The Reality of Reality Television

October 14, 2011 by · 1 Comment 


By Katie Day

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.”

Deep Ellum: The Neighborhood that Refuses to Die

May 15, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

By Fernando Valdes

Barry Annino, president of The Deep Ellum Foundation, moved to Deep Ellum during its heydays in the 1990s. Annino saw Deep Ellum thrive. He remembers having a Deep Ellum MasterCard, starting the Deep Ellum Film Festival and driving through a graffiti covered tunnel to enter the neighborhood.

Today, none of those things exist.

Deep Ellum was once one of the most vibrant entertainment districts in Texas, known for its rich history, live music venues and restaurants. Today, after having survived a major downfall, Deep Ellum is once again transforming into an integral piece of Dallas city life.

During the mid 2000s, Deep Ellum became plagued with crime and saw many tenants go out of business. The decline of Deep Ellum led to the abandonment of the neighborhood. Empty streets and vacant buildings filled the landscape.

Many residents and loyal visitors knew the community had gone through this before and would once again revive itself. Today, community residents and organizations, such as The Deep Ellum Foundation, are working hard to give the streets of Deep Ellum new life.

“It’s booming now and thriving and going on its own,” said Kayce Phy, a Deep Ellum resident for more than 12 years.

The green line of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has helped improve the neighborhood by connecting Deep Ellum to Downtown and other parts of the city. This has alleviated parking issues and brought more visitors to the area.

According to Paula Ramirez, a Deep Ellum resident and a member of the Deep Ellum Enrichment Project (DEEP), the streets are no longer desolate during the day. Ramirez has seen an influx of people walking in the streets and enjoying the neighborhood.

During the past year, many new businesses have sprung up in Deep Ellum. Several iconic restaurants, bars and music venues, such as Trees and Club Dada, have also reopened.

Mike Turley, co-owner of Serious Pizza, is one of many business owners who decided to open their new restaurants in Deep Ellum. After searching around the country for the perfect location, the Orlando native and his business partner, Andrew Phillips, discovered Deep Ellum and immediately knew they had found the perfect location.

According to Turley, the culture of the neighborhood combined with the cheap rent sold them on the neighborhood.

“Deep Ellum has been a great time,” said Turley. “The community is awesome.”

According to Annino, restaurants, bars and music venues are opening in Deep Ellum because the rent is cheap and it is conveniently located close to downtown, Baylor Medical Hospital and a major police department center.

Additionally, Annino said venues will benefit from the plans the City of Dallas has to improve Deep Ellum. The city has proposed making all streets two-way streets, widening all of the sidewalks and adding more benches and trees around the neighborhood. This will allow restaurants and bars to have patios on sidewalks. It will also make streets pedestrian friendly and slow traffic down exponentially.

Although Deep Ellum is well known for its nightlife and restaurants, visitors sometimes overlook another aspect of the neighborhood.

“People are going to realize people actually live here,” said Ramirez. “It’s not just bars. There is a community.”

Members of the community have been putting in the work necessary to revive Deep Ellum and make it a unique and vibrant place to be.

“People talk about Brooklyn, they talk of these neighborhoods, like cities it reminds them of, but they can’t say they have the closeness of their neighbors like they have right here,” said Phy.

The 170-acre community, which houses nearly 2,000 residents, is mostly comprised of people in their 20s and 30s who are looking for an inexpensive, diverse neighborhood near downtown Dallas.

Inside the walls of Deep Ellum, you will find people brimming with creativity. The neighborhood has always been known for its diverse and eclectic artists.

“There’s a lot of talent here,” Annino said. “It’s not a sophisticated talent in that it’s not a rich group; there’s not a lot of money necessarily… but they do what they do special. You can see it in the art, the pillars, the music.”

The residents of Deep Ellum know their neighborhood has a history of ups and downs. During the 1920s, Deep Ellum was known as one of the premier areas for jazz and blues musicians in the South. Several iconic artists, such as Blind Lemmon Jefferson and Bessie Smith, played in clubs all over the neighborhood.

By the time World War II ended, the city had expanded and Deep Ellum had lost many iconic music venues and nightclubs. Slowly, the residents moved out of the neighborhood and Deep Ellum became a warehouse district.

Deep Ellum came roaring back to life in the 1990s, when it became known as Dallas’ liveliest entertainment district. By 1991, the neighborhood had 57 bars and nightclubs. Artists from all over the country started to book performances in the area.

But once again, crime, zoning restrictions and the rise of other entertainment districts led to the decline of Deep Ellum.

History seems to be repeating itself. Residents and enthusiasts say Deep Ellum has a bright future.

