TruthCo. President Linda Ong Urges Reality TV Producers to ‘Stop Copying’

The branding expert describes why unscripted controversies are plaguing networks in this week’s “Office With a View”

Office-With-A-View_LindaOng truthco
Linda Ong, TruthCo./Ada Guerin/TheWrap

TLC’s decision to cancel “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” amid reports of Mama June’s relationship with a convicted child molester has once again focused a spotlight on the state of reality television.

If anyone is able to explain where unscripted TV is and where it needs to go, it’s Linda Ong. She’s the president of TruthCo., an independent consultancy firm that has been studying reality TV since the first season finale of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” in 2010.

“Paula Deen’s views are seen as odious,” Ong told TheWrap. “Phil Robertson‘s views are considered intolerant. The Benham Brothers views are considered out of step. So, the culture is asking why are we celebrating these people? Same thing with Mama June.”

See photos: 11 TV Shows Canceled by Controversy – From ‘Honey Boo Boo’ to ‘Politically Incorrect’

According to the study, the copycat nature of reality TV producers has caused a glut of shows focused on the chaos surrounding the economic collapse of 2009. These shows feature people who belong to subcultures, which may not hold the same views as the mainstream culture.

“It’s up to the networks to stop enabling these people and move on,” Ong added. “That’s really what it needs to do in order to grow. It has dug itself a hole and, really, now it’s coming up and biting them in the butt. Stop copying, that’s my advice.”

TheWrap: What are your thoughts on TLC’s cancellation of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?
Linda Ong: TLC’s decision was aligned with the sentiments of mainstream culture. It does sort of imply that there’s guilt involved. So it definitely feels like they’re making a judgment call. It’s aligned with everything going on with culture today.

Also read: TruTV President Explains Network’s Comedic Rebrand, Reveals Scripted Shows in the Works

Over the past couple years, we’ve been seeing an increased amount of controversies surrounding reality shows. Why do you think that’s happening?
Reality TV really reflected what was going on in the country in 2010, which is when the world had been turned upside down. In the past couple of years, what you saw was that whenever something became successful everyone began imitating it. There’s no shortage of exotic subcultures from gypsies to drag queens to little people. There’s also a lot of poorer groups represented, sort of the antitheses of the ‘Housewives,’ and what happened in the race to the ratings is that reality TV calcified around celebrating these people who are fringe and have very fringe views very often.

Where is the mainstream cultural sentiment compared to where reality TV is?
Reality is stuck behind and often celebrates very fringe and often libertarian views. States are now legalizing gay marriage. There’s legalization of marijuana and a lot of issues that are socially progressive that are taking hold in this country. So what people are saying now is that we don’t want those people to represent us anymore on television.

Can you give me an example of a show that’s more aligned with mainstream culture?
One show that we champion a lot is ‘Married at First Sight’ on FYI. It’s kind of an anti-dating show. The premise of a dating show is that someone should pick out their match. On this show, it uses science and psychologists and experts who meet the people and figure out who they think their ideal partner is. And then the first time they meet is at the altar. It’s really a fun show. They then have 30 days to figure out if they want to stay married or get divorced. It sounds like a very radical concept, but actually it’s a much more millennial point of view that marriage is not necessarily the be all, end all. It’s a different perspective on dating. And if you look at 99 percent of the dating shows it’s all about one of two things, meeting or marrying.

Also read: Bunim-Murray President Talks New York Expansion, Importance of Interactivity in Reality TV

So, what’s emerging is people who are trying to solve real problems as opposed to finding metaphors for chaos, which is what we’ve been living in since the economic collapse and why there’s so many subculture shows like ‘Jersey Shore,’ ‘Pawn Stars,’ ‘Hoarders,’ which were interesting for a time. So, the culture is in building mode and reality TV is still in collapse mode.

In this new culture, are there still opportunities for Mama June and her family in entertainment?
We say no. She may have another life doing something else, but it won’t be as lucrative. Right now, your credibility and morality are tied hand-in-hand. Her denial doesn’t seem to be resonating with people who are in the mainstream culture. We don’t want to enable people who engage in bad behavior right now. We want to actually find places and people and examples where people are being constructive and practical.