Is the Reality TV Genre Falling Apart?
[images via Entertainment Weekly]
New York metropolitan area PBS affiliate Thirteen recently teamed up with CHI&Partners to launch an ad campaign mocking real reality shows by promoting fake reality shows that look real. The five posters above began appearing in NYC subways in late May 2013.
“The fact you thought this was a real show says a lot about the state of TV. Support quality programming,” reads a message capping off each one.
The following are fake trailers for three fake shows.
Reality tv is fake. people know this, right?
February 6, 2013
I have watched with amusement the news surrounding Storage Wars star David Hester’s $750,000 lawsuit against A&E claiming the show was fake. It’s hard for me to believe he has any sort of a case. I’m sure he signed his life and rights away in his participant contract, and I feel even more sure that within that contract there is some sort of clause that mentions the producers may “enhance” the story line with editing or planted situations.
In the past couple of years there have been all kinds of revelations about popular shows – that HGTV’s House Hunters are usually already in escrow on the house they “choose,” that alcohol is provided to candidates on The Bachelor/Bachelorette in the hopes that it will increase the drama. Both these things are probably true, but why does it matter? Does it really make us, the viewers, feel that duped? Do we feel like a sober bachelorette is less of a fool?
Aren’t we pretending right along with them that putting people on an virtual island full of other unstable humans, cut off from any normal voice of reason, plying them with champagne and then asking deeply personal questions, is any sort of “real”?
It’s a game we’re all playing. Producers control it in the edit bay, viewers control it with the remote.
Here is what is real about reality tv:
- They are actual humans.
- They (sometimes) have talent and dreams, and just being seen on Top Chef or Project Runway can change their whole life and career.
- Maybe they do have their own business (Duck Dynasty) or their own family (Sister Wives).
Here is what is easily manipulated:
- The casting is no accident. They’re looking for people who will rock the boat, or who will weep and wail when the boat gets rocked.
- The location. Ever notice that every single season of Real Housewives includes some sort of a trip far away? And that’s it’s always the most drama-filled, three-episode arc of the season? That’s the Survivor effect. Get them out of their element, with tensions already in place, give them some wine, reality gold.
- Editing. Unless it’s a long-winded rant where the camera doesn’t move, assume there has been some changes to a scene to paint a picture. Every single moment is fair game. You roll your eyes at a legitimate dig? You gotta be okay with that snarky look showing up at a totally different place in the conversation.
- Everything. The contestants emotions. The viewers emotions. The press. We’re living in the current culture of “Everything celebrity is fair game,” as wrong as that is for everyone involved.
The Gorilla has been into Amish Mafia on Discovery Channel this year. I can’t watch more than five minutes because it reads so fake to me. Almost anything that includes “dramatic re-enactments” will make my eyes glaze over. He also loves The Biggest Loser, which to me just feels like a two-hour commercial of people crying.
Then again, he can’t understand why I root for a fairly hum-drum polygamist family, or why I’m obsessed with Sarah Richardson even though we don’t share the same style.
But you’re reading a carefully edited blog and your righteous neighbor spews her every indignant thought on facebook. So reality is relative. Always.
Reality bites: Is the ‘reality’ TV genre falling apart?
February 5, 2013
Is it time they re-named “reality” television to something more “real” – like imagined, feigned, or totally fake television? While it has been widely assumed that “reality” shows are far from real – it seems a string of recent lawsuits and embarrassing accusations could cause the popular genre to unravel.
Earlier this year, local police in the Lancaster County, PA, called out “Amish Mafia,” a new show on the Discovery Channel, claiming that they had no knowledge of such a mafia, and if it existed they “would know about it.” During one episode, the narrator even states that one of the lead characters was arrested by the “Lancaster County Police” –but there is reportedly no such law enforcement agency.
A Discovery rep told FOX 411 they “don’t see a need to comment on someone’s speculation” and that they “stand by the show.”
And late last year, Kristin Cavallari confirmed what we all had been thinking – that the long-running MTV series “The Hills” was far from unscripted. In an interview on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live,” the reality star revealed that the show was “pretty fake” and that she was “pretty much” told what to say, who to date and who to argue with.
