Who Wants to Be a Superhero? Not Me.
April 1, 2007

Shock! Horror! Reality TV may not be real after all!

The link is to Lisa’s Neptune Comics blog, where she talks about the experiences of a friend who tried out for Who Wants to Be a Superhero Season 2 only to discover that the auditions may have been fakes, with the show competitors already cast.

I’m sure the friend was disappointed, but it doesn’t really surprise me that someone spending millions of dollars to create a TV show wants control over the results. Lisa says, “Kind of makes me wonder how much of this was “reality” and how much was scripted, staged, and edited.”

We learned that last year, when reality show writers struck to gain union representation. From their statement: “we are storytellers who take hundreds of hours of footage and create structured stories in script form.” All of it’s edited, created to set up good guys and bad guys and show us what we’re supposed to be thinking.

6 Responses  
Jer writes:  

The phrase “reality television” is one big oxymoron. None of this stuff is real – its all sculpted, altered, and prompted to turn out a product that feels more visceral and “real” than scripted dramas, but your average reality TV show is no more real than your average episode of Law and Order.

I remember watching a behind the scenes show about MTV’s Real World years ago that had interviews with the participants from various seasons where they talked a lot about how much the directors and crew prompted things to create conflict where none existed — and how much the cast went along with it because that’s what they felt they needed to do to be on TV. It was an eye opener – I’d assumed that a lot of that stuff was fake, but I didn’t realize just how fake it was. And that’s “Real World” – a competition show like “Superhero” has even more chances for “faking it”.

Lyle Masaki writes:  

To quite a degree, the Top Model writers’ strike wasn’t much of a discovery (aside from the show completely jumping the shark midway through the last season, showing the value of keeping a good team) considering the way fans of these shows discuss who’s getting the “winner’s edit”. Those viewers were aware of the writing process (which involves writing a script after the footage has come together) but viewed it as the work of a film editor (and a lot of reality TV writers do get some kind of editor title) instead of a writer.

There’s also “frankenbyting” where they deceptively edit footage to make it sound like someone said something they didn’t. Sometimes that means putting someone’s words in a different context, other times they actually mess with the sound files to make it sound like someone said things he or she didn’t actually say.

To some degree, I think the more faked a show is the more it comes out in the final version. (Partly since, if you’re spending hours trying to find footage of a specific person saying a specific word in a way that it can be worked into other footage smoothy instead of finding a way to make what you’ve got work creatively, you’ve got a prioritization issue.) I thought the first season of Who Wants to Be a Superhero relied too much on Stan Lee’s rather weak acting chops to get to certain desired results and, while I enjoyed the silly challenges (especially the one where they battle the attack dog) every other aspect of the show drove me away after two eps.

Lea writes:  

Now, see, when I wrote Rumble Girls, no one knew for sure this stuff was actually happening. I thought I made a lot of that stuff up, or at least extrapolated from what I did know.
But, since I started RG until now, there’s been at least two pro wrestlers who died in ways directly related to their work, a girl raped in one of the Real World houses (and the producers knew), frankenbyting is a fact of unlife, and “everyone” now knows it’s all as fake as pro wrestling.

I sent in an audition tape to a show (I forget what the name was) where the moms are swapped for a week. Even though they were not supposed to consider families with autistic children, and the casting person who begged (and that is the word) for the tape knew my son was/is autistic, she asked/begged for it anyway.
Which makes me think it was more about meeting a quota for tapes and less about us being rilly, rilly interesting. The casting person was rilly, rilly persuasive.
Me, I rilly, rilly wanted the $50,000. to fix up my house. We didn’t get cast.

There were a lot of people who said we should send in a tape to Extreme Home Makeover after our house burnt down.
I went so far as to look at the instructions for the audition tape. It said things like, “Moms! Wear makeup!” and “…be energetic!” I was anything BUT energetic, and I sure wasn’t in any shape to walk through my house yukking it up over how 99% of everything was destroyed, or stand in front of it with my face on smiling and waving.

It’s all happy horseshit. No thanks!

Chris G. writes:  

I’m relieved by the idea that WWTBAS? is less-than-real. Feedback — last season’s winner, for those who don’t watch the show — kind of creeped me out.

Bill writes:  

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the auditions are a big scam. Probably the producers want to cast some “bad guys” or a “traitor” to plant among the regular contestants (“Iron Enforcer” in the first season, for instance). I’ll bet most of the competitors are real, but they’re not the only people on the show – they also need actors to play helpless victims in need of rescue, etc.

Jim Kosmicki writes:  

last year, Fox aired Unan1mous, which had some interesting twists for anyone familiar with psychological experiments like the Milgram experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment. During the series’ run, it came out that several of the cast had acting credits — and if you watched the show, they were the ones who created most of the “twists” in the “plot” as the show went along. That’s all it really took: not the whole cast being actors, just an important few. That’s also obvious to anyone who’s studied psychological experiments about obedience and conformity.

Knowing this actually made these shows more interesting to watch — I’m now watching for the craft of how they create the story. in fact, the fans of Top Chef’s recent season were incredibly vocal about the producers manipulating who the final two were — and the judges (who have weekly blogs during the run) were very, very vocal about how their decisions really were about the quality of the food, not the producers’ wishes. So they knew that people suspected manufactured drama. After all, this is the show where in the first season, they created a great villain in Stephen. But then in the reunion show (and in pretty much all blogging and articles written since), everyone talked about how much they liked him!


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