Appearing on a Reality TV show can be good for you (Pawn Stars) or really, really bad (The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills). It doesn't take a gun to hurt some one - only a selective slice and dice that can end up harming you far more than you ever dreamed.
I'm on record as stating Reality TV is The genre of 2011. The poor economy has offered both network and cable programmers a chance to produce entertainment on the cheap - or at least, on a minimal budget. That means Reality TV shows are flourishing in some surprising locations - like History Channel (top-rated Pawn Stars), Discovery Channel, and down the list to VH1, A&E and so on.
Some reality TV shows are entertaining, with fairly high production values. For example, The award-winning Amazing Race, Top Chef and even Fox Channel's Master Chef offer their large audiences a lot for a little, which is the true mantra for 2011. When Pawn Stars, the top-rated cable program, can bring in 7 million viewers per week for the History Channel, we should be paying attention to what this top rating says about popular culture. And the numbers show:
1) American viewers are looking to find ways to make some extra money. Pawn Stars provides information on the values of stuff we might have hanging around in our attics or basements. Entertaining and educational.
2) American viewers are seeking some authenticity, after a long run of air-brushed and super-thin characters on mainstream TV. Big Hoss, Chumlee, Rick and the Pawn Star crew are far from the gorgeous stars and starlets we've been spoon-fed by network TV for years and years. It strikes us that none of the main characters have dyed their hair (if they have any), gone on a massive diet or visited with a wardrobe stylist.
3) American viewers don't mind a little scripted fun, so long as it is not over the top. When Chumlee acts dumbly on an episode, the series wisely takes it only so far, with some good-natured ribbing, falling far short of humiliation.
All of those positive TV production values are sadly missing from a new Reality TV show I reviewed earlier (for obvious reasons, here un-named). The producers and the network allowed this show to fail by editing one of the main, most popular cast members almost completely out of the show and painting some of the other cast members as buffoons, selectively featuring unflattering shots that would demean or humiliate them. There is not mercy nor ethics in this kind of "death by editing", which, according to Medium Allison DuBois also seriously hurt her on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Sadly, once you are disguised, cut-out or cut-off in a Reality TV show, it is difficult feat to regain your footing and rehab your hard-earned reputation. Reality TV can wreck you. This "power" (if we can call it that) seems to be true even if you are no longer living. (see this season's episodes of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, for example where there are no more boundaries for compassion, integrity, decency).
In the case of another show I mentioned above (not RHBH), the audience was publicly promised a series, featuring some how-to-tips that never materialized. Audience disappointment after the First episode spelled doom for the rest of the run. Ratings, which were slim to begin with, evaporated and were not reported on Reality TV rating sites. The producers' (and/or network's) decision to change the premise of the show and go with a trashy love story hit both some of the cast and the audience right between the eyes. The cast members, who had no idea about the producers' intent as the show was being filmed, were led to believe their story lines were important and would appear, every other week, and that their appearance on the show would educate the public and show what it took and how to run a successful business. But the almost 6 months of filming, schedule re-arranging, work with major clients, amounted to only minutes of air-time for at least one cast member.
There is a general misconception in pop culture that if you land on a Reality TV show, your future is set. One can dream of branding and book deals, fashion lines, even paparazzi, if you can stomach them. That may be true for a small percentage of Reality cast members who make the giant leap from TV to Twitter leaders (Snooki comes to mind). But the reverse can also be true. In the hands of an unethical TV production team, you can end up ruing the day you ever believed what was pitched to you when you agreed to appear. Your reputation can just as likely be spoiled or train-wrecked - (death by editing or by being chucked if there is a season 2), as it can be highlighted or enhanced.
Endword: I followed the filming of a cable Reality TV show last year and the results, as it aired, this year. In reality, the most interesting and informational story-line in this show is what the experienced production team promised, but did not deliver. As I write this, the new season of this program is being filmed, but one of the original cast has been cut because he supposedly "lacked drama" - (he did win the most-liked cast-member contest on another web site). The mystery of how and why this Reality show sunk to the gutter is yet to be solved, but as we used to say in private investigator's school, for clues to a crime, look to "Means. Opportunity. Motive." Or, in this case, most likely, Money. The psychic in me thinks somebody is fronting up some money to market those appearing on the cast. In other words Reality TV as Advertising. In this day and age it seems, you can "buy" anything.