Making a reality show isn't as simple as pointing a camera at a person and hoping he or she is horrible. There are a lot of tricks and manipulations that producers use to make douchebags and handbag design more compelling. There's an argument to be made that no one should think about reality shows-- either turn off your brain and enjoy them or brag about how you don't own a TV. Fair enough, but thinking too much about stupid shit is kind of my thing. I also like drinking with people who make reality shows and asking them questions about their job, so this article is much closer to journalism than the sarcastic philosophizing and absurdism you might be used to. Also, be warned: After you know about these techniques, you're going to see them everywhere.
5Helping Reality Get Going in the Right Direction
I know some of you are already in the comments section saying, "Everything on reality shows is fake!" That's because you're an idiot and you figure the only way to hide that is to declare how difficult you are to trick. Well, not only do we know, idiot, but you got tricked anyway. Reality shows are mostly real, and the parts that are fake aren't scripted so much as they are set up to happen. For example, when a live skunk invaded the Daisy of Love set, that had nothing to do with the migration patterns of Burbank skunks. That was some terrified production assistant dropping a skunk out of a sack and running. However, the three men who beat it into a trash can with a pool cue while wearing their underpants ... that was real. Who could plan that? Who would plan that?
Let's imagine for a second that reality shows were totally fake. Say you're a TV producer who wants to set up this elaborate lie to make a show for slightly less money. Not only is that needlessly complicated and unethical, but would you really put the Kardashians in charge of the grift? Between the three of them, or six if you count Khloe, they've brought the Armenian literacy rate down to 14 percent. If you handed them a stack of script pages, they'd probably ask you when they started making tampons that small.
Yes, it was a little phony that Hulk Hogan's wife suddenly decided to adopt a baby chimpanzee after cameras started following her family around, but that was just giving reality a little shove to make it more interesting. If you're filming Hulk Hogan, it'd be kind of stupid not to make his wife have an ape, right? I mean besides Brooke, of course. No one in their right mind would script a show with that cast. Could you even deal with the logistical nightmare of making a scripted program starring Hulk Hogan and a chimpanzee? Please? No, I'm really asking. I even made this since I can't stop thinking about it:
Adding havoc to a person's life and hoping you get footage of them losing their mind isn't necessarily fake. It's more li-- actually, hold on. This concept ... it's everything my brain has ever wanted to think about:
4Nudging Reality Around
After watching Top Chef: Just Desserts, I now know why gourmet cupcakes taste like gay people have been crying on them, but when I s-- OK, this is the last one, I promise:
What I was saying is that when you're done filming your reality stars, you're probably looking at 600 hours of uninteresting people doing uninteresting things. It might be unethical to start messing around with something marketed as "real," but if you put that boring footage on TV before it's been edited, you're the worst. That's why editors have devised a number of ways to nudge reality in the direction they need it to go.
One trick you may have seen a thousand times and never noticed is conversational audio cues. They're like a laugh track on a sitcom -- your brain is really only trained to notice them when they're not there. They can be anything from a cymbal tap to a record scratch to a swelling of music, and they're added later because no one in these scenes is a performer. Normal people don't always do a great job at delivering jokes or expressing emotions or transitioning between ideas. Little sound effects make the viewer subconsciously feel like he or she is seeing something they're supposed to, and not simply eavesdropping on a boring conversation. Take a look at all the clicks and beeps that have been added to this awful discussion on the show Wicked Fit:
Another technique used a lot is the fake reaction shot. You saw it twice in the clip right up there. The fake reaction shot isn't necessarily a lie-- sometimes it's used to make a line seem more outrageous. Add a double take to a bad joke and suddenly it kind of works. However, a fake reaction shot can also be used to completely manufacture drama. For example, women, especially the kind who sign up to do reality shows, sometimes playfully call each other bitches. It doesn't mean they hate one another; it's kind of like how black people are allowed to say "government cheese" in a joke. However, if an editor cuts off the music track right after one girl says "bitch" and splices in footage of the other girl looking surprised, oh shit. Things just got real.
Fake reaction shots are pretty easy to spot once you know what you're looking for. Did one person suddenly get blurry? That's because they had to digitally zoom the footage so you wouldn't see that it was taken from a different location or time of day. Are the store and street signs behind them backward? That's because they had to flip the frame so the person was gasping in the right direction. Or you can simply do the math. When the Wicked Fit lady was talking, did it cut to four different people and a group shot? And since it did, does six seem like a reasonable number of cameras to follow a fat chick around while she talks about fitness? Hell no. The catering budget alone would bankrupt the Style Network.