality show has achieved rapid success. On this basis, documentary observation reality dating shows have also created a unique business market and audience base with its novel operation mode. “Dating Around” Netflix’s first reality dating series lets audiences observe other people’s tedious first dates; “Love is Blind,” viewers can observe newlyweds find ways for blending their lives. On the other hand, the political debate between two candidates is staged in the audience’s view at a daily frequency, and it never lacks attention and energy. The “Face 2 Face” non-scripted dating reality series refers to the series that have been presented and welcomed by the majority of viewers in the market, and carries out combined re-creation to achieve innovation and change, so as to maintain and enhance the freshness and popularity of such series.

The “Face 2 Face” non-scripted dating reality series combines two operation modes: documentary observation dating reality show, speech and debate. During the COVID-19 time, many people experienced being quarantined at home and staying with each other 24/7 for 14 days or even more. The “Face 2 Face” series will directly take their living place where the couple participants quarantined as the shooting scene, recording their daily activities. The conflicts exposed by characters from the records will provide the ideas of making arguments (debate topic) for producers. After the quarantine, a one-on-one debate game would be launched between the two characters and operated by following the setting rule of the debate. The show will bring all kinds of puzzles and conflicts encountered by couples while they get along with each other. Characters will have an opportunity to reveal their confusion and complaint through this constructed debate-like communication. Emotional advisors are invited to form an observation group to watch the documentaries and on-site debates of each couple, and then responsible to analyze and evaluate the interaction between the characters.

Since the non-scripted series “Face 2 Face” combines the two modes of dating reality show and debate game, it’s both constructed and organic. Even though it seems to record the daily life of the couples which happens with no-one else there, the setting and scene are actually organic under the pandemic. The event of quarantine naturally happens, and the sequence of the event can be regarded as organic as well. The familiar setting, their living place makes the characters more easily ignore the awareness of the cameras, and lose their tension and try not to act deliberately. In this case, their interactions and reactions are non-scripted as something that would genuinely happen even if the camera wasn’t there. The personality of the characters is how it is shown in the series. There are many genuine moments in their individual expression and communication with each other.

The series has a regular structure in the content sequence of each episode, and has a set of formats that can be applicable to different characters. The duration of each episode is 1 hour and 20 minutes, which is divided into four parts: the primary scene, interview, the secondary scene, and interview. In the primary scene, the cameras were fixed in the characters’ quarantined place to record and collect video materials. With the consideration of the privacy rights of talent participants, characters have been informed of the set of shooting equipment before startup. After the record of their 14-day quarantine, an interview was arranged for characters. The interview was processed and recorded in the indoor studio and the couples were invited to be interviewed by the producer separately. The content of the interview includes to give a brief introduction to themselves and reveal the problems they encountered, especially the conflicts and even emotional crisis they faced during the quarantine.

Before preparing for shooting the secondary scene, the production crew has to rough edit the materials collected from the first interview and the primary scene to make a simple documentary for the emotional advisors to watch. On this premise, the secondary shooting could be started. The couples express their views on the topics like a debate competition according to the rules given by the producer. For example, for couples who quarrel because their partner frequently receives texting messages from others, the topic given will be like: Should the partner interfere and restrict the other’s freedom of making friends (especially heterosexual friends); For the female character who feel being ignored because her boyfriends plays video games for over 10 hours, a topic can put forwar like: Should the partner give up some of his/her own time, and spend more time with each other; Or topics about the difference views on the distribution proportion of housework. On the other hand, the reaction and evaluation of the emotional advisors to the performance of the couple characters during and after watching the primary scene and secondary scene were also recorded. In the last part, the couples were interviewed separately again. The purpose of the interview this time is to collect some experience feedback from the participants, and let them freely express their feelings about facing these contradictions and whether they feel that the conflicts have been solved.

The protagonists, the main participating characters of each episode keep changing, but the sequence of recording and production always follow this format. Therefore, it’s adaptable for couples with diverse sexual orientations and cross nationality as well. It can also add credit to the series that make the series more diversified and richly present the differences for multiple gender roles’ point of view on dealing with the problems.

The structure of a full series will consist of a total of 10 episodes. Each episode invites different couples as the main characters, the advisors group remains unchanged, and each episode follows the format. Because of the length of time, each episode will be divided into two parts. The first part includes the quarantine documentary and the interview in which the characters reveal their contradictions during the quarantine time, while the second part covers the debate lived in the secondary scene and the final interview. Because each episode has different characters, it is a series of standalone episodes instead of an arced series, audiences don’t have to be familiar with the narrative and structure of the whole show, they can choose one episode to watch at will and watch the episodes out of order. What they only need to be familiar with is the both parts from one episode.

