Floral arrangement. Glass blowing. What is behind the boom in “extreme creativity” in reality TV

Contestants Dave and Richard go head-to-head in Season 2 of “Lego Masters”, which premieres June 1 on Fox. (Tom Griscom / Fox)

Launch a fully functional teapot in under a minute. Make a giant bathroom object by melting and sculpting glass. Build an all-Lego bridge that can hold up to a thousand pounds.

These are the challenges that contestants may face in HBO Max’s “The Great Pottery Throw Down”. Netflix’s “Blown Away” and Fox’s “Lego Masters” respectively – three titles that are part of a burgeoning reality TV subgenre that highlights the most specialized design skills. These shows take the episodic elimination structure of long-established competitive series and fill it with seasoned people in the most specialized creative fields.

Are you into the arts and crafts? Put on NBC’s “Making It”. Want to watch jewelers at work? Tune in to BBC Two “Everything that shines.” No delineation is too detailed: HBO Max’s “Full Bloom” focuses more on flower arrangement than Netflix’s “The Big Flower Fight”, which is more about flower installations, and Discovery +’s “Clipped”, which is about topiaries. Even kids and teens are worthy contenders, thanks to Disney + ‘s “Shop Class” and HBO Max “Craftopia”.

Why is this kind of show so appealing? For starters, they provide a sense of escape – often a big factor in successful entertainment, never more than 14 months after the start of a pandemic. “People want to go beyond the wonderful home improvement and restoration competitions to see what else is there,” said Bob Kirsh, vice president of programming and development for HGTV, whose portfolio includes titles like “Clipped”, which features Martha Stewart as one of its judges.

“These shows work because there is already some basic familiarity with the subject, but you can learn more from real experts and witness these truly magnificent creations that you might not otherwise be able to see.”

A woman works on an ornate and ornate topiary in the shape of an octopus, to accompany a mini-golf hole

Meghan Petricka is working on her mini-golf topiary structure on the Discovery + “Clipped” competition. (Chris Lane / HGTV)

Regardless of the skill tested, the shared ‘it’ factor of these shows is ‘extreme creativity,’ said Jennifer O’Connell, executive vice president of the non-fiction and live-action family for HBO. Max. “It’s gratifying to see someone being so skilled at something that they can do such awesome things. You might not become a potter after watching ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’, but you might be inspired. to explore something else and make it your own. “

Even though viewers don’t literally pick up a contraption afterwards, “there have been so many studies that show that when we humans watch someone else do something, the same neural circuits are activated in our own brains, almost as if we are actually doing it ourselves, ”explained clinical and forensic neuropsychologist Judy Ho.“ Watching someone else be satisfied with creating something so beautiful, you really have an idea of ​​what it might feel like if we were the ones doing it. “

This has become even more true during the widespread uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Seeing something physical and tangible that you can touch and manipulate in a finished product, especially through a process that has a clear beginning and end, is very calming for the human spirit, which craves control.” Ho added.

These specialty series are nothing new: the “Forged in Fire” story blacksmith contest ran for eight seasons. SyFy’s “Face Off” with prosthetic makeup artists, and Paramount Network’s “Ink Master” with tattoo artists, lasted 13 seasons (the latter is be relaunched for Paramount +).

But more and more, these shows look like “The great British pastry fair” rather than “Excellent chef,” in the sense that they invite amateurs to practice their hobbies instead of calling on experts to boost their careers. “These competitors aren’t necessarily trying to make a profit, they usually do it because they really love it,” O’Connell said.

Three young artisans display their elaborate locker designs on a reality TV set

Young DIYers Ceres, Weber and Brooklyn create elaborate lockers on HBO Max’s “Craftopia”. (HBO Max)

“It shows that no matter what your job, you can always find something that allows you to express yourself and brings you joy. You can be passionate about an art form or skill and compete at a very high level. There is a really ambitious element in seeing real, regular people get away with this week after week. “

It’s fitting that these hobby-centric shows take a relatively relaxed approach compared to the more fierce tournaments on TV. “This kind of show doesn’t have to be mean to be entertaining,” said Anthony Dominici, “Lego Masters” showrunner.

“Yes, they’re technically against each other, but really, these people – who are all so different and from completely different backgrounds – help each other and learn from each other along the way because they see each other as being part of the same niche community.

“People can compete against each other and not cut each other off in this process and instead grow stronger,” he added. “We can all learn from this.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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Rosalie M. Dehner