The Un-reality of Reality Shows

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.

3 thoughts on “The Un-reality of Reality Shows

  1. I wish everyone in America would read this. Every person I know who watch these “reality” shows never believe me when I tell them is all fiction. People has really bougth the idea of “reality” and simply refuse to believe that everything they watch on T.V is ficticious with a script and rehersals behind the scenes. What is wrong with these people who watch these shows? Why are they drawn to these fake and ridiculous comedies/dramas? Is it because they have boring lives or because they are ill-curious about other people’s lives? A long time ago I went to a “live” show where we, the public were instructed and guided as to how to react, when to applaud, when to laugh and there were at least three rehersals before they taped the show. So much for “live” show. People need to understand the business of entertainment: they cannot waste valuable time and money airing without knowing what people might say. It is just pure business and as long as people understand this there is no reason to critizice the entertainment business, but when people believe it to be “real” then I have a major problem against the entertainment business: their unethical misrepresentation.

  2. I am writing today because my reality is stressed and very difficult.
    I am a 61 yr old educated women with multiple sclerosis in a wheelchair needing help 24 hours/day. It is life changing and expensive. A stem cell transplant would be needed to get my life back. Not in America, there are no FUNDS in our health care system. America needs to know this. How does one raise money to accomplish this? Sincerely. Helene

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