On writing in a modern televised society…

I’d like to start out by saying that I’m Danish (but living in Sweden), where we have a lot fewer TV channels, and those commercial channels we have, have fewer commercial breaks during the shows than is common in the USA, which means that in many cases the cuts made for commercial breaks stick out like a sore thumb.

Needless to say the opinions expressed here are very subjective.

My wife is currently reading one of the books by Dr. Phil (Philip C. McGraw), and she kept getting sidetracked by the presentation rather than getting involved by the message, but she couldn’t place her finger on what exactly was bothering her.

But when discussing it, we came to the conclusion that the book was basically a written version of one of his shows, i.e.

Introduction = “Welcome, today we’re going to talk about…”
Chapter intro = “Hey, we’ve just talked about…”
Chapter middle = Nugget of useful information
Chapter end = “When we return we’ll talk more about…”
Conclusion = “Today, we’ve talked about … and … and how to deal with”
Repeat ad nauseam.

It just seems that the amount of information has no real correlation to the number of pages, and one almost expects to find glossy ads for dog food and hair care products placed in between chapters as an analogy to the commercial breaks in the televised shows.

I’m aware that there’s always a need to adjust the message to the recipient, but the message should also in my opinion be adjusted to the medium. And how much can you dumb something down without insulting your audience?

Or is it actually that bad in the US today that a popular (i.e. aimed at a large audience) work of non-fiction needs this kind of repetition in order to sell?

Or is it just that the type of message (self-help, improve your life etc.) lends itself better to hammering rather than persuasion?

In any case, I get the impression that my wife feels almost bullied by this approach rather than motivated. I’ve watched enough of his shows with my wife to know that part of his work method is the forging on in the face of adversity, and it has without a doubt merits, but it may not be the most effective in all situations.

I’d like to add a couple of caveats here. First of all, I’ve not read the book myself, and I’m unlikely to do so as the subject matter holds little interest for me, but I do trust the opinion of my wife enough to comment on it in this matter. Secondly, I’m not attempting to bash Dr. Phil or Oprah and whoever may be out there doing similar shows (Dr. Phil and Oprah are the only ones I know of as they are the only ones shown in Sweden), though I feel that they me be symptomatic of a society with perhaps too great a fascination for mental health issues – which I’ve also commented on in another thread.