Putting the REAL in Reality TV

July 10, 2019

Unscripted, or calculated? You be the judge.

Real Housewives

Reality Show: Cameras follow the exploits of cliques of well-to-do women from various American cities. Episodes feature fights, betrayal, drinking, and sexual situations.

REAL Show: The gossip website RadarOnline posted photos of the cast and crew of Real Housewives of New York City filming a “spontaneous” street scene: “Carole Radziwill and Heather Thompson were taking instructions from producers, shooting multiple takes, and waiting for breaks in dialogue to ensure cameras were set up.” The gossip site also reported that Real Housewives of Atlanta cast member Walter Jackson confessed that—at the behest of producers—he pretended to be Kenya Moore’s boyfriend “to give Kenya a story line.” Contrary to what viewers saw, the two were not a couple.

House Hunters

Reality Show: Cameras follow home buyers as they choose between three properties shown to them by a real-estate agent.

REAL Show: In 2012, after the Jensen family appeared on the show, wife Bobi said that just about everything on their episode was faked:

“The producers said they found our (true) story—that we were getting a bigger house and turning our other one into a rental—boring and overdone. They didn’t even accept us for the show until we closed on the house we were buying. Then when they decided to film our episode, we had to scramble to find houses to tour and pretend we were considering. The ones we looked at weren’t even for sale…they were just our two friends’ houses who were nice enough to madly clean for days in preparation for the cameras!”

Only a few months earlier, Slate magazine had quoted HGTV general manager Kathleen Finch as insisting that “we are a network of journalistic storytelling, not dramatic storytelling. We’re very conscious of not allowing any kind of fake drama.”

Reality Check: With over 17 seasons and at least two spin-offs currently on air, House Hunters is still going strong.

Duck Dynasty

Reality Show: Cameras follow the Robertson family of Louisiana, headed by patriarch Phil, who owns a successful business selling duck calls. The show portrays the Robertson men as bearded hillbillies in full camo gear.

REAL Show: Hillbillies? More like yuppies. In 2013, several photos emerged of Phil’s adult sons and their families that were taken before the show started. Not only were the men not bearded, they were dressed in khakis and pressed shirts. And in one photo, the clean-cut sons are armed with…golf clubs. In a Washington Monthly exposé about Duck Dynasty, Daniel Luzer wrote, “A&E appears to have taken a large clan of affluent, college-educated, mildly conservative, country-club Republicans, common across the nicer suburbs of the old South, and repackaged them as the Beverly Hillbillies.”

Reality Check: After 130 episodes, the Robertson family called it quits. Some family members have become authors or restaurateurs.

Storage Wars

Reality Show: Cameras follow professional buyers as they bid on the contents of abandoned or unpaid storage units.

REAL Show: Cast member Dave Hester sued Storage Wars for wrongful termination in 2012. He says the show fired him because he publicly claimed it was rigged: “The producers staged entire units, planted items in lockers after having them appraised weeks in advance, and funneled cash to weaker teams to buy lockers they could not have otherwise afforded.” A&E’s defense: “The composition of the show is covered by the First Amendment.” A judge agreed and ordered Hester to pay the network’s legal costs. But Hester is sticking to his story. He knows the show is rigged because he helped rig it. According to RadarOnline, “Hester planted items that he owned in lockers he bought and was even paid by the production company for ‘renting’ those items.”

Reality Check: Dave Hester rejoined the show in 2014 after the lawsuit was settled. Is Storage Wars still on the air? Yuuup!