Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nothing is real? Behind the reality show business, and revisiting a reality show pioneer

View behind the Camera by Tahmid Munaz (~{Imaginative Dreamer™}~) used under a Creative Commons License

As television networks have encountering mounting production costs, one of the programming alternatives which has been attractive has been reality shows. But in France, the costs of the reality shows, both from a monetary and a perception point of view, have just gotten higher:

The highest court in France ruled last week that contestants on the French version of the reality television show “Temptation Island” were entitled to employment contracts and financial compensation — just as professional actors would be....

[T]he decision prompted laments from French broadcasters, worried that it might put a damper on reality television and other programs that rely on amateurs, like talent shows or game shows, by making them more costly and cumbersome to produce.

The producer of the show in question (which ended in 2008) had a solution for the cost issue:

Edouard Boccon-Gibod, president of the production arm of TF1, the channel that produced and broadcast “L’Isle de la Tentation,” said that paying performers would not be a big problem for producers, because they could be given the minimum wage.

Now if I recall correctly, contestants on American reality shows ARE paid some type of minimal stipend. But there's a bit of a wrinkle in French employment law that not only causes trouble for French reality show producers, but also exposes a bit about so-called reality shows:

A bigger problem may be abiding by strict French work rules. Reality-show participants, he said, will now be limited to 48 hours of work a week. The country’s 35-hour workweek can be exceeded for short periods.

During the 12 days in which “L’Isle de la Tentation” took place, participants supposedly were being monitored by cameras nonstop, though Mr. Boccon-Gibod said that in fact they were expected to be available for only four to seven hours a day.

“Nobody worked 24 hours a day,” he said. “They were resting and having fun on the beach.”

So something that is presented as continuous gamesmanship is anything but. However, Big Brother USA live feed purchasers, and those who read the transcripts of live feeds, know that the same thing happens here. For example, here are some comments about something said by one of the house guests on August 21, 2002:

Aug 21 2002 18:22, Wed Lola Forum: 082102 Post: 55849

M just said address, FOH for sec, then it comes back and hd says I need bookings NT

For those who have never read Big Brother live feeds, I should explain that "FOH" means "front of house." Basically, if you paid the money to get the Big Brother live feeds, that didn't guarantee that you'd get every single thing that went on in the house. Big Brother producers would occasionally cut the feed, switching to a view of the front of the Big Brother house. So why did this particular conversation get edited?

Aug 21 2002 19:28, Wed ballistic Forum: 082102 Post: 56004

Arlene Wilson's is a modeling/talent agency based in the midwest. They book throughout Wisconsin and Illinois. More.

A little showbiz tidbit about Ms. Wilson and her family. She is(was)Kiefer Sutherland's mother-in-law. I believe Kiefer divorced Ms. Stoddardt(daughter of Milwaukee T.V. personality Hank Stoddard and Arlene Wilson.

Yup, the contestants on reality shows - you know, Bill the ex-Marine from Tampa or whatever - actually spend some of their time talking about agents, their next gig, or whatever. Let's face it, the only people who are going to put themselves through a reality show experience are those who want to make a career out of it. For example, here are excerpts from a where are they now page regarding several of the Big Brother USA Season 2 houseguests:

Sheryl Braxton battled her cancer and won, and is now looking to pursue a career in entertainment, in front or behind the camera....

Mike Malin (Carri)...recently appeared on Battle of the Network Reality Stars and lost. He appeared on Big Brother All-Stars and won.

Krista Stegall...moved to Beverly Hills for a year. She landed a commercial with Nextel, so she stayed for a while. Next, she moved to Lafayette, LA to do a morning show at KSMB...."I will also be in Nashville and Coco Beach and then in Canada, then I'm going to be in a reality horror film."

Hardy-Ames Hill recently appeared in "Cross Bones", a movie populated by reality TV stars, and was previously in "Summer Desire" (porn). He also has been acting on TV shows in smaller parts....He was seen on "South Beach" on January 11th, 2006.

