Thinking about (ick!) Reality Television

I am Thomas. I am guest-blogging. If you know me at all, you know me from my comments here, and at Feministing and Mouse Words.

This from Feministing. Now, we can all be adults and admit that we have each succumbed and watched some crappy reality television (though each of us probably secretly thinks that the garbage everyone else watches is worse than the garbage we watch). Or, even if we don’t own a television, Idol and some of the others are so ubiquitous that events on these shows have been treated by the MSM as real news. In an effort to keep this phenomenon from further atrophying my brain, I’d like to pause to actually think about it.

Some contestants in game shows called “reality TV” get kicked off for making porn (define it how you like). Some don’t. Some get kicked off for committing acts of domestic violence (I’m speaking of Big Brother, here). It looks like many more don’t — This jerk, the guy from “Who Wants To Marry A Multimillionaire” and others.

Here’s the question: is it completely ideosyncratic? Do producers just wing it? Are the networks or producers actually trying to apply criteria of any kind?

I assume at some level, they are just trying to maximize the audience and keep the advertisers from getting skittish. But are they flying blind? Do they test run each contestant “scandal” by some advertisers before making a decision? How does this work? Of course, what they do in the end is a reflection of their biases no matter how they purport to reason to the conclusion — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to know how they get there.


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3 Responses to Thinking about (ick!) Reality Television

  1. alley rat says:

    Hi Thomas!

    I can’t offer you any answers to questions, but I just wanted to say hello.
    You’re one of my favorite commenters – I’m glad to see you guest blogging today.

    a.r.

  2. jenna says:

    I think sometimes the producers will kick someone off if they didn’t disclose their seedy past during the early elimination process. I remember reading something revently about an american idol contestant who had been arrested for domestic violence, and remained on the show because the producers knew about it, even if the public didn’t. That might account for some of the inconsistencies. Another reason could be that different shows have different target audiences. American Idol’s is very young, so someone involved in porn is out of luck. Joe Millionaire’s (remember that one?) was more mature, so when one of the contestants was revealed as a porn star, it was no big deal.

  3. Thomas says:

    Jenna, I remember the couple who were kicked off Temptation Island, allegedly for failing to disclose that they had a child together. They swore that the producers knew, and merely used the kicking-off to pruduce a dramatic episode. My gut tells me their version is true, and I distrust the producers’ accounts of what they knew when.

    On the audience determining the standards, you may be on to something, but that makes the disparate treatment of sex and domestic violence all the more upsetting.

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