Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reality of Reality TV


Submitted for post by Marie

There is much speculation and assumption about what it's really like to have your family filmed for a reality show. The popularity of JK8 has spawned, as we well know, hate sites, fan sites and everything in between sites.

Many of these sites claim, based on viewing the show once a week (and in some cases, reviewing the taped show over and over and over. and over) that this is a terrible thing to do to children; some go so far as to call it child abuse.

To that, I say: "Seriously? Child Abuse? Come on."

However, is it all puppies and rainbows, happiness and joy? Are there real downsides to being a reality TV family?

I have ridden the pendulum on JK8: I began "hating" them without ever actually seeing an episode, transitioned to curious viewer who thought Kate was terrible, moved on to huge fan who adored the kids and have now comfortably settled at content to watch the cute kids and family dynamics and enjoying it.

Does this mean I think everything on the show is wonderful? Of course not. Lest I be called a "sheeple", being a fan doesn't entail agreeing with everything little thing, fridge cleaning obsessions and all.

After all, I adore my husband but, let me tell you, there are something’s he does that almost make me lose my religion. Does it mean I love him any less? Of course not.

I can enjoy watching JK8 and, at the same time, find things I don't agree with on it. Pretty neat, huh? Viewing a show in a balanced way, swinging neither to blissful stalker type love or ulcer forming hatred.

With that said, due to some recent experiences with a real life reality TV show family, I wanted to share what I see, both the good, the bad and the ugly.

I am still processing this and haven't come to any firm conclusions and pose the following information to spark discussion.

Through a social connection, I know a family who has been on a series in the reality TV format. Through my interaction with the family and the kids, here's what I've noticed about being a reality TV family.

Some things are scripted. There was an episode I was filmed for (don't know if my section will air or not) and we had to do about four "re-takes." It was supposed to be something spontaneous and natural; however, the cameraman/producer kept having us re-do this "surprise" moment until they got it right. Is this good or bad? Did this ruin the moment for the kids by taking away the actual surprise? Will the children's lives now be scripted and lived for the cameras? Hard to tell.

Another scripted thing is trips. There were quite a few "trips" planned by the producer for the family to make an episode. On a few of those, the children, did indeed, miss school. Could there be a positive in this? Perhaps the children learned new things that day; after all, education doesn't just happen in the classroom. Perhaps the children would not have been able to take this trip without the network's dime funding it and, in that way, this scripted moment was a chance for them to experience something new. Again, hard to tell.

Another way I've noticed being a reality TV family has an impact: the children do feel socially awkward. On the other hand, suddenly being "popular" by being TV "stars" has also given the children more confidence (socially) than they had before. A healthy trade off? We shall see.

And finally, being a reality TV show family can force one to alter their life for the cameras. For example, one of the children had a chance to participate in a social function, which would have involved a slight appearance change, which would have been temporary. The child, in this instance, was “not allowed” to participate by altering their appearance as the producers wanted “consistency” for the show.


Did this child lose out on an important childhood ritual or rite? Did they have to take flack from their peers? Did they feel resentful? The verdict isn't in it.

What is a positive is the chance to further the children's education. Without this show, I know for a fact, that the children would NOT be able to go to college without substantial loans or scholarships. Most of the money
made from this show is going towards college funds for the children.

And, so far, the family hasn't changed. They are still the down to earth people they've always been. Will it stay that way? Stay tuned.

24 comments:

SamanthaNC said...

Can curiosity really kill the cat? I hope not bc you really have me intrigued......

With anything there are pros and cons though as the show has gained popularity (especially in the past year), I think it has become more difficult for them to lead a "normal" life. I dont remember whether it was on the show or in an interview but Jon said something about how hard it is to go out in public and how sometimes it isnt worth it. That's very sad and I would imagine its weird for Mady and Cara especially.

I know the show won't go on forever and that eventually their stars will fade, maybe the sooner the better- I say that as someone who really loves the show. I know the show has afforded them opportunities they wouldnt have had otherwise and financially it will benefit the children in the long run.

It seems that Mady and Cara haven't wanted to be on lately bc I haven't seen them since we first saw the new house (did i miss them?) and I think its great that they have that choice. Anyway, I'm rambling.....

Eileen said...

