Having represented a number of celebrities in reality shows publicly and privately, I am here to tell you the shocking truth: there is nothing reality-based about this genre.
Let’s start with the shows themselves, much more “show” than reality. As with sitcoms or dramas, there are takes, re-takes, re-re-takes, and so on. Eight hours to tape a half hour scene is not uncommon. Hair and makeup artists lurk in the background; producers “suggest” lines to the participants, telling them to be angrier, more excited, have bigger energy. “Talent” – as on air types are known in all television – are given plotlines to work through: catty, petty female spats, lies told to some but not other members of the cast, to create dramatic tension, props placed strategically to provoke emotions or arguments.
If you must watch these shows, at least, please, enjoy them as fictional as Days of Our Lives or Desperate Housewives. Don’t believe cameras are just “catching” real people living their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cameras and klieg lights and hair and makeup and producers and directors do not make for reality. If they were all in your living room, how authentic would you be?
If a reality star complains about any of this, they are referred to the lengthy (often 30, 50 or even 100 pages) contract, which binds them so thoroughly they can hardly sneeze without the express written permission of the network. For example, as an attorney I was shocked to see my clients had signed contracts barring them from ever suing for defamation, no matter how egregiously the show had manufactured a plot line making them look like liars, cheaters, even criminals. The shows get it both ways: they call the show “reality” to hook in viewers, yet absolve themselves of all legal liability even when they falsely destroy someone’s character.
And at least according to the contract, they can’t be sued for it.
(I told one network I couldn’t believe that would be enforceable. Could the show falsely come up with a story line that my client was a child molester, and there would be nothing she could do in response? I didn’t believe any court would stand for that.)
Nor can they even complain. Ironclad confidentiality provisions prevent the talent from talking to anyone about what goes on in the show. From the pages of legalese on this point, one would think reality stars are being given the codes for Fort Knox.
Hey, at least they’re making the big bucks, you say. So isn’t it worth it?
No. Other than the rare breakout star, reality “talent” make so little they all need second jobs. Ten or twenty thousand dollars a season – for, say, six months’ work – is typical. And the thing is, they’re all so replaceable. How many people can play themselves? Just about everyone. How many people can be drunk/obnoxious/loud? Hundreds of millions. So these types of reality stars are replaceable. Here today, gone tomorrow.
The production companies and networks profit, the “talent” often walk away disappointed, and we all get dumbed down from watching these shows.