The Reality of Reality TV: Some Of These May Shock You
Some “Interesting” Casting Practices
I read once that, “[i]f film is a director’s medium, and television drama is a writer’s medium, reality TV is without question a casting director’s medium.” Because of the nature of reality television, having a great cast of interesting personalities is what could make or break the entire show. Most reality shows have their producers pour over a pool of applicants in hopes of ending up with the perfect assortment of personalities with different backgrounds and experiences.  Other times, actual casting companies are hired to help with the important process.
Every once in a while, we get an interesting “casting tactic,” such as the one used recently by Metal Flowers Media, in casting for CMT’s new show, My Dysfunctional Family— an intervention-type show, looking to fix families; starring Dave Vitalli, the special ops expert Maury used to feature on his “troubled teens” episodes. 
The casting company issued out flyers, under the guise of a different show, entitled, My Teen Life, which does not exist. They looked to target teens that believed they were rock stars. The flyers read,
“(expletive) parents. They’re old and they don’t know (expletive). It’s 4:20 and time for you and your friend Molly to tell your story.”
The casting company apparently intended to find families in need of “fixing,” by tricking their troubled teens into contacting them for what they though was a completely different show. CMT denies approving the language in the flyers, but Metal Flowers Media claims that they only released approved material, refusing to comment on who approved the flyers exactly.
Treatment Of Reality Show Contestants
Agreements with talent can run into a wide array of legal issues, including but not limited to: enforceability, unconscionability, and torts such as defamation, false light, and other privacy and publicity rights. But recently, the treatment of reality show contestants has been in the spotlight, dealing with issues of emotional distress and unfair talent agreements.
Just this past Tuesday, Australian Story Tonight featured a special on Jules Allen, former contestant on the Australian version of MasterChef, who claims that she left the show a “basket case.” She claims, amongst other things, that she was deprived of sleep and placed in “unnatural situations” (how ironic for a reality show) to heighten the drama and emotions for the audience. After 4-and-a-half months of jumping through hoops and living with the same people, she was eliminated from the show, and says she was “kaput.” That “there’s no transition at all. You’re spat out into a foreign world because you’re not the person you were when you left . . . completely alone in that. I was a basket case really. I had nightmares for weeks … it is really difficult for everyone.”
Despite her claim, when asked if she would go through the experience again, she said the answer would be “yes.” Regardless, are these reality shows taking it too far? Are they falling below their standard of care in some of these cases? When I think back to the premise of “Survivor”—surviving— I think reality television has always been pushing the boundaries. Should the contestants know what they’re getting themselves into? Yes, to a point. But somewhere along the line, some of the emotional distress purposefully inflicted upon the contestants for the purpose of producing more drama could potentially rise to the a level of harm cognizable by the law. Networks and production companies don’t have to make The Hunger Games to cross that line. But it’s interesting to think about where that line could be drawn.
Recently, The Voice came under some scrutiny when the agreement between the contestants and the producers were leaked:
“‘The second clause of this document says to contestants, ‘F–k you,’ said a legal expert who was shown the contract by The News. And if you missed it, the clauses that follow say, ‘F–k you.’”
While, this so-called “legal expert” is not as classy as all of us here at The Dotted Line in how he goes about saying it, he has a point. The 32-page document stated that NBC is free to change the rules of the game at any time, eliminate contestants whenever they feel like it (even if they were winning), and ignore the voting system in the event of any issues.
Further, the agreement allows the show to force a contestant to undergo medical or psychological testing, which is not that bad of a thing – considering we don’t want people with mental issues endangering anyone – but the agreement goes further to allow under certain circumstances, that the results of those tests be broadcasted on television. Anything for the sake of a good show.
The contract also covers all the standard language that absolves the producers and the network from any liability regarding defamation, embarrassment, humiliation, etc. I mean, I get it, the contract is written to help the network and producers watch their back—but for people who would do anything for their chance at singing success, I feel that at some point these contracts are just far too one-sided. Arguably, the show is giving these contestants the shot of a lifetime, and therefore, the contestants assume the risk in exchange for that shot.
Giving You The Business
Now, this is an interesting case that currently hasn’t been settled. The plaintiff in this case was featured on the reality show Giving You The Business, where the purpose of the show is that a major food chain selects four outstanding employees as contestants that they secretly put through a contest involving a series of tests and outrageous challenges. The contestants have no idea they’re, in fact, contestants.
At the end of the competition, the contestants are then made aware that they’re actually on a reality television show competition. The winner of the competition is supposed to win his or her own franchise! Or at least that’s what Kris Herrera was initially told.
Once Herrera found out he was actually on a hidden camera show, they told him that he would be eligible to win an entire franchise if he signed a release allowing them to broadcast the footage of him going through the secret competition. However, once he signed, Herrera claims that they started talking about him having part of a franchise. Before the show actually aired they presented him with a document, giving him a single share of common stock in the company, and told him they couldn’t air the footage of him until he signed the document—which he refused to do. Nonetheless, they aired the footage and Herrera ended up filing multiple claims against the network. Admittedly, we only have the complaint, so we have yet to see how truthful Herrera’s claims are, but if this does end up being the full story, Giving You The Business might be renamed Giving You The Shaft.
Thats A Wrap
Reality television is not going away. It has proved to be more than a fading fad and has demonstrated that it can be quite lucrative. At the end of the day, America has spoken, and we want reality shows. Without judging whether they’re good or bad, I do think that we should be mindful of how one-sided these agreements may be. Although we can argue that a person who dreams about being a famous singer can just turn down the opportunity to be on The Voice if he or she doesn’t like the contract terms, in reality, we should be understanding of how difficult or unrealistic that suggestion may be. Just my thoughts.
David Carr, Casting Reality TV, No Longer a Hunch, Becomes a Science, N.Y. Times, March 28, 2004 (quoting Robert J. Thompson).
 Joel Michael Ugolini, So You Want to Create the Next Survivor: What Legal Issues Networks Should Consider Before Producing A Reality Television Program, 4 Va. Sports & Ent. L.J. 68, 70 (2004)
 Herrera v. Food Network
Image by Josubu under GNU Free Documentation License,