This was a great article, and especially so as it was written by someone close to a similar situation and not just a viewer. All good questions raised too, and I agree that there are no clear answers. I've never been a big fan of Jon and Kate, nor do I hate them. I guess I never felt compelled to take a side or get in the middle of the debate. I can see how a child advocate might have some concerns, I just don't share those concerns at this point. I might change my mind and feel that the kids are exploited if I start seeing Gosselin Kids lunch boxes, dolls and toys on the shelves of K Mart, but for now I don't have a swell of disapproval. I have found out what a hot topic this subject of Jon and Kate is while I was looking up information on Nadya Suleman. There's a war raging right under my own roof and I never knew it until these past few weeks. I just assumed that my kids (and their friends and co-workers, and my nieces and nephews, and other family members) that watched the show so faithfully were fans. Well, that's not the case at all. Some watch the show (and many other reality shows) just to dissect them and criticize them. They get together at each other's homes to talk about the shows, they discuss it at work, and they are on the computer commenting about it. It's a big past time for them. Some family members actually are fans, and they advocate for the family as much as the 'haters' rail against them. I will not bring up the subject with them again because I know the fights will ensue!
I wish it was a subject I could discuss with them altogether because it's interesting to hear the differing opinions, but the emotions really boil over.
I'm looking forward to reading the comments here, at least we can't talk over each other in this forum. At home here, there's no such thing as accepting the opposing viewpoint.

Saint said...

Some things are scripted... we had to do about four "re-takes." It was supposed to be something spontaneous and natural; however, the cameraman/producer kept having us re-do this "surprise" moment until they got it right. Is this good or bad?

Bad. If it were a sitcom, I'd have no trouble with it. It's lousy that they have to actually live 'scripted' lives. Do they have to do a lot of these "retakes?" This should be considered work, IMO, and child labor laws are needed to protect children in these circumstances. That's not a judgment of this particular family. I mean it for all children working in reality TV.

Another scripted thing is trips. There were quite a few "trips" planned by the producer for the family to make an episode. On a few of those, the children, did indeed, miss school. Could there be a positive in this?

There is a lot of potential for positive here. I have no problem with these kinds of experiences.

I know a young lady whose goal is to represent the US in the next Olympics. Her training is a full-time job for her and has been since her high school days. There is a trade-off when kids are involved in something unique like TV and movies and world-class sports. It's not for me or my kids, but I am loath to criticize parents who make different choices.

Saint said...

By the way, thanks for a very interesting perspective, Marie!

nomoredrama said...

I can enjoy watching JK8 and, at the same time, find things I don't agree with on it. Pretty neat, huh? Viewing a show in a balanced way, swinging neither to blissful stalker type love or ulcer forming hatred.

Thanks for saying what I haven't found the words for. This is exactly where I am. I see many negatives but I see positives as well. I can't jump on the boat with the people who say that Jon and Kate are inherently evil, greedy or abusive. I also can't agree that they are perfect, wonderful, and above reproach.

I think they are flawed and so is the show (and so are we).

Multiple takes, having to say "no" to events that a child wants to participate in...I can't say with a straight face that I think these are good things. It's my opinion that this could be very stressful for a child and has the potential to be an emotional scar. The problem is, IMO, we are really in uncharted territory. There aren't many children in reality tv that are able to speak for themselves. So I guess I am saying that the though the potential for damage is there (and shouldn't be ignored), there is also the possibility that the good outweighs the bad.

I hope that Mady and Cara are getting to spend time away from filming and are given that choice. I hope their parents are putting money away and making wise financial choices (and no, I don't necessarily think the new home was an unwise choice). I guess when it comes down to it--I hope these kids are ok and I'm rooting for them.

That makes me dumber than dirt to some people...OH WELL!

Fanny said...

Some things are scripted... we had to do about four "re-takes." It was supposed to be something spontaneous and natural; however, the cameraman/producer kept having us re-do this "surprise" moment until they got it right. Is this good or bad?


VERY bad. I understand why it's done, but I don't think the kids should be forced to do it, or that it should be done in a way that effects them(like ruining a surprise). Besides, I would much rather see a natural reaction than a scripted one. I thought that was the point of "realty" tv?

This is really the only thing that bothers me about reality tv involving children. We know there is some scripting for the kids on J&K("On this episode....."), but I think reliving an actual situation is just too much.