Monica Bailey is still pursuing an acting career in N.Y. and L.A. and has been seen "behind the scenes" doing other work as well. She was co-host of Rent Wars, a TV show. She left to "go back to Hollywood".

Nicole Nilson-Schaffrich...was working on...a cooking show with Jason Guy named "Reality Dish", which I don't think it ever made it to air, and she was working as a disc jockey at Q100 in Atlanta, but apparently isn't any longer.

But the one who really used his fame was Big Brother 2's winner, Dr. Will Kirby. He's certainly done his reality bit:

[Kirby] has been pitching reality show ideas, appeared on Battle of the Network Reality Stars, hosted a reality show originally named "Love Shack" but later renamed "Perfect Partners" (which never aired in the US), was a medical correspondent for eXTRA, appeared on lots of reality TV "expose" shows, appeared as himself on "Cold Turkey"....He recently appeared on Battle of the Network Reality Stars and lost.

But Kirby, who of course had a career as a doctor, has continued to pursue that line of work.

[He] is still a doctor in California and Florida (in fact he's Chief Resident in CA and a AOCD Koprince Award Winner and has been writing articles for dermatalogical publications).

I assume that it's common knowledge that a good portion of reality show contestants had entertainment careers before joining reality shows, and that many more of them pursued entertainment careers after leaving reality shows. As you can see above, some of them end up having a reality show career for a while.

But most of the original reality show family, the Loud family, took a different route - at least as of 1990, seventeen years after "An American Family" originaly aired in 1973.

"I'm amused,'' said Lance Loud, who now lives in Los Angeles. "It's no big deal. We have nothing to sell or promote because of it,'' he said, adding that he has not seen the 12-hour documentary since its original broadcast on public television....

The members of the Loud family reacted differently to the pending re-broadcast, Raymond said. Pat and younger sons Grant and Kevin are "very distraught,'' he said. Lance is pleased, while Bill and daughters Michelle and Delilah "don't care one way or another,'' he added.

The series "seems to have had a traumatic effect'' on Pat Loud, Raymond said. "If she had the chance to do it again, she would not do it,'' he said.

Now it should be noted that the Loud family were pioneers in this sort of thing, and hardly anybody realized exactly what could happen. Certainly someone in 1973 wouldn't think about making a career out of reality shows, because you couldn't make a career out of reality shows. Well, one person did sort of pursue an entertainment career: Lance Loud, the eldest son who came out during filming. PBS:

Having his life scrutinized on television had its benefits and it burdens. Loud, emerging as a gay icon overnight, became a television star simply by being himself, and for a time he reaped the benefits of fame, becoming a rock and roll performer and, later, a writer and columnist for Interview, American Film, Details and The Advocate. On the other hand, Loud's most famous quote was "Television ate my family," referring to scars left on the Louds after having their lives laid bare before a national audience. In the end, Loud reportedly found that celebrity was hollow. Nothing could ever measure up to that initial burst of notoriety and he spent years trying to find himself again, struggling through substance abuse and other dark episodes.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, when Lance Loud contracted both hepatitis and HIV. It was a different world, and Lance decided to go before the cameras again with a different message.

Several months before his death, Loud asked Alan and Susan Raymond, the Academy Award-winning filmmakers of the original An American Family series, to film a final episode in the Loud story. The Raymonds had remained friends with the Loud family after the 1973 series and a 1983 follow-up, American Family Revisited. The Raymonds' new film, Lance Loud! A Death In An American Family, both commemorates the 30th anniversary of the original series broadcast and explores Loud's legacy by looking back at scenes from the original documentary, examining the intervening years of Loud's life and spending time with him in his final months.

So why did Lance Loud, and (with one exception) the rest of his family appear before the cameras one more time?

Near the end of his life he wrote, "Make no mistake. This is not to emphasize the sadness of my demise but rather emphasize the love of my family and friends. When my time comes up, I want to be filmed because life this past year has taught me so much. I also stand as a role model as to what not to do in one's life."

Sometimes reality television can be real.
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