Virtuous reality producers struggling to put truth on the tube, brace yourselves: viewers may not care about accuracy as much as you think. According to an AP/TV Guide poll, 68% of respondents said it didn’t matter, or only mattered a little, whether reality shows were truthful or not. Similar results were found in a Time poll, where more than half of those surveyed said accuracy was not a factor in their enjoyment of reality TV.
As Jeanne McHale Waite, CEO of Philadelphia’s Banyan Productions, asserts, ‘There’s no such thing as perfect truth in television, or any medium, anywhere, ever. There’s always been the camera angle, editing, and point of view.’ McHale Waite contends that shows such as The Amazing Race work well because viewers recognize sound bytes may have been linked together to condense events and bring out the truth. ‘It’s like haiku: you don’t tell the whole story, you tell the emotional truth.’
McHale Waite also mentions The Apprentice, where editing and dramatic music cues blatantly reveal to viewers that events are contrived. ‘The whole production style is designed to tell you ‘We’re messing with you,” she says. ‘Well, that’s fine. It’s revealed to me and I get that.’
The problem is when a show is dishonest about scripting. ‘If the viewer thinks you’re unscripted and you’re really writing words, rehearsing them, and doing 207 takes with different lighting and blocking, that’s ridiculous,’ she says. ‘When you lie, people feel it. They don’t necessarily know why, but they start to squirm. The clicker is right there and bye bye – they’re gone.’
But Rive Gauche COO Mark Rafalowski surmises that audiences watching Being Bobby Brown and shows with ‘the Danny Bonaduces and Gary Colemans and other B-minus actors who’ve been through hell and are now thrown into a house together’ aren’t put off by scripting. ‘Because even if someone isn’t acting like they’re supposed to, I don’t think the audience knows at that point, and I don’t think they care. They’re being entertained and if someone tells them, ‘That wasn’t real, that was scripted,’ they don’t give a shit.’
Much like with comedy or drama shows, Rafalowski says if the characters are intriguing enough, viewers will tune in.