MoreCowbell said...

I think Mady and Cara DO get plenty of time away from the cameras, being that they're in school full time. It will be interesting to see what happens when the tups start full days of school, as well. The cameras do not go into the school (a good thing), so maybe we'll just get weekend filming. Also, we've never seen Cara playing soccer, so sports and music lessons are another time that the twins are not filmed. My guess is that they have a choice and that they get plenty of time away from the prying eyes of the camera.

My guess is that for now, we won't see that many soccer games or parties where school friends are invited. Each little face that appears on a show has to have permission from that child's parents. I imagine filming a soccer game and getting signed permission from every single parent there, is more trouble than its worth.

Now, I can recall the Roloff kids being filmed at school and at soccer, so actually, the Roloffs seem to have cameras following them more often than the Gosselins do.

Lizabeth said...

Thank you so much for the article, Marie. I have to say that the fact that these shows have no real precedent worries me at times. I think Jon and Kate are moving in the right direction though- they have said in interviews that if the kids do not want to be filmed then they are not filmed. Mady and Cara have been seen far less lately probably due in part to that fact.

As far as retakes go, that's kinda something I figured happened. Then again, at Christmas I had to 'reopen' my laptop because my parents forgot to get a picture of me when it was unveiled. I can see the necessity of this kind of filming but it seems like that would only dilute the joy in these experiences.

I know for a fact that having to say No to things you want to be involved in for reasons outside your control is not something that will scar you for life. I've mentioned before that I am a pastor's kid (please don't judge me on that till you know me, though!). We were not allowed to do quite a few things because they were seen as offensive to people in our church. Do I look back and wish I had gone to prom? I guess maybe kinda. Did missing out on that event make me a bad person? The jury may still be out on that :). In any case, parents need to be aware of how their decisions affect their children. I do not think that in general these kids will be worse off for getting the chance to travel the world and be a part of a TV show. At the same time each child will respond to their upbringing differently- one of my brothers still hates that we missed out on things in childhood, but the rest of us see the great activities we got to enjoy (some of which *gasp* took us out of school!!) and are grateful for the experience.

merryway said...

Marie, that was interesting. My curiosity is piqued as well. What a tease. :)
I'm so not surprised, I know my tv lies to me all the time. I'm so glad it's not like that for the J&K's kids or at least I think they try to minimize. I think it's interesting though that we have seen clips of J&K doing some retakes and the kids get to see that. I wonder if any of the kids will chose this line of work , such as a camera guy and whatever else they get to see? I might be tempted to bet that some of them could work the camera themselves by now. I think that's kind of cool. Does anyone happen to know what kind of weight J&K will pull as producers or is that a financial title? I only know Mel Brooks' interpretation.

I used to think the way the children was being filmed was horrible because they were being so exposed without sayso in the matter. Plus, I was very cynical about the entire situation and what kind of parents J&K might be. It's been nice to realize that I was wrong. I think there's a definite give and take, but I think this has been a fantastic occurrence for their family. With the parents the children do have, I think the benefits far outweigh the downside. Now, I just enjoy not liking Kate because she irritates me so. I love watching their marriage and of course, the kids themselves. I'm happy for every good thing that comes their way as this kind of stuff just doesn't happen every day.

I loved Survivor when it real people instead of those mactors. It all became so manufactured. I gave it up last season or the season before that(?) I loved the spoof they did on 30 rock MILF Island.

merryway said...

Eileen, I have been kind of searching for people who watch the show just to get their take. Maybe I shouldn't. :)

Eileen said...

Oh, Merryway, searching for people just to get their take was how I started out. Big mistake. Don't open that can of worms!
I always had a feeling the show was somewhat scripted. My husband and I used to get a kick out of watching The Osbourne's but then I saw a behind the scenes special on it, and saw all the retakes, and how Ozzie was rehearsing, and it kind of took all the fun out of it for me when I realized there wasn't much spontaneity.
I did watch Jon & Kate and Little People at first, even though I knew it was scripted I thought they were wonderful shows portraying the challenges each unique family faced. But then they both seemed to become more celebrity type families, and the initial attraction for me was lost. Especially with Jon and Kate, I always felt it was more challenging to be in their position if you didn't have means (mean$), I don't begrudge them anything, God's Blessed them and I think that's wonderful, it just wasn't the same show for me anymore. I do tune in once in awhile to see the kids (they are so cute) but I don't follow it religiously at all.

