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 Jun 21 - 27, 2012 
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Idiot Box

Real vs. Realty

Are we OK with fake TV?

By Devin D. O’Leary

The Internet is all atwitter (and Twitter is all abuzz, I suppose) with the shocking (shocking, I say) news that perhaps reality TV shows aren’t as real as they seem. It came as little surprise to anyone, I assume, earlier this year when it was alleged that “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” reshot several dramatic scenes surrounding Kim’s divorce on a soundstage in Hollywood. And it’s hard to believe that anyone actually thinks anything that runs on truTV is anywhere close to a documentary account. (Pawn shop customers do not attack store owners as often as they do on “Hardcore Pawn.” And the slapstick stupidity of “Operation Repo” is starting to make professional wrestling look like Shakespeare in comparison.) But when a blog called Hooked On Houses spilled the news that HGTV’s “House Hunters” was bogus, the fake poop really hit the ersatz fan.

You would think, on the surface anyway, there’s no reason to fake a show as low-stakes as “House Hunters.” Each week, families look around at houses and then buy one. But a former participant named Bobi Jensen says the whole thing is scripted. For starters, she alleges that families aren’t even allowed on the show until they’ve already purchased their house. She also says no other houses were available for sale in her neighborhood, so she and her husband simply toured friends’ houses, pretending like they were actual real estate up for sale. Their “backstory” (about a growing family needing to move to a bigger house) was provided by the network. Within days, a participant in HGTV’s “House Hunters International” confirmed Jensen’s allegations. Before long, HGTV acknowledged what we should have known to begin with—admitting to Entertainment Weekly that, “we manage certain production and time constraints.”

Following close on the heels of that scandal came news that Discovery Channel’s “Cash Cab” is also somewhat less than it appears. Turns out that contestants are all well aware they’re going to appear on a TV game show. Teams are allegedly recruited from trivia nights at local bars and then told where they are going to be picked up. Their destinations are predetermined. They aren’t, as the show suggests, random people on a street corner. Again, this is a show that lacks the over-the-top drama of, say, “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Why fake a simple quiz show? Expediency, perhaps. You’d need to fill out tons of paperwork in order to appear on TV. Then, having won money, you’d have to submit all sorts of tax documents. People jumping in and out of cabs wouldn’t have time for that. So, “Cash Cab” sets it all up in advance.

Speaking at the Banff World Media Festival in Canada on June 13, “The Bachelor” producer Mike Fleiss copped to the fact that the majority of reality shows are at least loosely scripted and feature situations that are planted into the environment by producers. “I think most of the shows are fake,” he said bluntly. Interestingly, he placed the blame for industrywide chicanery on the viewers. “They’re not requiring a pure delivery of nonfiction content,” he claimed. “They know it’s somewhat fake, but they’re OK with it.” Given the state of TV today (hello, 27th season of MTV’s “The Real World”), I guess we really are.

 
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