Hello, fellow reality workers, and to those outside of the industry, welcome. Now that I’ve finally gotten your attention (after no small amount of carrying on – I might add), I’m taking a moment to discuss the WHY of this blog. Yes, I wanted to create a space where I can talk about the industry. But also, and more importantly, I wanted to provide an arena for other people in the industry to talk about it too, and to allow those outside of the industry to ask questions.
In my last post I took UnREAL creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro to task for claiming that the only reason she worked on The Bachelor was because she was bound by an unbreakable contract (when in fact no such thing exists) and that being forced to produce on a show that offended her Feminist morals led to a near nervous breakdown (which I side-eyed as a fellow depressive). I suggested that those fabrications were possibly motivated by self-loathing because she worked in Reality in the first place.
However, as the title of this post indicates, I don’t have a personal grudge against Sarah Gertrude Shapiro. I think that UnREAL is an okay, Telenovela-esque show that happens to star two of my favorite actresses and, as a special bonus, has an EP from Buffy! My issue, rather, is that Sarah Gertrude Shapiro has a rare platform to talk about Reality to a non-reality audience, and she’s using it to misrepresent the industry. In the process of spreading her tale of woe she is actually detracting from the very real issues that are out there in Reality, and which most of us in the industry have experienced.
But the onus isn’t on Sarah to be a spokesperson for Reality. She’s become one by default because there are no other voices speaking out. There’s a self-imposed Omerta among those of us in the industry — maybe due to Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), maybe due to how unreal what we do actually is — that is very damaging. It’s damaging to us because it means that a myriad labor, safety and ethical malpractices go unaddressed. It’s damaging to the industry because the code of silence has resulted in there being no real training for people coming into reality, which impacts on the product.
Back in the day, MTV actively trained people in how to, you know, produce Reality, which is why I’ll pretty much always hire anyone who worked for MTV during the aughts. But nowadays folks are just thrown into positions (like Associate Producer) and given zero explanation as to what they are required to do. And that applies to every position all the way up the chain. Why does Supervising Story Producer mean one thing at Company A, and something completely different at Company B? Is it really asking too much that we standardize job descriptions? The Writer’s Guild will say that it’s to facilitate abuse, but sometimes I think that it’s simply inefficiency. Wouldn’t it actually help, in what is otherwise a pretty chaotic industry, if from Day 1 we had a general idea what our responsibilities were supposed to be?
[Shameless self-promotion: I’ve written a text book and am starting to set up a Reality Program at a NYC University.]
If there’s silence and confusion within the industry, that’s nothing compared to the complete befuddlement in the media about Reality. Reporting focuses on network deals and production company purchases by media giants: this is like any business reporting so they get it. But there seems to be no desire to attempt to understand Reality, even though it’s been around for 25 years.* When they can bring themselves to ::SHUDDER:: try to write about it critically, they will — in a suitably condescending tone — mention Competition and Docu-Soap in the same sentence, as though those genres have anything except the presence of real people on camera in common. The same critic would never play compare and contrast with Comedy and Horror while discussing narrative. *Film historians will remind you that early cinema got the same treatment.
(I will add here that Sarah Gertrude Shapiros’ apparent mortification at having ever been in Reality is a clear reflection of how pretty much everyone in narrative — and the press — feels about what we do).
The fact is, we’re well past due some serious analysis of what Reality is and might be, and if no one else is going to make a serious effort, we might as well try ourselves.
So if you’re in Reality: I want your comments, even if they’re to tell me I’m full of shit, and I want you to consider posting guest blogs. I have met some of the smartest and most thoughtful people I know while on the job, so I know you’re fucking out there. I get that you’re concerned about your NDA, but fear not. I will keep you completely anonymous if you prefer to be so. I’m willing to be the public face of this (which means I will need to start selling some designer duds ASAP to finance my unemployment), but also want to point out that you can talk generally about what you know without necessarily being in violation of an NDA.
And if you aren’t in Reality, ask whatever questions you have always wanted to ask. I will try to answer what I can without flagrantly violating my own NDAs. I have no intention of hiding behind a wall of silence unless it’s protected by this chick: