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Guest Commentary: Celebreality: Play the Game, Not Yourself

Jan 11, 2009  •  Post A Comment

The term “celebreality” was coined by VH1, but other cable and broadcast networks have all been quick to cash in on the money-spinning format with a host of celebrity reality vehicles including danceshows, docu-soaps, business competitions and more.
With a huge array of choices and a large and invested audience, picking what type of celebreality to take part in can prove daunting for prospective celebrity participants. Get it right and you can be looking at an extended network primetime run with a host of other offers at the end. Get it wrong and even celebreality programming might not be an option anymore.
Whatever format you choose, remember the golden rule: Success comes when you remember to play the game, not yourself.
When picking a celebreality format, consider the pros and cons of the format and the strengths and weaknesses of your character. If you are determined, competitive and aggressive, a competition show like “Dancing With the Stars” might be right for you. But be prepared: You have to compete on the same level as the other contestants—you must dance, sing, skate or lose weight and there are no do-overs.
These are high-risk but high-reward shows, often the most-watched and popular with the networks, but they can be brutal in their appraisal of contestants. Sympathy gets you only so far in these contests and early departures are easily forgotten, so dig in your heels and be prepared for the long haul if you want to succeed in the format.
The docu-soap is a more genteel but arguably more invasive format. Whereas “Celebrity Fit Club” might require you to hit the gym with the cameras for two hours a day, “Brooke Knows Best” or “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” require you to take the cameras home with you. Stars must be prepared to have their lives “produced” for the docu-soap. Drama and tension must be created, even where none exists.
For some the show becomes the reality, and produced situations can spill into real-life issues with alarming ease. The line between fact and fiction can be blurred, although properly managed this can be a good thing. The bad-girl role Omarosa picked for herself on “The Apprentice” undoubtedly extended her 15 minutes, and “The Hills’” Heidi and Spencer raised the bar on their celebreality life by accentuating the negative aspects of their on-screen characters.
But managing the boundaries of your on-screen persona is vital, and picking a character that accentuates qualities of which you are proud is important if you want to break out of certain stereotypes in future roles. If you aren’t careful, the character you play on TV can make its own reality in the public eye, one over which you have no control.
Once you do take the plunge, managing your 15 minutes and trying to extend it or turn it into a new series becomes of vital importance. For many, reality shows are stepping stones to greater heights, but failing to get those first few steps right can lead to quite a fall from grace.
Celebreality offers stars the chance to reintroduce themselves to far larger audiences than they would normally have access to, audiences that include not only fans but producers, casting agents, network executives and more.
Mario Lopez danced his way into a hosting role on “Extra,” Mel B. and Joey Fatone landed hosting roles on “The Singing Office,” Kim Kardashian swapped docu-soaps for dancing and Elizabeth Hasselbeck left a desert island for a “View” from the talk-show couch.
Success or failure on celebreality shows is not determined by the outcome of the on-screen contest; the format you select and the on-screen character you create and play will determine how richly you are rewarded for your efforts.
Competition show winner may be a fun 15-minute title, but it is the contestant who uses that show as a platform for other opportunities and creates a character and personality that outlasts the series who is the real winner: He remembered to play the game and not himself.
Scott Sternberg is founder and president of Hollywood-based Scott Sternberg Productions, a producer of unscripted entertainment.

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