Accuracy vs. Realism in TV Shows

by Jason the TVaholic on October 12, 2005

in Commentary, TV Talk

I was watching Commander in Chief last night when the President is summoned to the Situation Room where she is told of the deaths of nine DEA agents. She asks for their names. As their names and where they are from is read off their picture is displayed via projector on the screen over the Presidents shoulder. A slide projector that is, with all the sounds and clicks as each picture is shown. I said really, the best they could do in the Situation Room at the White House is the same thing teachers used for presentations back in my junior high days.

Then I was reminded of something I wrote about Grey’s Anatomy in last Sunday’s Tonight on the Tube post. Something to the effect of that if you are watching Grey’s Anatomy for accuracy then you are watching it for the wrong reason. The show is about this group of people and their interactions with each other and the well written dialogue and story that is being told. It just happens to take place in a fictitious hospital in Seattle.

This comment was in response to an article I read at Slate called Paging Dr. Welby: The Medical Sins of Grey’s Anatomy. Was I now making a similar complaint as some are about medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy and House?

At first it seemed as though I was. Then after thinking about it I really wasn’t. The difference I believe is realism as opposed to accuracy. What seemed like a slide projector broke the façade of realism for me. In my mind the Situation Room where national security options are discussed is a little more high tech than an 80’s era slide presentation. On The West Wing they have a high tech looking Situation Room with flat panel screens and live satellite feeds and such. I don’t know if this is an accurate showing of what this room really looks like but it passes the seems real enough test.

On the flipside of this a surgeon on a medical show holding a scalpel wrong or mispronouncing a disease or procedure name while inaccurate does not break the charade of realism. It may on the other hand for a surgeon or doctor. As I am neither it does not for me and for most people watching these shows. Even though the TVaholic lives in the Seattle area and knows that there is no Seattle Grace Hospital that is still not enough to lose the realism for me. As the portrayal of this hospital seems real enough to enjoy watching these fine characters go about their lives.

On the other hand watching the President give a speech before a joint session of Congress in what seems like a small room or a slide projector being used in the Situation Room breaks from the feel of realism. Leaving you less than satisfied with the story being told.

What makes a TV show, movie, or pretty much any story that is being told great to watch, read or hear is your ability to suspend disbelief and enjoy what is going on. For this to happen what is being portrayed needs to be done in a realistic a fashion as possible. It does not need to be accurate it needs to have and air of realism.

Nobody is watching Surface on Monday’s because it is an accurate representation of giant alien sea creatures. They are watching it because the story is done well enough and with enough realism for the viewers to be able to suspend disbelief for about an hour and enjoy themselves.

What do you think about the idea of a show needing realism as opposed to accuracy?

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