‘Barely Famous’ EP Jason Carbone Reveals How ‘Laguna Beach’ Led Him to a New Kind of Reality Show

TV veteran and Good Clean Fun CEO and Founder talks leaving ABC’s “The Bachelor” and setting out to change the unscripted genre in TheWrap’s Office With a View

Good Clean Fun founder Jason Carbone
Illustration: Ada Guerin

That all three of Good Clean Fun’s series are premiering within two-and-a-half weeks of each other gives CEO and founder Jason Carbone a lot to crow about right now. His production company is responsible for “Barely Famous,” “Rev Run’s Sunday Suppers” and “Meet the Smiths.”

While the Rev Run show kicks off its second season (and is Carbone’s second series collaboration with the former Run DMC frontman) on the Cooking Channel on Wednesday night, the other two are brand spanking new — but Carbone is anything but a rookie to the genre.

He has been in the reality television business since the early days of “The Real World” and “Road Rules” and was Mike Fleiss’s first hire on “The Bachelor,” where he served as executive producer and director before breaking off to start his new company. Not only does he know what a hit is, but he has an eye on the bottom line.

“In a lot of ways, ‘Barely Famous’ is a scripted television show, but done at a reality price point,” Carbone told TheWrap. “I know that a lot of people are taking notice of that.”

The producer estimated that “Barely Famous” costs less than one-third of the $1.25 million-$1.5 million per episode scripted shows tend to cost. That means “Barely Famous” costs less than $417,000 per episode.

“Those are the kind of things that I don’t think networks can look at,” Carbone added.

TheWrap spoke with Carbone about his current projects and what led him to the “celeb-reality” concept in this week’s Office With a View.

TheWrap: Tell us a little bit about your new projects.
Jason Carbone: The three projects are all truly passion projects. Both Rev Run and Kenny Smith play to the company’s strengths, which are celebrity docuseries. We’ve become a destination for celebrities, performers, athletes, due to the fact that our shows really play to the strengths of our participants. We are not a production company that is going to sell out our stars.

What we’re trying to do with [“Barely Famous”] is really move the needle in a brand new direction in terms of television. If you noticed, I didn’t say reality television, because that to me is more akin to just an entertaining reality show. The only thing real about it is that Erin and Sara are playing characters named Erin and Sara.

Is the “Barely Famous” model a concept that begs repeating, or is it a completely unique situation — more about the stars than it is about the format?
No, I think if you believe that, then you don’t value anything my company does. I believe the first, that this is an evolutionary step. This is a genuine way where real people who might not want to make a reality show can take the piss out of themselves and not call it a reality show.

What were the early days of the reality TV business like?
I think back then, everything was fertile ground. There was no “Oh, we’ve seen that before,” because you hadn’t seen anything before. All of the early shows were very, very verte. “Real World” was a documentary, it wasn’t a reality show. “Reality television” wasn’t even a coined term when we were making “The Real World.”

The rules were very strict on that show when you worked at Bunim/Murray. There was no crossing the line and communicating with the cast. You showed up for work, you did your job, and you went home. You didn’t get to talk to the cast until the season was over. The only people who spoke to the cast were the directors who interviewed them once a week.

What about what you see today in the reality world, the Kardashian-type series that are most certainly not documentaries?
Now, today, nothing is shot on “The Kardashians” that hasn’t been approved by the network — or at least the network has been made aware of what they’re attempting to shoot.

It’s evolutionary, this is what happens. When I left working on “The Bachelor” and decided that I was over getting people to get married who weren’t really in love, and I went to make “Run’s House,” that was a very conscious decision on my part to go far afield of what I had just been making. I wanted the show to feel like something new and different. I went back to old television — that show was shot entirely on sticks, which is something that is never done on a reality show, but is done on situation comedies. You never saw the fourth wall of any room of their home, just like a situation comedy. We had an A story and a B story, and more importantly, we never used interviews to tell you what was happening.

When I pitched this to MTV … I saw the success they were having with “Laguna Beach,” where they were stealing dramatic storytelling devices from scripted dramas and employing them in the confines of an alternative show. I [wanted] “Run’s House” to do the same for comedy.

Did you have a light bulb moment about combining documentaries, reality TV and sitcoms?
Growing up, I was a latchkey kid. I came home and my babysitters were Dick Van Dyke, Lucille Ball, Hawkeye Pierce — these kinds of characters. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was getting a PhD in comedic television. More importantly, I was getting a PhD in storytelling. And I think that what you learn as a reality television producer, is you learn how to tell a compelling story based on the footage you have shot. That is a skillset that I’ve honed for almost 20 years. Scripted or unscripted, no one has a monopoly on good storytelling.

So where does your company go from here, what do you look for next?
I think that the medium is going to continue to evolve. I think that like anything, whether it’s history or television or whatever, I believe there’s a pendulum — and the pendulum swings to the left and it swings to the right. I think that we are probably at a tipping point as it relates to reality television, and I think that a show like “Barely Famous” shows you the potential of where television can go.

Do you think these kinds of shows would work on network TV, or is cable really the home for your new-ish approach?
When “Run’s House” debuted in 2005, I was contacted by two of the four big networks. They all said to me, “How do we do this here at [our network]?” That said, they say those things, but no one has really attempted to do it. I don’t think there’s any reason that you couldn’t put “Barely Famous” on after “2 Broke Girls.”

Do you find that any typical reality shows are doing it as well as it can be done, or are they all following an antiquated pattern at this point?
I think that just like in life, there are people who innovate and people who recycle. I would say the same of any television folks out there. I think everyone is trying to do something new and different, but I think between networks and everyone’s desire to make things that feel familiar, I think that there’s a lot of derivative stuff out there.