“The city is making a lot of changes,” said Phy. “I think it would be hard to tear apart the love that this community has for the actual history and for what we all together see as the future.”

The Daily Update: Monday, April 25

April 25, 2011 by · Comments Off 

On today’s Daily Update you’ll catch the latest about the devastation brought on by the fires in central Texas, details on the recent murder in Plano and who Sir Elton John chose as his son’s god mother. All this and more on your Daily Update.

The Daily Update: Friday, April 15

April 15, 2011 by · Comments Off 

Why are people in Japan receiving compensations? What damages were caused by the storm last night? And see how SMU is celebrating its 100 anniversary! All this and more on your Daily Update!

Daily Update: Tuesday, Feb. 22

February 22, 2011 by · Comments Off 

A deadly earthquake in New Zealand leaves 65 dead and hundreds injured, 53 people have been killed in Juarez, Mexico, and protests continue in the Middle East. Also, a proposed bill may allow Texas college students, faculty and staff to carry concealed weapons on campus. All this and more on your Daily Update.

Daily Update: Tuesday, Feb. 22 from on Vimeo.

Daily Update: Wednesday, February 16

February 16, 2011 by · Comments Off 

Learn how a country’s celebration became a women’s nightmare. What advice did yesterdays Tate Lecture speaker gave students? And is fighting the State of Texas for your bucks, who will win? Learn all this and more on your Daily Update!

Daily Update: Wednesday, February 16th from on Vimeo.

The Daily Update: Monday, Feb 14

February 14, 2011 by · Comments Off 

On this Valentines Day edition of the Daily Update you’ll find out about the country which is following Egypt in an effort to change their government and the possibility of hard liquor sales on Sundays. Plus the Mustang women’s tennis and basketball teams had a great weekend see who they dominated. All this and more on you Daily Update! Anchored by SMU-TV’s Bridget Bennett and Katherine Bruce.

The Daily Update: Monday, February 14 from on Vimeo.

Daily Update: Monday, January 31

January 31, 2011 by · Comments Off 

Find out what is happening to the Americans that are stranded in Egypt. Why you might be expecting less harassment at the airport from TSA agents. And learn what are the metroplex providers doing so that you can rule the air. Find out all this and more on your Daily Update!

The Daily Update: Monday, January 31 from on Vimeo.

Q&A: Craig James, SMU Alum & Football Player

October 20, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Craig James is famous for his days as part of the legendary Pony Express backfield and is one of the best SMU and NFL running backs to ever play the game.

Craig James is making a name for himself off the field as well. This is the second stop on his tour to motivate young people “to get off the sidelines and into the game.” The purpose of the tour is to express to young people how important they are in the process of democracy; James encourages people to come together and be involved and engaged citizens.

Daily Mustang sports writer Chris Sacks had a chance to sit down with James beforehand to discuss his tour, his career and SMU football.

Craig James Fact Sheet:

SMU Career Rushing Yards: 3rd Place with 3,743 yards
SMU Hundred Yard Rushing Games: 2nd with 16 games
NFL Career Rushing: 2,469 yards & 11 Touchdowns
Offensive Player of the Year: 1985 with 1,227 yards

What exactly are you here to talk to us about?
“Right now I’m on tour to motivate and encourage 18-29 year olds to get off the sidelines and get involved in their communities. I’m here to emphasize how important each one of us is. If we don’t all get involved, I fear for where our country is heading. I’m not saying to be a republican, a democrat, or a libertarian, but to be Americans. I’m here to encourage all of us as Americans to get involved. If we want to maintain America, then we have to stand up and get involved. I think 18-29 year olds can be the next great American Generation.”

What are some way students can get involved?
“Get out there and vote. Be educated when you vote. Educate yourself on not just presidential elections, but local elections and local policies. I’m here to discuss how regulations and taxes impact my business and to discuss how to keep Texas awesome. When I was your age, I wasn’t out voting because I didn’t think I could have an impact. But, we’re in a different world now, and I’m just out here trying to motivate people.”

What do you do?
“I’ve been an analyst for ESPN for a while; in the 90’s, I had a Broadcasting School, and while I was at SMU, I had a car sales and leasing business. For now, aside from a sports analyst, I’ve been doing real estate, ranching, running cattle, and producing hay.”

You seem very passionate, have you considered a political career?
“I’ve been encouraged to run, but for now my public service is to get out there and get people to stand up and be heard.”

