In Variety today, Daniel Frankely posits that television audiences don't give a hoot if their favorite reality shows are, well, slightly less than real. After all, shows like The Hills and Man vs. Wild are still very popular even though, in The Hills' case, producers of the show openly admit to staging whole conversations, or, as happened with the hotel-staying scandal for MVW, some enormous blunder reveals what's behind the curtain. Many reality television producers own up to a little plot doctoring here and there, and they don't see what all the fuss is about. "Nobody's confusing these shows with documentaries," says a producer for The Biggest Loser. A producer for Deadliest Catch, which is about Alaskan crab fishermen, agrees. "I'm not a journalist, I'm a storyteller," he says. "We never fabricate a story, but, geez, I'll use crayons if I have to in order to illustrate that story. We should be able to use the entire palette."
Their assumptions are fine, I guess, in that there's really no arguing that people still watch even though they know things are fake, but I think that they're a little blithe about it. Yes, people are still totes into their favorite dumb reality shows, but it seems increasingly grudging. Audiences don't happily accept these falsehoods, they grumpily tolerate them. And people won't put up with that forever. (I mean, look at the divorce rate). For example, I'm pretty much done with my once-beloved The Hills, largely because during its most recent season the producers did everything they possibly could to manufacture "drama," save for wheeling a teleprompter into the frame. I'm done with it. I could only abide being openly lied to for so long. And I suspect other people feel the same way.
And what of the big blunders that cast a questioning light on popular programs? The biggest such incident in recent memory managed to tarnish the reputation of the once-sterlingly credible American Idol. This season saw the tremendous, squishy thud of Paulagate, in which perpetually addled judge Paula Abdul tripped balls into the future and judged a performance that hadn't happened yet. It might seem a bit conspiracy theory-esque, but I don't think that was a simple "oops, saw the dress rehearsal" moment. Idol is showing more and more signs of producer doctoring, to the point that I'm beginning to suspect that they're jiggering with the votes. (I mean, who the hell was voting for Syesha?) And, aha! Ratings reached new lows this year.
So, no, the producers should not be so "whatevs!!" about synthesizing moments on their shows. I mean, it's not the end of the world, but when you start showing your hand too much, as on The Hills, or get increasingly careless about your secret machinations, like American Idol, ratings will start to dwindle. Or maybe I'm in the minority.
Or! It doesn't matter either way because we'll never really be clued-in to what's going on behind the scenes. Meaning we should just suck it up: "I personally think audiences should watch all TV with a grain of salt," says the Biggest Loser producer. "Because there is almost no way to know."