Similarly, Jesse Csincsak, winner of the fourth season of “The Bachelorette,” had less-than-flattering things to say about his time of the hit ABC series.
“It is as fake as they come,” he insisted. “The producer casts people then puts them into roles they are not aware of until they see the show and by then it is too late. Their public images are ruined for life. People who never even knew them now hate them for how they were falsely portrayed.”
A rep for ABC said the network “doesn’t comment on speculation and rumor.”
Even the famed E! reality series “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” has come under fire over its authenticity.
The allegations hit an all-time high when paparazzi shots were taken of Kim and her mom Kris leaving an L.A studio – donning exactly the same clothes, makeup and hair as footage shot in Dubai, sparking speculation that “Dubai” scenes were in actual fact shot in Los Angeles.
Reps for Ryan Seacrest Productions did not respond to a request for comment.
Still, it’s not just the mainstream reality networks that are being accused of faking scenes. Last year, HGTV’s “House Hunters” became the subject of scripted speculation when a woman blogged that producers changed her back story to make it more compelling when she appeared on the show. She also charged that two of the three homes showed to her on the series were friends’ houses that weren’t even on the market.
In response, a network rep said the show is not “a documentary” and is “simply entertaining viewers in a 30-minute format that conveys the ideas, emotions and experiences of the house hunting journey.”
And the accusations about reality shows don’t end there. Some of these claims eventually turn into lawsuits, which have the potential to cost the networks millions for their allegedly faked drama.
In December, Dave Hester – a former cast member of “Storage Wars” filed a $750,000 lawsuit against his former A&E show, claiming the show was staged.
The Discovery Channel also recently found itself in a legal battle. A ship owner filed a suit against its Animal Planet series “Whale Wars” for $5 million, claiming the show lied about the state of his ship and sabotaged the boat to encourage viewers to donate to an anti-whaling organization, the Sea Shepherds.
“Animal Planet’s producer of ‘Whale Wars’ over the five seasons has documented the activities of the Sea Shepherds during campaigns and has not controlled nor directed any their activities,” the show’s rep told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column.
So what do these accusations and lawsuits mean for the ever-lucrative reality TV shows?
“The ‘reality’ shows are in all actuality, lying to their viewers,” John DiThomas, Producer/Partner at Rough Water Films said. “The audience, even if they subconsciously know it is not real, will become angry, and personally I think they should.”
But according to prominent reality television agent Alec Shankman, there is little chance faked scenes will impact the audiences of these shows.
“Although the fact that certain storylines and shows are contrived has certainly been brought to light, what matters most to the audience are the characters,” he said. “As long as the characters are genuine, the ‘produced’ storylines don’t seem to be a real concern for fans and ratings.”
Reality TV producer Casey Brumels, of Ping Pong Productions, said the genre seems to entertain, so maybe all it needs is a name change.
“Perhaps as the landscape evolves we will see a name change from reality TV to situational TV?”
Surprise! Reality Shows Are Fake
August 23, 2012
As part of their Career Confidential series, Buzzfeed has a post up today by an anonymous reality television editor, and I don’t know if you guys realize this or not, but sometimes — and I hope you’re sitting down or leaning against something really sturdy right now — reality shows take liberties with things to make the end product appear more dramatic. Oh, and television executives are cheap and think viewers are morons. Sorry to pull back the curtain and reveal this harsh truth to you, but I feel it is my journalistic duty to be honest and expose frauds whenever I see them. Pulitzer, please
Seriously, though, it’s not like any of this breaks startling new ground, but it’s still interesting for anyone who hates reality television as much as I do and wants an excuse to yell and scream about it a little. (It’s also a good excuse to link to John Jeremiah Sullivan’s awesome GQ feature from 2005 about the post-television lives of reality stars). As such, I’ve excerpted my favorite parts of the piece, and posted them below.
