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Reality TV: it's good for you!

Producers of TV shows that trail people trying to overcome addictions, behavioral disorders, weight issues, and such -- shows like "Intervention," "Hoarders," and "The Biggest Loser" -- are doing the lord's work and those "[feminine hygiene product]" types who make your average scripted TV series that have no redeeming social value have got some kind of nerve treating reality-series producers like child molesters at cocktail parties, reality TV producers concluded Wednesday at a genre confab in Santa Monica, Calif.

"I firmly believe it's the most socially valuable product on television," Rob Sharenow, senior vice president of nonfiction programming at A&E network told a Fairmont Hotel ballroom filled with people who nodded sympathetically, but then he was preaching to the choir -- or to people who wanted to do business with panelists up on stage, anyway.

"Who did more for a gay child struggling with their identity than Pedro did?" Sharenow asked rhetorically. He was referring to Pedro Zamora, the AIDS activist who became a pop-culture icon when he was cast on MTV's "The Real World: San Francisco" and died not long after that edition of the reality series wrapped.

"Reality TV and the documentary have always been on the front line of doing good and showing the world for what it is, and I do get frustrated with the industry's and society's attitude toward unscripted programs," Sharenow added. The "[feminine hygiene products]" with their "child molester" attitude towards reality-TV producers was his line and, believe you me, it was quite the barn burner on the first day of the two-day confab all about reality TV -- or Factual Entertainment, as they are calling it at this clambake.

Not only do TV cameras not hurt people in rehab, they help, chimed in Troy Searer, CEO of Tijuana Entertainment, which produces A&E's "I'm Heavy" and "Obsessed Season 2," as well as "Inside Rehab" for the new Oprah Winfrey Network.

"You're not going through your sobriety just to your small group of people, you're attempting it in front of millions of people and with some people that has a significant impact."

"There's no question it's helped," added Howard Lapides, the executive producer of VH-1's Drew Pinsky-headliner "Celebrity Rehab," as well as "Sober House with Dr. Drew."

"They are recovering in front of the world... we find the rate [of success] is higher because the camera is on. It's just the way it is. Dr. Drew believed that would be true... and it proved itself year in and year out with the shows -- it works."

There is an element of voyeurism to these shows, acknowledged Gary Benz, executive producer of A&E's "Intervention."

"I'd be lying if I denied it -- we're watching."

But, these shows provide people with therapists and personal trainers they could not otherwise afford, the panelists said.

And, "in a weird, sick way, this is entertaining," added talent agent Alan Braun, who works at Creative Artists Agency.

People watching these shows might react by saying, "Wait a minute -- my life is not so bad!" Braun suggested. Or, they might say, "Maybe THAT's why I'm eating so many potato chips or why I'm using crack!" or think to themselves, "I have real issues with my husband," he speculated.

Asked if there was any instance in which he'd gone too far in the genre, Braun said it came when he sold "Who's Your Daddy" to the Fox broadcast network.

That 2005 gem involved adult women who had been put up for adoption as infants. Each was put into a room with 25 men, one of whom was her biological father. After interviewing the men, if the woman correctly named her father, she won a measly $100,000. If the women got it wrong, the guy who'd duped her got $100,000 and the network would tell her which guy actually was her dad.

Adoption rights groups went nuts over this one, but we like to think it was the show premiere's fourth-place finish in its timeslot that caused the network to refrain from airing the remaining five episodes it had ordered, which were burned off on the now-defunct Fox Reality network.

"I saw daughters meeting their dads and it was more like a dating show, and I knew at that moment it was not a good show for society," Braun admitted Wednesday.

Asked if he returned the substantial agent's packaging fee he'd collected on the show, he said he had not and added, "but I felt bad for a few weeks."

By Lisa de Moraes  |  June 3, 2010; 7:07 AM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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