Do you use social media?
“I love twitter and the fact that it’s only 140 characters, you get right to the point. It gives me a way of responding and communicating with friends and fans. I like the interaction and extension it gives me. People don’t always agree with how I vote or what I say about their team or their school, but I don’t say it in a malicious way.”

How do you feel about the state of the SMU Football Program?
“It’s great and exciting to see them starting to compete again and that there are some athletes out there on the field. SMU is sort of a diamond in the rough with the academic background, the city of Dallas, and what it offers a student athlete. I think it has got a lot of upside for SMU, and I’m very happy for the team and the university.”

Do you still keep in touch with any of your teammates? Who?
“I’m still good friends with several people who I went to SMU with and who I played football with. I’m still great friends with Erik Dickerson. We see each other all the time and he’s a wonderful guy. He’s a proud Mustang and so am I.”

What is your greatest memory of SMU?
“Oddly enough it was the day my daughter graduated from SMU in 2006. My wife and I were both parents of a graduating student and that was really special to be back on campus for that.”

SMU Costs More Than Ivy League’s Yale

March 18, 2010 by · Comments Off 

by Sydni Brass

Yale University is ranked the number two university in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. SMU is ranked 68. It’s much tougher to get into Yale than SMU, and Yalies are more likely to have graduated at the top of their high school class.

Yet, it costs more to attend SMU than Yale:  $37,230 at SMU versus $36,500 at Yale.

Those figures, which exclude room and board and other fees, come from the College Board, which gathers data from higher education institutions around the country. SMU’s tuition is also as high, or nearly as high, as at most other Ivy League schools ranked in the nation’s top 10, including Harvard and Princeton.

So why, in a city where the cost of living is fairly low, are we paying more for an education that may arguably be not quite as good?

Jose Bowen, dean of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, said a lot of what students wind up paying in tuition has to do with the size of the university’s endowment. Harvard, for instance, was able to radically change its tuition structure because of its large endowment after criticism that not enough poor students could afford to attend.

“The biggest difference is the size of endowment and the way schools can structure costs and scholarships,” Dean Bowen said.

Nine percent of students in the United States attend universities, including SMU, with tuition and fees of more than $33,000, according to the College Board. SMU senior Taryn Baker is concerned about SMU’s high cost.

“Students who graduate from SMU get less job opportunities than Harvard grads and most make less money than Harvard grads do,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair we’re paying Ivy League prices when our future income probably won’t be as high as theirs.”

Other students, though, say that they are getting their money’s worth at SMU.

“We’re paying for a private education and a great atmosphere here so it doesn’t bother me that it is in the Ivy League price range,” said junior Samuel Marasco.

Patricia LaSalle, SMU’s Associate Vice President for Public Affairs, provided information gathered by Cambridge Associates, which provides research to universities, showing SMU is more expensive than Yale and Princeton. Harvard students, on the other hand, pay a little more than SMU students.

In recent years, SMU has been dubbed “the Harvard of the South” due to a more selective admissions process attributed to a larger applicant pool. In 2004, SMU admitted 64.3 percent of its applicants, while in 2008 it admitted only 49.7 percent of applicants.

Still, that’s not nearly as selective as Ivy League schools where they admit only a fraction of students. For instance, SMU admitted 53 percent of all the applicants who applied for the 2009-10 school years. Yale admitted only 8 percent.  At Yale, 96 percent of its students graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class. At SMU, only 43 percent of students graduated in the top 10 percent.

While there has been an increase in selectivity over the years at SMU, it is matched by an equally steady growth in tuition. Between the academic years of 2003-04 and 2008-09, there has been an increase of more than $8,000 per school year.

“SMU is in Dallas and our classes are small.  We have wonderful programs that Harvard does not have like Advertising, Journalism and fantastic arts programs,” said Bowen of SMU’s intrinsic value.

SMU is currently the most expensive private school in Texas, with tuition that is higher than Baylor University and Rice University.

In a letter to SMU students in December, 2008, President R. Gerald Turner wrote that “SMU’s tuition and fees compare favorably to other national universities.”

President Turner did not respond to interview requests for this story.

In the fall of 2009, SMU increased its tuition by nearly 6 percent. But due to the economic downturn, administrators have decided to increase tuition by a smaller percentage than in previous years starting in the fall of 2010.

Regardless, students on a tight budget or who are working their way through college still struggle to make it through four years without the burden of heavy debt from college loans.

Some students may not believe that the debt is worth it for an education that may not be as respected as an Ivy League degree.

“I had no idea we pay an Ivy League price to go to here. I don’t think our education is comparable to the education students get at Harvard and we definitely don’t have the Harvard reputation,” said SMU junior Anna McIngvale.

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