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The ‘reality’ behind reality television

<p>A homegrown reality TV show with a twist started filming in Ontario, according to a press release that landed in my inbox last week.</p>


DENYING REALITY: A homegrown reality TV show with a twist started filming in Ontario, according to a press release that landed in my inbox last week. Be Real is due to debut on TVtropolis this fall, and will give randomly chosen bystanders the chance to be the star of their own half hour reality TV episode.


Hosted by onetime no-budget talk show host J.R. Digs, Be Real began hunting for stars in Ottawa, and will comb Southern Ontario for prospects who are willing to turn their life into a spectacle. The most interesting part, however, is the unwillingness to conceal the gerrymandering that goes on with reality TV, the very necessary interference that turns raw footage into something hopefully watchable. It’s the process that gets what we call writers in any other TV medium re-christened “segment producers” in reality TV — these poor souls have threatened to strike on shows like America’s Next Top Model to get suitably compensated and recognized by the Writer’s Guild — and it’s one that almost every reality TV viewer accepts with a tacit, knowing shrug.


“Be Real turns regular people’s ordinary lives into a reality TV show and it all happens in the spur of the moment,” read the press release. “An ordinary bystander is randomly chosen to ‘star’ in his/her own life for a day, and as a result, Be Real also reveals the intricacies of the genre. After all, there are times when a person might need a bit of a boost to make things a bit more interesting. Whether it’s the ‘performance’ in front of the camera, a ‘subtle’ makeover or even a ‘re-juggling of relationships,’ J.R. Digs is there every step of the way to ‘artistically’ direct and ensure that the unsuspecting person’s reality has the kind of entertaining impact required for a reality TV show.”


This truth, hidden in plain sight, has become so widely accepted that it’s keeping political operatives James Carville and Mary Matalin from getting a Lifetime Network TV series off the ground, according to a story in the Washington Post. Their show — called Election, apparently in tribute to the Alexander Payne’s 1999 film starring Reese Witherspoon — would offer the services of Carville and Matalin to candidates in high school elections.


The problem is that almost every high school that Carville and Matalin have approached have turned them down. Chris Garran, the principle of Bethesda, Md.’s Walter Johnson High, said that he was worried that the producers would rig storylines to inject enough drama to fill six half-hour programs. “We don’t do primaries or anything,” he said. “I didn’t know what the pull was going to be.”


Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson high schools turned Carville and Matalin down, as did prestigious prep school St. Albans, after “healthy debates” about the production. Whatever you might think about the ability to teach basic reading and math to kids today, it’s clear that media literacy isn’t a subject that most kids would fail.



rick.mcginnis@metronews.ca


 
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