Reality producers are not a conservative group.
When the Beverly Hilton’s fire alarms went off in the middle of Thursday’s Hollywood Radio & Television Society lunch with the industry’s top reality television producers, production companies, and executives, almost nobody evacuated the ballroom, despite the flashing lights and repeated announcements.
“If we all die, what a great story this is going to be,” moderator Tom Bergeron cracked. “Idiot Reality People Don’t Leave Burning Building.”
The non-idiotic reality producers on Bergeron’s panel who survived the false alarm -- Mike Fleiss (“The Bachelor” franchise), Brent Montgomery (“Pawn Stars”), Kris Jenner (“Keeping Up with the Kardashians”), Conrad Green (“Dancing with the Stars”), Eli Holzman (“Undercover Boss”), and Bertam van Munster (“The Amazing Race”) -- weighed in on the state of the industry and production crises ranging from fifty-pound bricks of runaway cheese, glass eyes popping out on camera, and unexpected visits from the FBI.
(Above, Fleiss, Mongtomgery, Jenner and Bergeron)
Besides the fire alarm, the elephant in the room was Fleiss’ latest credit: newly minted legal defendant.
Two African-American would-be “Bachelors” filed a federal racial discrimination suit against the producer, ABC, Warner Horizon and Next Productions last week.
The HRTS screened Fleiss from the attending media, making a point to warn this reporter and others not to approach him. The most casually dressed of the honorees in head to toe black, the dour producer smoked an electronic cigarette on stage and spent most of the pre-reception huddled with the talkative van Munster.
“If any of our shows on this panel are hypothetically involved in litigation, they can’t comment on it, so I won’t ask about it,” Bergeron said.
Fleiss was more vocal in criticizing the inverse relationship between the maturity level of the viewing audience and shift in programming since the days of his own early high profile spectacle, “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?”
“It used to be the most innovative stuff (got on) TV. Now it’s the most bland and derivative. The audience isn’t rejecting it, but it has settled in to a level that is different than when there was explosive energy and curiosity because it was something they hadn’t seen before. Now it seems relatively calm,” Fleiss critiqued.
“Almost every profession has been mined for its reality series,” Conrad Green added. “You can only be a virgin once,” Bergen said.
Predictably, all of the producers took a hard line against criticism that reality consumes too much of the finite broadcast schedule. “It’s a fantasy that we’re taking jobs from actors. It's crazy.” Green said. “The sheer quantity and quality of drama on TV now compared to the past makes that a nonsense argument.”
“It’s a genre that has caught on and it just works,” Van Muster added. “If (the scripted community) can create a genre and it catches on again, then they get the place there and we’re out of the game again.”
Jenner, whose television brand champions an elite lifestyle, offered a populist defense. “By the way, we’re bringing work to a lot of other people,” she said. “Our show employs hundreds and hundreds of people every year. Like when there was a strike, we had a show on the air and employed a lot of people who got to feed their families, and that made me feel really good.”
Fleiss credited ABC’s scheduling cutback, more on-screen travel, and a better cast for keeping shows fresh.
“We had a couple bad bachelors. [Former “Bachelor” Charlie O’Connell] was drunk off his ass. He’s sober now. He’s got four years of sobriety. We got a little complacent, a little lazy. It started to sag. The audience picks up on that. They’re smarter than we give them credit for,” he said.
Unbeknownst to Fleiss, he had hired the man at his left, Brent Montgomery, to work as a new hire on that ill-fated O’Connell season. Mongtomery is now the Executive Producer of History Channel’s “Pawn Stars.”
After the Kardashian clan signed a new three-season deal with E! earlier this week, Jenner spoke up to defend her family’s lucrative haul for the series. “There is definitely a misconception out there that just because you do a reality show, it means you don’t work as hard. People need to remember it’s definitely a business. Everyone in my family has an amazing work ethic. We’re not trained actors. We don’t have a lot of talent. I can cook, that’s about it. My kids are definitely motivated to do a really good job,” Jenner added.
Jenner also shed some light on the genesis of the Kardashian franchise, tipping her hat to “Dancing with the Stars” celebrity talent booker Deena Katz, who was in the room. Katz brokered her professional introduction to Ryan Seacrest.
Warner Horizon’s Craig Erwich and ICM’s Greg Lipstone co-chaired the lunch.