On putting a bunch of “knuckleheads” in charge:
The caliber of producers and executives in reality TV is terrible because reality shows are so cheap — you can make a whole season of a reality show for the cost of one episode of CSI, so the network just promotes a bunch of knuckleheads to be the producers. So you have to manipulate more than you should — nothing happened on the show because the producers didn’t do anything.
On manipulating drunk people and animals, and Gordon Ramsay being a boob:
The worst one I worked on in terms of manipulation was probably a dating competition show. That one basically just put some oversexed drunken kids in a house and let them go wild. Sometimes the producers would ask a contestant something like, “what do you think about Steve? You don’t like him?” And the contestant would say, “no, I’m not going to say that I don’t like Steve.” And the producers would ask us to cut everything except, “I don’t like Steve.”
In terms of shows that I haven’t worked on, some of the ones that I think are especially bad are animal training shows. There are things that people don’t know that happened beforehand, in order to create this perfect scenario for this expert to magically whip a troublesome animal into shape. The viewer doesn’t know the animal had to take an hourlong walk to be super-tired before the expert got there.
Hell’s Kitchen is also edited a lot — they just manipulate the hell out of the interviews. It’s really frankenbitten (Ed. note – “Frankenbitten” was described earlier in the piece as “where you put together one sentence from one answer, another couple words from another answer, another sentence from another day, and make it look like one interview”).
On dealing with the devil:
Sometimes I feel guilty about manipulating the footage, but I maybe feel more guilty about the dumbing-down of reality TV. We put out quality emotional, dramatic products, but as soon as they go to the network, they’ll decide “our audience doesn’t have that attention span” or “people in Middle America won’t like it.” They’re basically saying, “our audience is too dumb for that.” I feel guilty about dumbing down the product for this imaginary viewer that I don’t believe exists, or if it does, I think we have a responsibility to educate viewers and give them something smarter.
So, to recap: A group of evil suits put knuckleheads in charge of a cheap show, the knuckleheads manipulate the stupid people they cast to star in it, they film it all, chop it up, and send it off to the evil suits who return it the next day with a note written on it that says “TOO SMART, MAKE DUMBER.”
Reality TV Is Fake (And So Are You)
Jeremy Glass in Culture
Let’s talk shop for a second, kids. Reality television has been around a long time — longer than you think, in fact. It all started in 1948 with Allen Funt’s Candid Camera, a show that pulled pranks on unknowing participants and filmed the results. Next came a talent search show along the lines of what American Idol would eventually be, and it was called Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour. One of the most memorable reality television games shows was Twenty-One. In 1956, a contestant was featured who had been coached by producer Dan Enright to win the game. In 1958, it was finally revealed that the game had been rigged and the revelation caused Twenty-One to be cancelled in 1958. The reason the contestant had been coached to win? Producers wanted to dethrone the show’s current champion because his winning streak and quirky personality was killing their ratings.
The thought of producers stepping in to popular reality TV shows like Jersey Shore or The City to tweak character development and storylines seems almost criminal in the eyes of the public, but guess what: it happens all the time. Take the parent series of the The City, Laguna Beach: there’s an episode in which production allegedly staged a bonfire before inviting cast members to interact with one another, and had also instructed Jason Wahler with his entrance and dialogue. The truth of the matter is, this act was probably the least amount of interference production caused during the filming of this show.
For a brief time in Boston, I worked in pre-production on a variety of reality TV shows. I was a fresh-out-of-college intern and was excited at the notion of filming life as it happened. My favorite show was about an armless and legless man who was, incredibly, a champion fisherman. I was assigned to research his entire life story and did so with excruciating detail. I had found out everything there was to find out about this man; his friends, his family, his hobbies, even his favorite meal. The show was going to revolve around his struggles as a disabled person and how he consistently beat the odds to do what he loved most: catch fish.
So one day the other interns and I are tooling around when we’re called into a production meeting. I gather my notes and meet up with the executive producer in the back of the office. She has a big white board in front of her and a bowl of chocolates in her hand.
“Grab a chocolate!” She says, as she whips out a dry-erase marker. I accept the treat and ask her what the meeting is about. She nonchalantly tells me that we’re having a writers meeting and have to plan out the disabled fisherman show. I eat a chocolate and assume that she had been talking to the man and received some type of schedule from him for next few months of his life. Wrong. The producer asked us what we wanted to see happen during the course of the show.