Kikibee said...

I don't think being on the show is inherently good or bad, it depends on how the kids react to it. I wouldn't want to have a reality show myself, but in the world we live in now it's not such an unusual thing. I hope the kids end up feeling it was a mostly positive experience.

I keep reading remarks about how, when the kids are older, people will make fun of seeing them on the potty, having tantrums, etc.
Well, the kids aren't doing anything shameful or inappropriate.
Everyone was potty trained, most
kids have behaved badly at some point. If someone wants to make an issue of it 5,10 or 20 years from now, they can say "So what,I was a little kid, what's the problem?" Somehow, I think Kate can instill in them the idea that it's no one else's business what they do, or did.

Kuromi said...

First, I want to say to Lizabeth: Don't feel bad about missing prom! I mean, it's a fun party from what I remember, and maybe it's meaningful if you go with your true love, but otherwise it isn't as magical as most people expect.(Even as a high-schooler I thought the hype was thanks to dressmakers and tuxedo-renters and limo companies who wanted reliable income in the spring.) I am sorry, though, that you didn't get to make that choice yourself.

Back OT: I seem to recall Kate saying--either during a FAQ episode or an interview--that they didn't do re-takes of spontaneous moments. "If you miss it, you miss it," she said. If that's true, then maybe filming doesn't affect the children the way it would otherwise. (I know they've shown retakes of J&K recording the opening dialogue, but that isn't the same thing.)

Marie, I think your concerns for your acquaintance's family are founded. A while ago I was watching a True Hollywood Story about the Osbournes. Kelly and Jack talked about the immense pressure they felt suddenly being famous, and let into clubs they had no business being in. It sounded like they had to deal both with shyness and the sense that they had to cultivate this A-list party image even if they didn't want to. Really shed light on the whole rehab/obnoxious public persona thing.

Luckily the G kids are too young for that, and hopefully the show will end long before they do reach that age. Though I think when they come of age, Mady will be able to drink her Dad under the table :)

Techymum said...

Thank you for bringing this topic up. I simply wish there were laws for kids in reality shows. Equal to those of child actors. Then all the questions that we have regarding these children would be answered - how many hours are they working? Are they individually being paid a fair price and is it being held in trust....you know. That's all I wish.

Saint said...

I seem to recall Kate saying--either during a FAQ episode or an interview--that they didn't do re-takes of spontaneous moments. "If you miss it, you miss it," she said.

I remember that, now that you bring it up. Another observation about the Gosselin kids: the tups are still pretty young. I just can't imagine the cute things they say having been repeated several times in a row. Little kids are spontaneous.

Anya said...

Techymum said...Thank you for bringing this topic up. I simply wish there were laws for kids in reality shows. Equal to those of child actors.

I think you will find a lot of folks on this blog that agree with you on that point. As NoMoreDrama points out, we are in uncharted territory. It does appear, however, that the popularity of reality TV + families isn't going away, so we are likely to see more of these type of shows in the future. It would be nice if some true advocates stepped forward with some proposals to deal with this. So far, I haven't seen anything credible, but that's not to say it can't and shouldn't happen.

Anya said...

Kikibee said...Somehow, I think Kate can instill in them the idea that it's no one else's business what they do, or did.

I agree. I think this is one area where Kate might excel. She is good at tuning other people out (and I say that with a certain degree of admiration).
* * * *
Eileen, your perspective is very interesting. I had just assumed the viewership was made up 99% of people who just enjoyed the show for what it is...and then the crazy rest of us , LOL. Perhaps there is more debate happening than I realized. Not a bad thing, but I can see why you would rather keep it out of real life!

Nina Bell said...

Marie,

Thanks for the article. I had always assumed there were some parts of these reality shows that are "staged". I am not a big fan of any reality TV show. I watch Jon and Kate Plus 8 and Super Nanny. I have seen where people say that Super Nanny is only a week out of the children's lives, but I have read where it is actually three weeks of shooting.

It appears that there are both negative and positive outcomes
for the children which I think that most people are aware of. Life is kind of like that.