Rather than the story arcs play out over many episodes in this series, it only occurs sometimes in a small story within one act, or within one episode. Again, because each episode in the series is with different characters as standalone episodes, and the characters involved in the previous episode will not appear in the stories of other episodes. Thus, there are no open ends at the end of each episode then it is not arced. However, the story arcs can appear within an episode which is at the end of the first part of each episode that leaves some story arc open there and need take the rest of the episode to resolve.

As mentioned above, the series structure will be composed of multiple standalone episodes. Each episode will realize a standalone concept by the changes of the main character, and there is no intersection with other episodes. However, for the selection of the main characters of each episode, the producers will put every character involved in the series into consideration as a whole. They attempt to find couples of different ages, personalities, occupations, and backgrounds. On the other hand, there is a premise that they need to have a two weeks quarantine according to the policy of COVID-19 instead of putting them into a constructed scene. In this regard, the producers contact the couples who will return to the state from abroad through online communication.

There are some brief introductions of some characters. For instance, the characters in the first episode, Marinda and Webber, both of whom have been dating for two years, and are studying for graduate degrees in law school; Marina came to California from Texas to attend the university, so she knew very few friends here, and the focus of her life was her boyfriend. She feels that she lacks a sense of security; Webber was born and has always lived in California. He has many close friends here. He likes to go out to parties with his friends and sometimes selectively introduce some of his friends to Miranda. Another couple characters, Catherine and Vincent, have been dating for five years and plan to get married on their anniversary next year. Vincent is 6 years older than Catherine, and he has an ex-wife who has been married for 9 years. He works in an animation company, and his working hours within a year are unstable, but he makes a good amount of money. His greatest interest is playing games; Catherine works as a producer in an advertising production company. She goes to work on a regular routine every week. She does most of the cooking and housework at home.

The “Face 2 Face” non-scripted series will genuinely show the quarantine life of anticipated couples from different ages and with different love stories in front of the audiences who may have experienced the same situation or face the same problem during the epidemic. This familiar scene may resonate with the audience and gain the attention and attraction for the series. The topic of the debate is closely linked to reality, which reveals common concerns and conflicts in dating. Audiences want to know the resolution of solving such problems and watch the other couples to see how they deal with such conflicts. The stakes of this series are attractive to both participants and audience. Both of them don’t know what will happen in the 24/7 living together life. Will there be intensification and performance of contradictions? How do couples solve their problems during quarantine? Will they choose to communicate or maybe quarrel with their partners, but have to stay in the same space with each other after a dispute? And because of the concern that they must stay in this space with their partner for the rest of the quarantine days, some will choose to endure, suppress, and accumulate their inner contradictions. In addition, the stakes of the series will be thrown out especially in the debate competition. Once the contradiction is exposed, will couples cause serious disputes due to differences of opinion and directly announce their breakup on the show?

The primary motivation of the majority of characters involved in this series is seeking for a positive development of their relationship. What drives them to participate in the series is that they want to solve the problems they face. Marinda wants her boyfriend to realize and appropriately decrease the frequency and time he spends on talking on his phone with his female friends. She wants him to keep a distance with other girls; Therefore, her motivation will be to eliminate the insecurity and expect her boyfriend to have a change. Catherine wants to prove to her boyfriend that he is addicted to the game by recording the time he spends on the game every day. She feels really frustrated by failure to communicate with her boyfriends on this problem. By participating in the “Face 2 Face” non-scripted series, these couples can make full use of the opportunities given by the producers for them to communicate and solve the problem. Especially, when they participate in the debate, it creates an emotional expression space between couples through the form of debate competition which allows them to give away emotional catharsis and truly communicate. It’s beneficial to solve the contradictions between couples. Of course, not every character comes to the series with the motivation to solve problems. Some characters may be confident that they will show a good relationship as role models to the audiences which will also reap the audience’s welcome and attention, to obtain the attention and popularity are their motivation.

There will be various expected and unexpected conflicts occur in the series, mainly the interpersonal conflict between characters, and plus other internal and external conflicts. Vincent thinks Catherine is too attached to him. He needs his own independent space and time to do what he likes. At the same time, Catherine thinks Vincent doesn’t care about her and doesn’t give her the company she needs. Webber believes that Miranda did not give him enough trust and always unnecessarily interfered with his freedom of making friends. At the same time, Miranda feels very insecure and does not believe that Webber will be devoted to her. He must be hiding something about her. Beside the conflicts that occur interpersonally, the environment of sharing a room will also bring some new conflits to the characters or stimulate potential contradictions. During the two-week isolation period, first of all they have to deal with the daily diet and housework. Catherine thinks her boyfriend’s habits are terrible, and he’s not taking care of her at all. In addition, the setting of living together day and night will also make the character’s every behavior and actions monitored by their partners. Webber deliberately picks up his phone in another room where Miranda cannot see, but this is difficult to completely hide from Miranda. Emotional problems and crises between characters are accumulated, intensified, and even erupted in these conflicts.

