The Unpredictable Power of Live Television

We human beings know that unpredictability is a profound force in our world. No matter how much we make plans, diligently practice and religiously strive to control the outcomes of our days, years and lives, we are all subject to the whims of a universe that is simply too vast, powerful and indifferent for us to control in any significant way. We hate, and love (or is it need?) unpredictability.

Either way, it’s not surprising that a new survey highlighting the latest Nielsen research proves that people still love to watch live television. We’re addicted to the unexpected.

These findings pose a unique problem for PR professionals like us who loathe the thought of losing control of our connection with the public. We’ve learned the hard way that even the most disciplined messaging strategy can be sabotaged by unexpected factors–like Clint Eastwood and an empty chair.

Nevertheless, we must adapt to human nature and harness its formidable power–fighting natural law brings nothing but disappointment and catastrophe, which is why PR students need to study Shakespeare as much as business management. Business is about desire and money, life is about love and unpredictability, and PR is about all of the above.

Live television—which includes sports, talk shows, political debates and, yes, Saturday Night Live—offers us all the chance to see fellow human beings break an arm, admit to having an affair, lose their temper or laugh when they’re not supposed to. These are very human situations, and when they occur unscripted they tend to resemble our own lives–you may recall that this principle once drove the rise of reality TV. It’s called empathy, and it’s very powerful.

Human beings like our silverware polished, but we prefer our entertainers to be flawed–like we are. Kim Kardashian got divorced; Tiger Woods cheated; Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair. We kept watching, and we will continue to watch. It’s our bread and butter.