More Proof Reality Shows Are Fake

Dave HesterUnlike Atrios, who is correct when he says he is a lazy blogger, I work very hard in my 24/7 ranting. But there are some things that I will not do. One of them is to find out any more than necessary about the various reality shows on the TV machine. I am long on record about my hatred of these shows. The biggest problem is that there is very little reality in the “reality” shows. As I wrote back in January, “Another complaint is that all reality shows depend upon producers working behind the scenes to enhance the reality.”

I based this observation on the little reality TV I’ve watched and a decent knowledge of how TV shows are actually produced. But now, we have evidence. There is a show called Storage Wars. Apparently, it is about people who bid on the contents of storage containers left by people who abandoned them. One of the former stars of this show, Dave Hester, is claiming that the show is not so real. He says that producers spiked random containers with valuable objects to heighten the drama of the show.

What is surprising about this is that anyone is surprised about this. There is a reason that people watch TV: real life is boring. Buying stuff low and selling high isn’t that interesting in itself. Shows need to have some gimmick. Many make a contest out of something that everyone would normally find boring. For example, who really likes ballroom dancing enough to watch it out of context? Even with the competition, Dancing with the Stars is slipping in the ratings. Many reality shows depend upon watching horrible people to make the audience feel better about themselves. (I guess.) So you get shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Cops. But mostly, people watch reality TV to see the money: how much is it worth? How much will they make? Thus Deadliest Catch and Pawn Stars and Storage Wars.

I’ve never seen Storage Wars, but I know a bit about Pawn Stars. One thing I hate about the show is how they imply great knowledge in the greedy bottom-feeding family. But I have often wondered how much of the show is a setup. There was a recent one where the main guy bought something expensive without checking on it and it turned out it was fake. He lost a whole bunch of money, blah, blah, blah. But I felt certain a producer was there who said, “Go ahead and risk it; if it turns out to be fake, we’ll reimburse you.” Drama!

By now, I thought that reality TV would be winding down. Its various cliches are too easy to figure out and there is an unrelenting sameness to them. But the combination of viewer apathy and low production costs keep the system going strong. Hester’s claims against Storage Wars may be very bad for that show. But I doubt it will affect the industry as a whole, even though it ought to.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

10 thoughts on “More Proof Reality Shows Are Fake

  1. You’re not alone in your disdain of reality TV shows, but I must say that at least shows like [i]Storage Wars[/i] and [i]Pawn Stars[/i] have a point to them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t like them at all and I never watch them, but at least they are a small (very small) step up from shows like MTV’s [i]The Real World[/i] and [i]Jersey Shore[/i] which have absolutely no point to them whatsoever. No competition, no goal, no reality. They’re just groups of 20-somethings living in houses and arguing with and fucking each other. Mindless drama.

    And something about reality TV I’ve always thought about: can you imagine being a cameraman on one of these shows? How would you like your job to be to follow Snooki (sp.?) around with a video camera all day?

  2. FINALLY!!! FINALLY!!! FINALLY…..I find another being on this planet who essentially feels the same way about "Reality Television" as I do! As if the programming on the one-eyed-idiot box isn’t bad enough, they add "reallity shows" to the cesspool.

    Viewer discretion advised. Well, if viewers had discretion, most of the shows on TV wouldn’t make it past the pilot episode.

    "Honey Boo Boo" anyone? Geeeezzzz……..

  3. @ThrashMikki – That second paragraph was very funny–it made me laugh.

    I don’t get to see much TV as TV. But I kind of like some reality shows. [i]Jeopardy![/i] is pretty good, but mostly because it is an opportunity to show off. And I found [i]Deadliest Catch[/i] pretty interesting. I also really like [i]Antiques Roadshow[/i] whenever I get a chance to see it.

    But in general, they are very bad. And one thing I don’t think I’ve talked about enough is how they all tend to show humans at their worst. [i]Pawn Stars[/i] I would think would just be like [i]Antiques Roadshow[/i], but it is completely different for two reasons. First, there is the negotiating and all of the power politics that I hate. Second, I think a lot of people selling stuff are gambling addicts or otherwise have problems. Someone came in there and sold them Les Paul’s guitar for about 1/10 of what it could have got at auction. It is very sad.

    Mostly, I think back on [i]The Mary Tyler Moore Show[/i] and I wonder what went wrong. They don’t even try to do that much anymore and when they do the results are pathetic. Whenever I see a modern sitcom, I wonder why Hollywood isn’t beating down my door, because they are apparently lacking [i]any[/i] comedy writers.