I am all for regulation of Reality TV shows that involve children. I have mentioned that before.

I too believe that this show is probably coming to an end after this season maybe followed with some yearly specials. But there will always be several others to take it's place.

MonicaW42 said...

Nina,

You are right about Super Nanny. A family in the Phoenix area were on the show. They were on a local news station and said filming was almost a month, that it was very had and they would not do it again. A Wife Swap couple from here said they money they made was not worth what they went through. They said so much was staged to set them off to cry. So even though a show appears to be a few days or a week, it is not necessarily so.

I wonder if Kate is branching out with her books and talk circuits because they know they will stop the show in the near future?

Nina Bell said...

MonicaW42

I think that is exactly what Kate is doing. Good business sense.

I heard that the families receive around $10,000 for the episode for Super Nanny and Wife Swap. Do you know anything more about that?

Eileen said...

Maybe some good will come out of the negatives in that there will be regulations put in place, then at least people can calm down and feel that the children are being protected. But I don't hear that as a big negative from my circle (I hear that child advocacy is the forum for a lot of the websites), but speaking from my own experience with people that watch the show, they watch it for the drama of the fighting, bickering, belittling, whatever they want to call what goes on between Jon and Kate. The episodes without that they think are boring. They watch it in the same way as they watch a show called Bad Girls (I think that's the name of it), they watch it to see the drama between the characters. They pick sides among the girls in the house and they tear apart the ones they hate, it's the same with Jon and Kate. They love to hate some of the girls (and in some cases all of the girls) on Bad Girls, and they love to hate Kate (and in some cases Jon or both). I don't think they look at these people as real people anymore, they view them as outrageous characters on a show. Almost as if one were discussing a soap opera. It's amazing to me the wealth of emotions that spring up when discussing the shows. I think the fans do view Jon and Kate more as a family, definitely as real people. I can't speak about any of the negative sites, I'm not sure what motivates them. It could be the same as what I'm hearing from my family and friends or it could be a true concern for the welfare of the children.
A funny note, my family (mostly my kids, my sister, and my sister-in-law) laugh at me and tell me I'm a fan of a Gosselin fan site but I'm not even a fan of the show! They think I'm nuts. I tried to explain to them that I felt this site was more than that but they just laugh and brush my protests off. Oh well.

Theresa said...

Super Nanny and Wife Swap seems to me to be so extreme. The premise itself of both shows suggests there's something seriously wrong with "the family" featured...they're looking for something to be wrong.

I wonder what show that family that Marie knew was doing. Elieen, I can't believe the Osbournes were scripted. I used to watch it too. Now, the magic has been taken out. :) Poor Ozzy.

Kuromi said...
I seem to recall Kate saying--either during a FAQ episode or an interview--that they didn't do re-takes of spontaneous moments. "If you miss it, you miss it," she said. If that's true, then maybe filming doesn't affect the children the way it would otherwise. (I know they've shown retakes of J&K recording the opening dialogue, but that isn't the same thing.)


From the start of watching J&K plus 8, I knew there has got to be a lot of editing. Anyone can see that. (that's why I get irked when people assume stuff,criticize or jump conculsions...we don't see everything, just 22 minutes).

Outside of the "On this episode" and "coming up next" thing, I really don't think there's anything else that they would need to cut and recut. The difference with this show and the SuperNanny and Wife Swap, is as J&K said, the cameras are on them an average of 3 or 4 days showing them living their life. With 8 kids, there's bound to be enough material to use.

Okay, so I realize now, that I forgot a good point I wanted to make. It's been a tough week...:)

Saint said...

Eileen said...A funny note, my family (mostly my kids, my sister, and my sister-in-law) laugh at me and tell me I'm a fan of a Gosselin fan site but I'm not even a fan of the show! They think I'm nuts. I tried to explain to them that I felt this site was more than that but they just laugh and brush my protests off. Oh well.

I swear I watch JK8 more now because of the "blogging" about it. My family says the same thing!

MonicaW42 said...

Nina,

The families did not tell the media what they made. Just that the money was not worth it. If it were only 10K I agree it would not be worth a months time. But that's just me. If I ever go broke, ask me again. :) And I agree it's very good business sense to branch out to other venues to make sure their family is financially sound.