Why Do We Tune In? 'Cause It's Reality TV

'Instantaneous' judgment reflects shows like 'Survivor'

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 12, 2011 4:47 PM CST | Updated Nov 12, 2011 5:00 PM CST

(Newser) – The Republican presidential debates are exerting a strong influence on this year's race, and even seem entertaining—but why? It's not just Rick Perry's penchant for the deadly 53-second pause or Michele Bachmann's ability to reinterpret US history, analysts say. It's our reality-TV culture of instant judgment: "Who gets kicked off the island, or who gets kicked off the talent stage, is now deeply embedded in the American culture," campaign adviser Steve Schmidt tells the New York Times.

In bygone days, reporters would hunt down campaign staff members after a debate and forge conclusions. “Now, it’s instantaneous,” Schmidt says. “It’s a harsh, tough verdict that is rendered not by the political insiders but by the body politic.” And let's face it, the current batch of candidates—like TV commentator Newt Gingrich and former radio show host Herman Cain—turn the debates into a lively mini-series with dramatic twists and turns. "The up and down of all the non-Romney candidates have given people a reason to tune in to see who’s up and who’s down," says another analyst. "There’s a drama." (Speaking of which, here's what to watch for in tonight's debate.)

Republican presidential candidates Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul pose on September 7, 2011 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
Republican presidential candidates Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul pose on September 7, 2011 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.   (Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidates are seen before a Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas on Oct. 18, 2001.
Republican presidential candidates are seen before a Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas on Oct. 18, 2001.   (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks while Herman Cain looks on during a presidential debate hosted by Bloomberg and the Washington Post on October 11, 2011 in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks while Herman Cain looks on during a presidential debate hosted by Bloomberg and the Washington Post on October 11, 2011 in Hanover, New Hampshire.   (Getty Images)
In this Oct. 11, 2011, photo, Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is greeted by supporters after a Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
In this Oct. 11, 2011, photo, Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is greeted by supporters after a Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.   (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
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