The unsung heroes of reality TV | Television

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It’s a rarely discussed fact of reality TV: before every Kardashian, Honey Boo Boo or Robertson, there was a casting director who thought they might be the perfect goofy character for TV. At the recent RealScreen Summit reality TV conference in Washington, a panel of casting experts, producers and network executives discussed what goes on behind the scenes in the casting world, a topic that doesn’t get generally not much attention. Turns out it’s not an easy gig.

Sheila Conlin, who owns casting and production office The Conlin Company, spoke about a difficult couple she found for Fox’s Kitchen Nightmares. “They were stubborn and difficult to deal with, which to me is a dream,” she exclaimed. Translation: when someone is that difficult off-screen, they’re likely to go crazy on-screen. It means buzz, which means notes, which can translate into success.

Here are some fun facts we learned from pros who, after hearing some of their stories, are now called the unsung heroes of the reality TV world.

Crazy is good, but too crazy is risky.

The panel agreed: everyone wants reality stars who “pop” in front of the camera. Casting directors are usually able to tell almost instantly if someone will connect with an audience or become a Twitter sensation.

While “larger than life” personalities are a plus, experts caution against recognizing signs that a person might not be ready to be in the spotlight. Someone with a lot of drama may seem ripe for stardom – but that won’t help if they quit the show on day two of a shoot.

Take the case of the Arizona couple who owned Amy’s Baking Company, a very dysfunctional restaurant featured in Kitchen Nightmares. This was the first episode where Gordon Ramsay came out and resigned. While the out-of-control and argued owners were first given spinoff offers, the excitement quickly died down when it became clear the couple couldn’t work with anyone.

Even though the cast is perfect, some people panic when the cameras start rolling.

Eli Lehrer, LifetimeSenior Vice President of Non-Fiction Programming, discussed an issue he faced at well done with Tabatha takes over, about a woman who helped bankrupt salons. Eccentric people excited to be in front of the camera during the casting process tended to calm down when the cameras started rolling. The trick, Lehrer suggested, is to tell people that the cameras are there for the casting – but in reality, it’s the first day of filming.

These days, reality show attendees may be too savvy for their own good.

Kristi Russell, President of Metal Flowers Media, faced an unexpected challenge while helping the casting process for Discovery’s new series Naked and scared. (Two strangers must survive three weeks in the wild without food or clothing.) You would think that with a title like that, people would experience exercise. Some participants weren’t too happy to hear that they really wouldn’t have any amenities. Thirteen people gave up. Didn’t they understand the concept? “I don’t know why they thought they were auditioning,” Russell said.

Sometimes someone shines on the screen unexpectedly.

Years ago, Authentic Entertainment’s Lauren Lexton tried to host a show about future Hollywood actors – one hope featured on the show was the assistant to a then unknown pinball machine named Jeff Lewis. Network executives passed the series on, but were intrigued by Lewis’s brash personality. A series revamp and a fast forward to 2014: Lewis has his own reality empire on Bravo, as Going crazy marks its seventh season this spring.

Reality TV shows are getting more and more ambitious with online casting calls.

Nowadays, some popular competition series (American Idol, X Factor, and America’s Got Talent) accept online auditions. Those open calls can get around 20,000 submissions, said Diahnna Baxter, managing director of eTribez, an entertainment technology company that compiles such videos and curates a database of potential candidates for producers. Then they sift through the thousands of videos for compelling storylines. It can be difficult, but a lot cheaper than going to dozens of hearing cities.

Casting is a matter of research.

What do the network and the producers want? After answering this question, casting directors scour the field looking for anyone who might be suitable. They cold call, they find people on social media, they comb through dating sites, they hire private investigators. Russell estimates calling 1,000 bars in different cities to find ones that might work for Spike TV Bar rescue. After that, there are pre-interviews, interviews, and screenings – and more importantly, building enough trust for the person to sign all of the paperwork and agree to be on the show.

This article appeared in Weekly Guardian, which incorporates material from the Washington Post


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