In the series, the climax of the story is likely to occur in a quarantine place where only two characters live, or in a debate game. When any character’s dissatisfaction reaches the extreme, it can be depression, frustration, collapse, and anger. The emotion can be vented in the form of quarrel, even crying and smashing things, which will reach a climax. For example, Catherine could no longer stand Vincent after she called his name five times, but he still stared at the computer screen and completely ignored her, then she grabbed the keyboard and smashed it to the ground.

The solutions will come out in two different ways, either the couples solved their conflicts, or they broke up because they couldn’t reach an agreement and couldn’t stand it anymore, so breaking up may be a better choice for them.

As a dating reality show, the “Face 2 Face” series allows the audience to critically and playfully analyze gender roles or depict gender roles in an inappropriate and disturbing manner. The characters’ expression of perspectives and values as the series plays, it can also resonate with the audience, which virtually plays a positive guiding role, adding social value into the series. The role of emotional advisor invited also provides couples with rational analysis, guidance and advice, and advocates a positive outlook on relationships. People lack opportunities to get along and communicate face-to-face, they do not interact at all even if they sit next to each other. During the epidemic, people were forced to have the opportunity to be in a space face to face every day, and message this serie attempt to convey is to show and make the audience to reflect on their own lives and to think about what is the cause of their contradictions, and seek better ways to establish positive interpersonal relationships.

Yang, 1

Mirrored Reality

In the recent years, the television channel, Music Television or simply known as MTV,

created numerous non-scripted shows that cater to its audiences for entertainment and

occasionally, awareness purposes. In 2009, the network created the reality show titled Teen

Mom, to document the life of first time teenage mothers as they navigate their way through

motherhood while emphasizing on their strained family and romantic relationships. The show

starred Amber Portwood, Catelynn Lowell, Farrah Abraham, and Maci Bookout who were

originally part of the original series, 16 and Pregnant, where the show was conceptualized. Since

the show’s first appearance on television, there have been seven successful seasons produced

with the pilot episode ratings ranking up 2.1 million total viewers. In 2012, the show was

concluded closing off with initially just four seasons in total but was later revived in 2015 for

another three seasons following its name change and reboot to Teen Mom OG. To minimize the

seriousness of the show, it is formatted as a video diary mimicking a baby-collage book

accompanied by handwritten graphical sketches that highlights the important scenes and details

from the episode as comparable to a typical baby book. Along with the graphic designs, the

usage of lighthearted and upbeat music is added to provide subtlety to accompany the heavy

storyline of the show. The characters in the show are usually narrating their story and opinion

through a voice over. Often their voice over will continue through a commercial break imposing

advisories regarding sexual health issues or campaigns. Although Teen Mom is claimed to be a

show that glamorizes teenage pregnancy by some viewers especially parents and critics, the

stories, journeys, and struggles of these girls opens a door to a societal concern that many

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ordinary teenagers are going through in America and audiences are not expose to on a day to day

basis.

In a non-scripted show like Teen Mom, the character’s personal problems drive the drama

which wheels out the whole story of the show. Characters with extreme behaviors are favorable

to producers especially because they know that it will sell to viewers and spike up the ratings. In

this show, Amber Portwood, provided the extreme drama viewers are inclined to, as she is one of

the most dominant characters from the show. She is described as a struggling senior in high

school, who suffers from depression along with the difficulty of her parenthood journey. In an

episode from season two of the show, Amber was recorded lashing out on camera depicting

domestic violence to the father of her child and on-and-off fiancé, Gary Shirley. She repeatedly

punched, slapped, and abused Gary as they fight over his commentary regarding her parenting

style which immediately casted her as a “bad mom.” At this point, many viewers watching the

show is provoked by Amber’s violent act and turned to social media to voice out their opinions

as one Twitter user tweeted, “Amber is so abusive! Poor Gary! He needs to call the police!” The

producers clearly knew that showing the scene will aggravate viewers but nonetheless, it will

generate more ratings for the show and media exposure, as it eventually became the subject of

many news outlets after it was aired. However, viewers only seem to be offended by a sensitive

matter depicted in a show like this when it becomes genuinely real, honest, and sensitive. In an

article from The Atlantic: The Collective Conscience of Reality Television, the viewers stand on

the reality of real people and their real problems are in question as, “reality television fans want

to see what’s ‘really’ happening to other people, as long as it isn’t too real” (Elavia 2004) and as

the truth unveils itself, such act that Amber depicted cannot be prevented as it is within the

proximity of adult romantic relationships. It is just so that this time it was caught on camera and

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broadcasted on television. But, it distinctly provides the audience that such abuse occurs and it is

not predominantly only a woman to man case. Objectively, a Public Service Announcement

(PSA) highlighting domestic violence is shown by MTV right after the clip was broadcasted to

inform viewers of the preventive actions they can take if they are a victim or know anyone who

is a victim of domestic violence. Though MTV aired a PSA announcement about domestic

violence they were not successful in showing Gary’s side of the story since the show’s center of

attention is focused on the girls. An insight to what Gary has to say after the incident occurred

would have been informative and eye opening especially to teenage boys who are not typically

aware of domestic violence among men. Through this incident, it is evident to viewers how one-

sided the show is because it only focuses on the girls and their own narrative of the story rather

than showing every side to diminish the bias.

