TV’s Love-Hate Relationship With Reality Shows

Jul 13, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Some viewers love reality shows. Others loathe the genre.
Actors are the same way.
At the cable portion of the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, some actors said they wouldn’t appear in reality shows, though they excused those who did because actors are always looking for their next paychecks. This week, broadcast networks will run down their schedules, which are also relying more heavily on reality programming.
But the celebrities who appear in those kinds of shows come clean, admitting they enjoy watching them.
Take Jane Seymour. At the press tour to promote her upcoming Hallmark original movie “Dear Prudence,” Ms Seymour said that while her experience on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” was “wonderful,” she isn’t interested in doing another reality show.
“I am not a reality person. I like drama. I have enough reality. I have six kids,” she said.
“Brady Bunch” mom Florence Henderson, starring in the Hallmark Channel movie “Ladies of the House,” was asked what she thought about her TV son, Christopher Knight, appearing in reality shows including “The Surreal Life.” She managed a stern frown.
“Actors want to work and … when you’ve done roles that are so popular, it’s very difficult sometimes to move on,” she said. “I understand why they do it.”
When Mr. Knight was considering getting engaged to Adrianne Curry (an “America’s Next Top Model” winner) after meeting her on “Surreal Life,” he asked Ms. Henderson to come on the show to counsel him.
“I said: ‘Chris, I really don’t want to do reality television. I’ve never done it,’ and he said, ‘Please.’” She reluctantly agreed. “I don’t have to do it again, I don’t think.”
Director/writer/actor Spike Lee, who is making movies for HBO, put it flatly: “I don’t watch reality shows.”
The choice to do reality or not do reality is tough on cable networks also. While many cable networks are being lauded for producing high-quality scripted drama, other cable outlets such as VH1, CMT, MTV, E! and Style are generating their best ratings with reality.
Turner Broadcasting, which has been growing its original programming with rich, quality scripted shows, will be adding a reality show, “Wedding Day.”
Turner’s TNT will maintain its reputation “by applying the same filter you apply to a scripted program to non-scripted shows,” said Michael Wright, senior VP, Turner Entertainment Networks Content Creation Group.
The network is also working with producers known for quality programming in Mark Burnett and DreamWorks Television.
Mr. Wright said Turner’s reality will be “aspirational” rather than humiliating.
You’re not going to see a “Rock of Love,” or “Tila Tequila,” he said.
Many celebrities on TCA panels discussing their upcoming reality shows readily admitted they watch those kinds of shows. And despite knowing how reality usually plays, they don’t expect to be embarrassed.
Margaret Cho said creating a reality show featuring her family was “absolutely the right thing.” “The Cho Show,” which will appear on VH1, is less a reality show than a sitcom featuring real people, she said.
Asked whether the stigma from appearing in a reality show is diminishing, Ms. Cho said, “I can’t imagine that there is a stigma.”
Ms. Cho’s assistant, Selene Luna, added that reality shows aren’t about depicting their subjects as train wrecks anymore.
“The Jerry Springer days are long behind us,” Ms. Luna said.
Coincidentally enough, Ms. Cho said her favorite realities appeared on VH1, ticking off “Ms. Rap Supreme,” “Charm School” and “Flavor of Love.”
“For women of color, there are very few places where we can actually see ourselves celebrated and not as the butt of jokes or as prostitutes,” she said.
George Foreman said putting his life and family on display in a reality show on TV Land wasn’t daunting for him.
“Forty years ago I won an Olympic gold medal, and my life has been an open book,” he said. “To be on television [is] every child’s dream, and I’m still a child at heart.”
Even after being reminded how silly a family can look in a reality show like “The Osbournes,” Mr. Foreman said he likes the genre, ironically mentioning two in which the participants became dysfunctional.
“I really like them all,” he said. “I saw Hulk Hogan’s show. I was really a fan of his. And Whitney Houston, I enjoyed that.”
Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia on “The Brady Bunch,” says she had never done a reality show until after she’d written her autobiography. Then she appeared on VH1’s “Celebrity Fit Club.” Her subsequent appearance on CMT’s “Gone Country” led to her new gig on “Outside In,” also for CMT.
“I found them extremely cathartic,” she said. “And I feel like for the first time in my life, I’ve been able to reveal me.”
And then there are sometimes real people appearing in reality shows.
Ruby Gettinger hopes people will see her style network show, “Ruby,” and learn to look past size when they see overweight people like her.
“I’m praying that when people see the show these misconceptions that people have about overweight people will change, because people are very prejudiced against it,” said Ms. Gettinger, who has weighed more than 700 pounds. She’s also hoping to inspire other women in her situation.
Ms. Gettinger said she feels that some reality shows, such as “The Biggest Loser,” sometimes make fun of their subjects.
“I felt like they were mean to the people, you know, making them work out,” she said. “Can’t you do it in a different way? I’m not cutting the show at all, but that’s just my opinion,” she said.
For exclusive video, breaking news and blogs from the TCA summer tour, visit TVWeek.com’s TCA Navigator page.


  1. Some of these reality shows are not real reality shows. Cameras do not have free reign of their lives where those being filmed have any say. Survivor and the Amazing Race are real reality shows. Jessica Simpson, Real World is a reality show. Big Brother is a reality show, to name a few.
    Hogans are not nor was Being Bobby Brown. They were not filmed all the time they were filmed traveling and playing and being “cute” except you cannot see any cuteness and especially drug addicted or alcoholic people in their dredges of humanity. Some of these shows are too much a lot of showing and acting for the cameras. I liked Paris Hilton show to see people around the country and how they live was intersting and her being silly or often actually herself. Too many are those putting their best foot forward and its obvious or a display of flaunting their money around.
    One thing they all do display is the person’s real character and personality. No matter how much grandstanding is done that seems to be something they cannot hide.

  2. The problem is too much Reality TV. That is all that seems to be on now. Not everyone likes it and there needs to be a happy medium! Sitcoms have vanished and people are getting rid of cable and sat. dishes because of lack of decent shows.
    My family is just one of many that has recently done that and we now spend that $100 plus per month on DVD’s of old TV shows/movies from the 50’s – now.

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