“He catches a huge fish and wins the championship!”
“Maybe he has a big fight with his best friend who’s jealous of his fishing skills!”
“He and his wife get a divorce and he has to go on a series of dates.”
The producer ate up the ideas and wrote them all down on the whiteboard. She was effectively planning conflict in this man’s life. It all became clear to me.
Of course, I wasn’t totally naive. I knew producers always had a say in the planning of reality television. No one’s life is interesting enough to maintain an audience’s attention span for an entire hour without some kind of outside interference.
If cameras followed me around for a week, they would watch a 25-year-old lounge around in his pajamas and eat pizza-bagels 40 hours a week.
Regardless, the biggest dose of reality hit hard during the filming of another show in which pets were taught by a champion trainer to perform stunts. This particular episode involved a dog who was taught how to bowl. I arrived on set as the production assistant and did everything that needed to be done: unload equipment, set up lights, order lunch. The premise of the episode was that the owner of the dog had bet his friends that his dog could get three strikes in a row. If the dog could do it, everyone at his job would have to come to work on Saturday. If the dog missed, the owner would have to come in. I chatted with the other PAs and we all took bets as to whether or not the dog was going to be able to get a strike.
Filming began and the dog missed four strikes in a row. We kept filming until the dog managed to get a pin down. The producer was elated.
“Finally. Two more times and we’re done.” It dawned on me that the entire production staff had agreed beforehand that the dog, regardless of the results, was going to get three strikes in a row. About two hours later, they got all the footage they needed to be able to cut together a convincing game. My favorite part of the day was when I was pulled aside to play one of the owner’s co-workers.
“I don’t get it.” I said.
“You’re going to tell the camera that you don’t think the dog can make three strikes in a row.”
It dawned on me then how overly-produced reality TV really was. To the audience who would eventually watch this episode, this dog bowled three strikes in a row and the owner’s co-workers had to come into work on Saturday. What a bummer! In reality, it was all fake. There was no bet, there were no co-workers, and this dog couldn’t bowl for shit.
This rude awakening opened my eyes to reality TV and the amount of tampering, interference, and producing behind each episode.
Take any character rivalry in shows like The Real World or Rock of Love. There are two characters who seem like naturally born mortal enemies. In reality, this is how it works: casting is the most important part of the production of reality television. If you’re a pretty-looking person who is naturally one to cause conflict, you’re going to be cast. Fight producers are brought on to pit characters against each other, often inciting fights by leading characters on with questions: “So I heard XYZ told her boyfriend that she thought you were a bitch. What do you think about that?” The reaction is taped, the conflict is set-up, and the fight is played a billion times on YouTube.
If this is all news to you, don’t act so shocked. Would you sit through an episode of real reality television? A couple talking about their bullshit days over dinner? Actually, I guess that’s The Hills. The point is: conflict sells and you wouldn’t watch people hang out unless one of them was guaranteed to end up bloody and crying on the floor.
Last night, Kristin Cavallari went on Watch What Happens Live (to promote her shoe line? because she has one?) and played the customary game “Plead the Fifth,” during which she was asked, “How fake was The Hills?” Her answer: “Pretty fake.”
She admitted that producers told the cast what to say and that fights and even some of the relationships were faked for the show. Including her “romance” with Justin Bobby. When host Andy Cohen pointed out that she made out with Justin Bobby on camera, Kristin said, “It took a lot of convincing,” presumably from producers.
So it was basically like Curb Your Enthusiasm, where they were given a story arc and then improved their scenes.
The public was already pretty much aware that the show was staged, especially given the tongue-in-cheek series finale in which Kristin says goodbye forever to Brody Jenner, only for the camera to pan away and reveal that they were actually on a film set. Also, Lauren Conrad has been open about staged aspects of the show, telling the ladies of The View about an infamous phone call between her and Spencer Pratt: she was on the phone with someone else, and his voice was dubbed in post production.