East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Novel Writing as TV Competition


And so the Italian state TV, RAI, decided to do what everybody said would be a bad idea – a talent show for writers.

They gathered 5000 “aspiring writers”, who submitted 5000 manuscripts, and then they did the classic reality/talent routine.
They set up a judging panel of three popular novelists, and let the circus begin.
For the winner, a promised print run of 100.000 copies through a major publisher.

100.000 copies, in a country in which the average citizen reads 0.73 books per year, and 5000 copies are considered an solid success for a well-established author.

The show is ugly.
Granted, a reality show is probably supposed to be vulgar and simplistic, but here we go a lot farther than usual along that road.

What is particularly ugly, to me, is firstly the obsession for the writers as “characters”.
The story is secondary, the novel (only novels for this show – sorry non-fictioneers and short-fictioneers) can be bad, because part of the show will focus on setting the “errors” straight.
And here’s the second ugly element – the absurd idea that there is only one way, only one system, only one approach, to writing.
“Truth” is paramount – whatever that may be.
“Imagination” never gets mentioned, if not in deprecating tones.
“Adventure”… you’ve got to be kidding.

Were it any good, this would be a show about a very specific sort of writer and a very specific sort of novel: literary, mainstream, with a good pedigree (the usual authors got name-checked frequently during the show premiere) and a strong autobiographical element.

Marred by vulgarity, stupid posturing, a cavalier attitude towards the poor slobs sitting at home that have no idea of what writing (or reading) is all about anyway (or that’s how the audience is treated), and an almost pornographic attention to the personal lives of the participants, the end result is mindboggingly ugly, and offensive.

By stressing a somewhat fuzzy nature of writing as a mix of personal trauma, emulation and amateur attitude, the show tries to create a mistique of fiction but ultimately shows writers as clueless posers in need of an officiel certification.

It would have been easier, cheaper and funnier doing a 30 minutes daily segment on the many Italians involved in NaNoWriMo.
Or anything else, really.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

3 thoughts on “Novel Writing as TV Competition

  1. Ugly… the only, simply and necessaire comment about it!


  2. Don’t take them seriously, really!
    The show is intended for people who wouldn’t read anyway.
    I don’t think it can do more damages, the italian situation is desperate.
    This is only the top of the iceberg and I’m very worried thinking about that iceberg…


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