It seems reality shows are finally coming under scrutiny.
After TheWrap’s recent investigative series on suicides and emotional trauma and child endangerment related to reality shows, now comes a convincing piece of reporting in Sunday’s New York Times that suggests that reality shows are Hollywood’s new “sweatshop.”
“Long workdays and communication blackouts are largely the rule for contestants on reality shows,” writes Ed Wyatt. “With no union representation, participants on reality series are not covered by Hollywood workplace rules governing meal breaks, minimum time off between shoots or even minimum wages. Most of them, in fact, receive little to no pay for their work.”
It’s been a long time coming, but this is a conversation that needs to happen. The Times piece discusses top-rated reality shows like “The Bachelor,” “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Project Runway” as being little more than voluntary incarceration.
The contestants recount being sequestered and plied with alcohol, about being sleep deprived and pushed beyond the point of exhaustion. All - for no pay, or almost no pay.
There is a price that is being paid for the diversion of the American masses with cheapie entertainment in the form of reality shows. These shows cost a fraction of traditional, scripted entertainment.
But we are just beginning to come alive to the possibility that there are costs to this entertainment that as a society we have not yet considered.
Without anyone protesting the obvious, here it is: The point of the shows is to push, harrass, emotionally abuse contestants to the point where they react in entertaining ways.
“The bread and butter of reality television is to get people into a state where they are tired, stressed and emotionally vulnerable,” said Mark Andrejevic, an associate professor of communications studies at the University of Iowa and the author of “Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched.”
“That helps make them more amenable to the goals of the producers and more easily manipulated.”
As we reported, though, in some instances this has manipulated contestants to the point of despair. Especially those who may be vulnerable to begin with start to miserable about the things they have been pushed to do and say, or find themselves unable to deal with the effects of sudden fame and public scrutiny.
These are the dirty little secrets about the making of reality shows. Which is no secret in Hollywood.
It is very telling that none of the networks solicited by the Times commented for Wyatt’s story. This parallels TheWrap’s experience in seeking comment for its stories on suicides related to public humiliation and remorse over behavior on reality shows.
No one had anything to say.
On ‘Project Runway,’ the filming would usually start at about 6 in the morning, “and we finished sewing every day around midnight,” said winner Chloe Dao, winner of the 2005-6 season. The contestants then would tape the “confessionals,” in which they speak directly to the camera. “We would get to sleep at 1 to 3 a.m., and wake up again at 6 or 7.”
The article continues:
“Reality series regularly show contestants drinking to excess. ‘When we arrived, there was liquor in the refrigerator, before we even put food in,” said Zulema Griffin, from the 2005-6 “Project Runway.” ‘I felt like it was a passive-aggressive way of encouraging alcohol consumption.’”
When it comes to children – who don’t get to choose to have cameras in their faces for reality shows like “Jon and Kate” -- the problem becomes even more troublesome.
“These shows can open the kids to a level of public scrutiny, of shame and of failure,” noted Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of VH-1’s “Celeb Rehab and co-author of "The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America," to Wrap writer Dominic Patten. “You have to ask yourself if that is conducive to positive outcomes as they get older.”