As part of their Career Confidential series, Buzzfeed has a post up today by an anonymous reality television editor, and I don’t know if you guys realize this or not, but sometimes — and I hope you’re sitting down or leaning against something really sturdy right now — reality shows take liberties with things to make the end product appear more dramatic. Oh, and television executives are cheap and think viewers are morons. Sorry to pull back the curtain and reveal this harsh truth to you, but I feel it is my journalistic duty to be honest and expose frauds whenever I see them. Pulitzer, please
Seriously, though, it’s not like any of this breaks startling new ground, but it’s still interesting for anyone who hates reality television as much as I do and wants an excuse to yell and scream about it a little. (It’s also a good excuse to link to John Jeremiah Sullivan’s awesome GQ feature from 2005 about the post-television lives of reality stars). As such, I’ve excerpted my favorite parts of the piece, and posted them below.
On putting a bunch of “knuckleheads” in charge:
The caliber of producers and executives in reality TV is terrible because reality shows are so cheap — you can make a whole season of a reality show for the cost of one episode of CSI, so the network just promotes a bunch of knuckleheads to be the producers. So you have to manipulate more than you should — nothing happened on the show because the producers didn’t do anything.
On manipulating drunk people and animals, and Gordon Ramsay being a boob:
The worst one I worked on in terms of manipulation was probably a dating competition show. That one basically just put some oversexed drunken kids in a house and let them go wild. Sometimes the producers would ask a contestant something like, “what do you think about Steve? You don’t like him?” And the contestant would say, “no, I’m not going to say that I don’t like Steve.” And the producers would ask us to cut everything except, “I don’t like Steve.”
In terms of shows that I haven’t worked on, some of the ones that I think are especially bad are animal training shows. There are things that people don’t know that happened beforehand, in order to create this perfect scenario for this expert to magically whip a troublesome animal into shape. The viewer doesn’t know the animal had to take an hourlong walk to be super-tired before the expert got there. Hell’s Kitchen is also edited a lot — they just manipulate the hell out of the interviews. It’s really frankenbitten (Ed. note – “Frankenbitten” was described earlier in the piece as “where you put together one sentence from one answer, another couple words from another answer, another sentence from another day, and make it look like one interview”).
On dealing with the devil:
Sometimes I feel guilty about manipulating the footage, but I maybe feel more guilty about the dumbing-down of reality TV. We put out quality emotional, dramatic products, but as soon as they go to the network, they’ll decide “our audience doesn’t have that attention span” or “people in Middle America won’t like it.” They’re basically saying, “our audience is too dumb for that.” I feel guilty about dumbing down the product for this imaginary viewer that I don’t believe exists, or if it does, I think we have a responsibility to educate viewers and give them something smarter.
So, to recap: A group of evil suits put knuckleheads in charge of a cheap show, the knuckleheads manipulate the stupid people they cast to star in it, they film it all, chop it up, and send it off to the evil suits who return it the next day with a note written on it that says “TOO SMART, MAKE DUMBER.”
I want more like this!
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