Reality TV shows not really founded on reality

Jana Owens

Whether you own the newest high-definition flatscreen or a television box that was passed down to you from your grandmother, chances are you watch more reality television on it than any other type of show. Unfortunately, these so-called reality shows have a long way to go if they want to live up to their name.

During the 2001 Writers Guild of America strike, reality shows became a television craze. Because reality programs do not require a script, they also do not require a WGA contract.

Reality shows are much cheaper to make than scripted shows, which greatly reduced production costs during a time when funds were significantly cut due to the strike. This caused production companies to capitalize on the reality TV industry.

By the time the WGA strike came to an end, reality television had become such a powerhouse that there was no taming it. According to network statistics, 12- to 17-year-olds say that, of their four favorite shows, three are reality shows.

Despite their popularity, the fact is that reality programs are not so realistic. Even though reality television does not technically require a script, writers are still hired to make sure that viewers have something interesting to watch.

In a recent episode of VH1’s show “Best Week Ever,” one of Lauren Conrad’s love interests admitted to being cast for his small part on “The Hills.” The show’s executive producer, Adam Divello, also admitted to scripting parts of the show. “I hate to say we schedule their lives, but we definitely schedule out what we want to cover,” he said.

Being in a profession where I frequently deal with media personnel, I have seen firsthand how unrealistic reality television can be. When I began working with the producers of A&E’s “Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels,” I initially requested a shop list from them. I was surprised to find a script attached to it.

My experience with MTV’s show “Parental Control” was similar. The two individuals on the date barely spoke between shots. As we continued to film the couple supposedly getting close on their date, one of the crew told me that virtually the entire thing was staged. Once actors are cast for the segment, the dates are planned for them, as are their topics of conversation.

Given how scripted these shows are, it’s no wonder that reality program stars are treated like actors. If you don’t agree with me, take a look at one of their paychecks. Big reality stars like Lauren Conrad bring in $10,000 to $25,000 per episode, according to industry experts. “Big Brother” guarantees participants at least $50,000 per cycle, according to Shawn Mitchell, senior casting agent at Hollywood North in Santa Clara, Calif.

Though I shouldn’t have been surprised by how scripted these supposed unscripted shows were, I was taken aback at first. I guess it’s not the fault of the production companies, though. The public wants to be spoon-fed interesting, mindless television, and that’s exactly what they’re getting.

Reality television has become such a huge part of this culture that I honestly see no stop to it. However, this doesn’t mean that companies should be insinuating that they are, in fact, portraying real life. For how wrapped up young viewers become in these actors’ lives, they at least have the right to know that reality TV is not all that realistic.

Jana Owens is a senior communication major.

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