The Reality of Reality Television

October 14, 2011  

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Katie Day
kday@smu.edu

Courtney Michalek is an SMU sophomore. She’s a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority, a Dallas native, and a recent star on the reality series “Dallas Divas & Daughters.”

Michalek says many viewers have misconceptions about the Style Network series that followed her and her mother around Dallas from October 2009 to November 2009. Not only did it involve a lot less glitz and glamour than one would expect, the show’s portrayal of reality was misconstrued as well.

“The term ‘reality’ is quite comical,” said Michalek of the series. “Basically the fact that I was related to my mother and that our names were Cindy and Courtney were the only things that were real.”

Michalek says her days were not filled with cameras following her every move and, although they were portrayed as close friends, she didn’t know the majority of the cast members before they started filming.

“The directors tell you where to be at an exact time and they tell you what you have to talk about and with whom,” she said. “With the exception of one mother and daughter duo on the show, I had never met any of the girls.”

The cast of the show was not pampered, and Michalek says they didn’t even provide hair and makeup artists for their season’s cast members. It was left up to each mother and daughter to get ready for the cameras.

“My mom and I didn’t really get our makeup and hair done for every taping, although we regret it now,” she laughs.

Reality shows like “Dallas Daughters & Divas” have millions of viewers tuning in every week. As producers continue to move their projects to the southern regions, Dallas has seen an increase in coverage especially in the area of reality television. Style Network’s “Big Rich Texas” and “Donna Decorates Dallas” on HGTV are both based in Dallas.

SMU Director of Technology David Sedman says it’s no surprise that Dallas has continued to grow as a reality TV target. The city presents many advantages that make shooting attractive to producers.

“Within 45 minutes you can have an urban look, a rural and honky-tonk setting, an arts and collegiate look, and everything in between and beyond,” he said.

The roots of reality television are far from the scandalous series that fill up our screens today. In fact, they were once shows you would feel comfortable watching with your grandmother. Shows like “Candid Camera” and “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour” presented good clean fun that brought the whole family together.

Sedman says it’s these very shows that inspired many of the ones we watch today, including MTV’s “Punk’d” and “Big Brother” on CBS.

According to Sedman, it was after the first “clean” wave of reality television that the reality shows we know today came to be. Computer-based video made way for classics like “COPS” and “Blind Date,” which were then followed by the more recent third wave and many more reality shows.

“When television expanded to more than 100 channels, a third wave of shows we all know flourished including “Survivor” and “Big Brother”,” he said.

Many of the shows have made stars and sky rocketed the careers of those who would otherwise go unnoticed. Everyone has heard of MTV’s Snookie from Jersey Shore, and thanks to “Keeping up with Kardashians” on E!, an entire family has a career.

Sedman believes the unknown elements in each show and interesting personalities can be a magical combination that leads to a shows’ success.
Amanda Rupley, owner of Raw Casting Company in Dallas, has been in the entertainment industry for 25 years. She’s responsible for finding many of the personalities and potential “stars” that make a hit reality show through casting calls.

Rupley’s castings credits span over 40 shows including “Hell’s Kitchen,” “The Glee Project,” “Real World,” and “Losing it with Jillian Michaels.” She’s witnessed first hand the stories that make these shows a success, some more heart wrenching than others.

Rupley recalls meeting a 17-year-old auditioning for “Losing it with Jillian Michaels” who was not looking for a reality show to launch her career, but to save her life.

“She was almost 400 lbs and was told she had Type 2 Diabetes,” said Rupley. “The doctors told her if she didn’t lose the weight, she would die. She needed this show.”

According to Rupley, it’s these stories that keep you going in the reality TV business.

The growing popularity of Dallas based shows has been a great benefit to Rupley’s career by eliminating the need to travel in order to recruit for the shows. She says several shows are currently in town including Bravo’s “Most Eligible Dallas,” and SpikeTV’s “Pawn Games.”

D Magazine intern Kendall Goldstein watches “Most Eligible Dallas” on Bravo every week and describes the show as “both stupid and entertaining”.

“It’s fun to see where the cast goes. They’re always going to a new restaurant or bar that happens to be right in my neighborhood,” she said.

However, in spite of the fun places the show incorporates into their episodes, Goldstein realizes the behavior of the cast is a reflection of Dallas for those who watch.

“The cast is so materialistic and they spend all their time gossiping,” she said. “It makes me worried that people who don’t live in Dallas tune in and watch the silly drama.”

Staring on a reality TV series has left a lasting impression on Michalek, who can no longer watch and simply be entertained by the shows as many viewers do every week.

“I now watch and cringe at the lies because they are so apparent now that I have been behind the scenes,” she said.

However, according to Michalek the experience wasn’t a complete disappointment and although her and her mother did not continue on with another season of “Dallas Divas and Daughters,” she still doesn’t regret being on the show.

“People can criticize me for being on it,” she said. “But how many people can say they’ve been in OK Magazine and have been made fun of by Chelsea Handler on her show?”

Michalek says to be on the show requires that you have the ability to laugh at yourself. She knows it isn’t her real life that gets people tuning in every week, but the show’s drama and the interesting characters it creates.

“I don’t take myself too seriously and to be on a reality show you really can’t, because I mean come on, no one really cares about your life at all,” Michalek said. “It just happens that your life is broadcast in front of people on their TVs.”

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