Reality TV: Production Secrets!


Is it as real as you think?

So I am back to researching what goes into making a reality show. Now that we know about some of the jobs involved behind the scenes, I came across a little insider information that goes on in the production process.

One question that comes up time and time again is are the reality stars “coached” by producers or told what to say? There is no real definitive answer to this question because it depends on the integrity and ethics of the show and how much they want to keep it “real” and also the cast members involved. If they aren’t reacting enough to be entertaining or open enough to create good television, then there is a good chance they will be “helped” along to get the job done. However, with the proper casting and planning, producers should be able to count on the storyline unfolding without their “assistance.” I have heard and read BRAVO reality stars, including Teresa Giudice, say that they were told what to say by producers, and it’s what we all suspected anyway, but it’s not supposed to happen.

How is drama created by producers for a particular scene? The most effective way to create drama on the show is to let someone know what other cast members said behind their back. I hear it’s classic and never fails. It gets people to question their relationships or friendships and makes them “switch sides.” I think we have witnessed that often enough. In every shoot the producers look for conflict and advancing story. The story also needs a beginning, middle and end. In between the conflict there have to be scenes that show how people are feeling and what they are thinking. After a heated scene, producers will often interview cast members (green screen) to get their immediate reactions. Just this week, while watching RHONY for example, I suspected that Aviva was “filled in” on what her friends were saying and doing after inviting her to join them and before she showed up at St. Barths. Is it any wonder she arrived there angry after she “somehow learned” they said her husband would ruin the “dynamics” of the trip, someone should tell him to stay at a hotel, and two cast members actually lined up a hotel for themselves in case they could not tolerate her husband? All things she could not have known had not a producer told her to create drama.

What happens if a reality scene fails to create drama or go as planned? The producer has to decide whether to keep the scene as part of the storyline or throw it out. They may also question whether the cast member has the ability to remain in the show down the line. We have all seen some “flat” scenes on many a reality show.

How do you take a cast member and make them into a character? The truth is that part of casting involves picking people with extreme personalities who are already “characters” in real life with certain strong traits. They look for people who are emotional and kind of over-the-top. Sometimes cast members will say that editing is responsible for how they come across on the show, however, for the most part, what you see is what you get. After all, if it’s on tape, it took place. The video tape doesn’t lie, except maybe a little bit, when editing manipulates it to show us what they want us to see. They may have to go up to 600 hours of video to come up with the segments that comprise 40 minutes of airtime.

How can cast members be themselves with so many cameras around? To a certain point, cast members tend to forget about the cameras. They are aware they are on the set and other people are around, but there comes a point when they just stop caring. They get used to it.

How do producers handle conflict on the set? When they pick up on conflict they make sure there are plenty of cameras around covering the drama. Then they let the conflict play out on camera. After it’s over they take the cast members aside and get their reactions to what just happened.

Are storylines written ahead of time? What producers do is to use their cast members and sets to provide the most entertainment possible. The producers can prompt and set up scenes without putting words in the cast members mouths based on previous knowledge of how they feel about a person or situation. For example, they may say I haven’t heard you discuss such and such in a while and the cast member will express how they feel about a subject that the viewer hasn’t seen. In this way, the producer helps the viewer understand what they already know, by getting the cast member to reveal it. It helps to fill in the blanks and missing elements that the cameras may not capture and provide continuity for the storyline.

How can a cast member get more airtime? A cast member with his or her own agenda or strategy for getting more airtime may be shooting themselves in the foot. Producers want to produce the show. A cast member who tries to create drama will come across less real and probably wind up with less air time. Cast members should always be themselves and in order to project the most positive image they should avoid alcohol and stay calm.

There is a ton of information online, explanations from reality show producers, that reveal exactly how these shows are created and what they do to make sure their storylines are developed. I find this stuff interesting. It makes me look at the shows a little differently and understand more about how and why some scenes are set up they way they are.

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