Teen Mom is clearly emphasized and centered on the mothers since it is their own story

to tell after all. However, the lack of male representation in the show undermines its capability to

effectively introduce the audience with a male’s perspective of how to handle early parenthood

through a male’s point-of-view. The title Teen Mom itself obviously gives the impression that the

show will be centralized on the mothers, but being more flexible with the narrative by having the

male’s narration will also highlight the issues being brought up thus giving the audience a better

understanding and judgment of the situations. With the minimal exposure of the males in the

show, with the slight exception of Tyler Baltierra, who is Catelynn Lowell’s boyfriend who both 

gave up their child for adoption to pursue a better life for their child, most of the fathers of the 

children are barely even on the show. Their absence on the show would immediately cast them 

as the “villain” who rarely contributes with raising their children. In an episode from season 

three, Maci Bookout, the self­driven mom, fights her way through a visitation rights agreement 

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contract with her ex­boyfriend, Ryan Edwards. Maci and Ryan struggle to set aside their own 

personal indifferences for the sake of their child’s well­being which resulted to a legal battle to 

settle out their disagreements. During the filming of the scene, Ryan’s reaction was not quite 

acknowledged as he was only shown when he walked out of the room but Maci’s anger and 

frustration was highlighted thoroughly. The cameras followed her until she went to her car to cry

out her animosity after the court appointment finished. With incidents similar to this, the 

relativeness of the viewer’s reliability towards the show is lessened, as it is more women 

centered lacking the ability to show both sides of the story even probably coining it as bias. If the

both perspective were equally highlighted on the show, a balanced narrative of the story would 

have been portrayed increasing the equal acknowledgement of the unpleasant journey to early 

parenthood.

Non-scripted television audiences are often more inclined to watch shows that features

glamorous, extravagant, and over-the-top lifestyles of the participants, as it becomes a window to

their dreams. For example, a dating-competition based reality show called The Bachelor garners

about 7 million views on average that attract audiences due to its extravagance and indulgence in

luxury from the exotic places they travel to for dates each week. In contrast, Teen Mom, which is

more grounded in reality, only racks up about than 2 million views per episode. The likelihood of

tuning in to a show that lacks the usual elegance and flashy components of what makes a non-

scripted show often feasible seem way too real for some especially when the show starts

mirroring the reality of their own lives. In the earlier years before Teen Mom graced televisions,

the issue of teenage pregnancy and parenthood seemed farfetched as just well-known high

profile personalities like Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin were the only prime examples.

However, the popularity of the show brought up a societal concern with the high rate of teenage

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pregnancy in America putting the government in question of how to educate the younger viewers

about sexual education especially in the public-school system. Teenage pregnancy alone is a

taboo issue that is infrequently discussed due to the shame tailing the subject. However, Teen

Mom provides an insight to the controversies surrounding teenage parenthood, as it becomes a

mainstream issue and concern, as more audience are expose to the show. In a study conducted by

the Internet Sexuality Information Services Inc., the participants involve acknowledged Teen 

Mom for the impact the television had on educating them on sexual and reproduction health. The

show aims to provide the audience especially targeting teenage girls and boys to present the

consequences of teenage parenthood, as it is real and not completely farfetched at all. With each

episode, heavier and substantial issues are brought to the surface as these teenage mothers and

fathers does not only deal with their first year of parenthood but also the underlying effects of it.

Teen Mom’s existence adds a distinct flare to the overly curated genre of non-scripted

television shows. A show solely grounded on the reality of the imperfect world that lies within

the uncertainty of teenage motherhood. The show is undeniably successful in garnering viewer’s

attention as well as the media’s attraction. With a show like this, understanding that just by

having a simple story line with complexity combined with the unpleasant reality of too-early

parenthood can truly captivate many of the viewers’ attention. Teen Mom serves as an outlet for

teenage girls who may seem to find themselves in the situation that Amber, Catelynn, Farrah, and

Maci were once in. The show simply aims to spread awareness regarding teen pregnancy in

America. Moreover, a national discussion has sparked up between the viewers and the critics of

the show but the audience is smart enough to distinguish the true intended meaning behind the

show – simply to advocate the consequences of unprotected sex and early parenthood.

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