3Keeping the Villains Around on Reality Shows
Major Offenders: The Apprentice, Hell's Kitchen, Rock of Love, any reality show with a "boss."
Reality shows are always accused of being rigged. Who knows if American Idol is intentionally losing some votes along the way, right? Or if the judges' comments are meant to sway vote totals rather than give feedback?
But then there is a whole category of reality show that that just advertise the fact. These are the shows where a "boss" type decides the outcome, rather than by a vote from the audience or other contestants.
Behind that boss is, of course, a team of producers who keep or kick off whoever the hell they feel like keeping or kicking off. And that means that the nastiest, most arrogant character you're most desperate to see go, will almost certainly be kept to the end. The show needs a villain, and the producers' job is to keep the best cast of characters, not the best contestants.
So, on the first season of The Apprentice, millions of people were introduced to the queen bitch of the universe, Omarosa. With a resume that included being fired four times over two years for not being able to get along with anyone, and a part time job as a succubus, she was picked from thousands of people as a candidate to become a high paid employee of Donald Trump. Why? Because producer Mark Burnett knew that she would stir up some shit on camera.
Why it Works:
The cheapest way to get drama out of a show is with conflict. The hardest part about reality shows, where there is no script, is making sure the conflict still shows up right on schedule, to keep the audience from getting bored. That's the villain's job.
Why it Shouldn't:
Reality show producers seem to think that drama and conflict can only come in the form of petty screaming matches. But how much screeching can we be exposed to before we go from being entertained, to bored, to just depressed?
Of course the show is forced to undermine its own competition along the way, as the boss character is forced to fire more qualified contestants week after week, saving someone like Omarosa for as long as possible (in her case, 9 episodes into a 13 episode season, only to be brought back in an all-star edition). Weeks and weeks of a villain skating through each challenge without having to be accountable for anything tends to make us lose faith in the show, and humanity in general.
2Characters Returning from the Dead
Major Offenders: Battlestar Galactica, X-Files, Star Trek: Voyager, Nip/Tuck, Six Feet Under.
Science fiction shows are especially bad about creating a world where no one is ever permanently dead. Cloning, alien abduction and interference by a higher life form are just a few of the ways that shows can bring a deceased character back to life. And then there's the human-looking Cylons on Battlestar Galactica, an entire species that can be shoved out an airlock on a daily basis only to come back once again with perfect hair and slinky dresses.
Why it Works:
Note that this technique often overlaps with the Cliffhanger Cop-Out. Six Feet Under ended Season Two with main character Nate boarding a bus to the afterlife, only to get a poorly-explained resurrection in the Season Three premier. In Nip/Tuck, Dr. Christian Troy is apparently slain by a serial killer in a season finale, gets a funeral the next season, only to have the funeral turn out to be a dream and the serial killer attack having left only a minor cut on his face (you had to be there).
Just as with the Cliffhanger Cop-Outs, this lets the writers have it both ways. They get their dramatic death scene one week, without having to deprive the show of a favorite (that is, ratings-boosting) character. Besides, did we really think Buffy would stay dead all of those times she got killed? Her name is the title of the show.
Why it Shouldn't:
You can see the problem on shows that abuse it, particularly sci-fi or fantasy shows where audiences have gotten used to the idea that anyone can come back (we imagine that very few people actually believed that Kara Thrace died when her ship exploded in a wormhole on Battlestar Galactica).
Viewers saw Jin get exploded on a boat in the finale of last season's Lost, but know that he could be back as a ghost, or through some kind of time travel. Or the healing powers of the island could fix him somehow--hell, it's Lost. There's like two dozen ways he can come back. At this point when somebody gets "killed" we just roll our eyes.