    Anyway, it is sad. If I had the money, I’d start a repertory theater. And that would fix every thing! (For me.)

  4. @Mack – Your comment came up last, so I just saw it. I think I’ve already spoken to this. I don’t think all these shows are the same. However, I have never seen these other kinds of shows. I only know Honey Boo Boo because Andrea made me watch a 5 minute video of her so that I could understand an SNL skit.

    I think I wouldn’t mind these shows if they hadn’t taken over so much of broadcasting. It really pushes me toward a Randian art critique: TV should be used to ennoble us. Instead it is used to sully us and I really don’t like that. I’m all for entertainment that paints a dark world. But this is something completely different. I will have to think more about it.

    As for the cameraman: I know from my own experience with camera operators that they get lost behind the camera. So they probably aren’t even contextualizing what they are filming. They are just focused on the technique and getting what they need to get. Harder would be starting and ending. Then you might have to talk to them. That sounds frightening to me.

  5. Reality shows are generally real. Unfortunately they portray the "worst of the worst case" scenarios. For example, "Cops" will not take the time to show routine traffic stops. It wouldn’t be interesting to drama lovers if an officer pulled over a motorist for a taillight violation, and that really was all it was. Gotta’ have that drama! Doomsday Peppers is another example of of "extreme reality" exploited by the media. Who would actually believe that these misguided individuals portrayed would possibly be able to survive the cataclysmic events they ascribe to be protecting themselves against? Again…"No drama, no TV show!" I could go on-and-on, including the many talk shows. One more time, get the "worst of the worst" on the network, It’ll sell!

  6. @Steve9936 – That’s what I’m talking about. I predicted (wrongly) years ago that reality shows would go away. My thinking was that reality shows are all about editing. You can take something totally boring and turn it into drama. I figured that people would pick up on these editing tricks. Sadly, whenever I watch one of these shows with regular viewers, they are unaware of them; the tricks are as successful as ever.

    No one is really claiming that reality shows aren’t real. But it is easy enough for a producer to stoke a fight between two people on a show. To see a good example of this kind of thing, watch the 1979 (!) film [i]Real Life[/i]. Or think of Pro Wrestling which is simultaneously real and scripted. I would say that [i]Pawn Stars[/i] is no more real than it is.

  7. Frank, thank you for responding to my post. It’s nice to know I am not the only one who thinks this way. It isn’t just editing, it’s screening that plays a part here. Especially in talk shows like Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkos, Jeremy Kyle and so on. Also, the "TV Court" programs seem a little odd to me. Who in their right mind would air their personal problems on a nationally televised forum? I wish you had been right about your prediction that "reality shows would go away". I did not see the film "Real Life" so I cannot comment on it, but I think I get the point.As far as Pro Wrestling goes…It is nothing more than a bunch of athletic ballet artist performing to a violently scripted play.

  8. One more thing Frank. Watch some of the "reality" shows you haven’t watched. Seriously amusing, and worth the effort to reveal the truth. They are better than any SitCom.


  9. Pawn Stars. I used to like it some, but it is pretty annoying and now is worse than it was. The show now has one or two new characters added (apparently no shortage of inbred family members) and they spend more time on supposed family dynamics than on the items we watch the show for. Also changed, seems to be the percentage of value-price offered to sellers. As speculated in the article, it looks like the production company is chipping in to pad the payouts.
    Ya know, when I don’t like an actor or politician, I often say, “they would still probably make a good neighbor” which I have often said of Ronald Regan and both former President Bush. For this lot, I could not make such a statement, in earnest. Yikes.

    • They are the very definition of bottom feeders. I can’t take the show because it is only too clear that most of the people selling stuff are troubled. I figure there are a lot of gambling addicts. It’s sad and then the money goes to these horrible people. And I get sick of hearing them talk about how they have to make money. Pawn shops generally loan 10%-20% of what they plan to sell the item for; they will pay outright as much as 30%. Regardless, the margins are huge. And I hate how they disingenuously argue against auction. Oh yeah, paying 10% to the auction company would be so much worse than paying these guys 70%!

      I think these shows get into the “up close and personal” stuff because after a while, little is happening. There just isn’t that much that comes into the shop that is interesting. On the plus side, this family is entirely typical of the rich: crude and only interested in money.

      The main thing in this and other articles about reality shows is that they are just a way of producing shows cheaply and not having to pay much for writing. Even the WWF spends more on writing. Of course, the WWF gets a lot more drama. I really thought that reality shows would have died out by now. But apparently when everyone is producing crap, it doesn’t matter.

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