Tuesday, January 12, 2010
"Madhouse" Paints A Scripted Picture
Update: Great fan comments on this post. What a mixed reaction to this first program. No ratings info from History Channel, series returns Sunday at 10PM ET.
When entertainment TV takes on a reality topic, the results are usually interesting. Sunday night, the History Channel offered Madhouse. This program was edited from footage obtained during the 2009 racing season at Bowman Gray stadium in Winston Salem, NC.
It was produced by Triage Entertainment from Los Angeles, CA. Their credits include The Next Iron Chef, Home for the Holidays with Faith Hill and The Mentalist.
Madhouse is called a "docusoap." This hybrid word gives the production company and the TV network a very wide berth in producing the series. Basically, it puts right up front the fact that the series is based on real events that take place. In this case, a summer of racing at Bowman Gray. That would be the "docu" portion.
The wide berth comes with the admission of the "soap" part. From the start of the first episode, it was painfully obvious that a script was involved. It may not have contained specific words for the participants to say, but it was certainly clear that situations were staged and conflict was emphasized.
The goal of this type of series is to get viewers involved and keep them coming back. The premise of Madhouse is not the racing, but the off-track feuds and family conflicts that overshadow the action on the track. To some, this is a travesty as the sport of short track racing is much more than just animosity.
Casual viewers and perhaps those never exposed to racing are almost certainly going to be drawn in by this strange mix of family conflict that seems to be played out at high speeds on a racetrack. Painted as rednecks and compared to the Hatfields and McCoys, the end result was certainly not pretty.
Triage Entertainment made sure to include the angry fans flashing the middle digit. The audience seemed to be there for the fights, not the racing. Compared to gladiators, the winner's pit crew ran down the track after the race screaming "Kiss it, kiss it" to the fans. It was not a pretty picture of Americans.
The voice that tied the program together was a local radio DJ who seemed very clearly to be reading a script created long after the racing footage had been shot. Something had to be done by the producers to create a theme. In this episode, it was that the entire town was excited for this family rivalry to resume.
Madhouse is certainly not for everyone. Opinions were varied even after the preview of the first episode was seen. After opening with footage of one driver ramming his race car repeatedly into a stopped car on the track, this first show closed with a montage of violence off the track.
Profanity, fist fights and insults were used in the closing minutes to entice TV viewers back next week for more. Little of the actual racing, the mechanical aspects or the positive side of the sport was shown. It seems that is exactly how the producers and the network intended it to be.
Here are some early comments from media members:
Shawn Courchesne of The Hartford Courant: Madhouse doesn't paint a picture of short tracks. It doodles a caricature portraying the sport as entirely unkempt and disgustingly violent.
Dave Moody from Sirius Speedway and MRN Radio: Is it just me, or has the first 15 minutes of Madhouse already set the sport back 50 years? Madhouse is an embarrassment to the sport.
Jade Gurss of SPEEDtv.com: My impression of the first episode of Madhouse? Two words: Red. Neck.
Alan Cavanna, a Charlotte area TV journalist: It's a show about short track racing in North Carolina. Were you expecting the wine-and-cheese crowd?
RyanMcGee from ESPN the Magazine: Watching last night's "Madhouse". A lot of folks are angry over it, but I've been to Bowman-Gray a lot. Love it there. This isn't a stretch.
Time for you to offer an opinion on this first program and how this series makes you feel as a race fan? To add your comment, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.
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