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August 27, 2009 7:41 AM   Subscribe

How real is the show Wife Swap?

Yes, I am wasting a question on "reality" TV, but I've just got to know!

Does anyone here know anyone who was on Wife Swap, or maybe have a link to a tell-all by someone that was on it?

Obviously, the show is edited to skew the incidents however the producers want them to look, but I like to go on the ABC site and read the wives' manuals. Are the manuals at all real? It just doesn't seem to me that people would write about themselves and their own families in a way that would cast them in such a horrible light.

Also, when the wives "take control," they often do things such as having the other family move into a better house, entering the kids in beauty pageants or sports competitions, install electricity (I know I'm not the only one that saw that episode, haha), and more, many of which seem time-consuming and expensive. Do the wives REALLY come up with this stuff on their own? Do the producers come up with it entirely? Is it some mix of the two?

And what about the rules themselves? Do the wives really get to make them up?

I guess I just want to know exactly how much this show is tinkered with by the producers, outside of the regular editing tricks of making people look like heroes and villains. This is a pretty dumb question, but thanks for any answers you can give!

(Oh yeah, and I can speculate as much as the next person.. I would really like solid answers straight from the horse's mouth, if at all possible.)
posted by srrh to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I know this much: I do small movie parts and was asked by my casting director to audition for a special single parent WS episode. I figured why not so I went.

The casting directors were very clear that they were looking for an over the top "earth mother" type and I was not fanatic/interesting enough to make the cut. I was asked if I was willing to act more militant and earthy so as to make good tv.

So they do sometimes use casting directors and professional actors.
posted by dzaz at 7:51 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

On the flip side of that, the San Francisco Chronicle covered the fallout of a local man who came off as a huge clod on the show. From the coverage it definitely seems like he is a real person.
posted by handful of rain at 7:59 AM on August 27, 2009

I did hear one of the writer/editors discuss either this show or a similar one (Trading Spouses perhaps). He gave an example of being told by the producers to make one family look "bad" and the other look "good," even though in the raw footage just the opposite was true. So they had to find bits of dialog to to edit into conversations out of context to make it look the way the producers wanted it. So, even though the camera may not lie, the editing does.
posted by The Deej at 8:34 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Every behind the scenes report Ive read about reality tv involves the shows more or less controlled by the producers. Considering the money involved, theres no reason to remain faithful to some realistic vision. Its all fake or at least borderline fake.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:40 AM on August 27, 2009

I know someone who used to work on that show. She said it was pretty scripted. The people are definitely 'managed.' Also, apparently A LOT of care goes into choosing the families -- to the point where a family will sometimes get yanked at the very last moment because something weird happens that may make filming difficult/awkward.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:48 AM on August 27, 2009

Horse's mouth by proxy: Never seen the show, but a friend goes to casting calls for reality shows all the time when they are looking for a certain type. You can make your own assumptions there.
posted by Zambrano at 9:00 AM on August 27, 2009

I talked to a woman in a bar once who was in a reality T.V. show (elimidate). She wrote an article for the Portland Mercury about the experience, and because of this the episode was never shown. They tried to sue her for breach of contract, but they had met to sign the contract at a bar, and they had shown up late. So she drank while waiting and was legally intoxicated when signing the papers (with witnesses that could assert that she had been drinking). This meant she was not legally bound by the contract. She got the job through a casting call.

So the big lessons to learn from this:
They use actors.
You won't hear the full behind the scenes story because telling the story violates the actor's contract.
Sign legal documents while drunk and you can weasel out of them easily.
posted by idiopath at 9:10 AM on August 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Regardless of how scripted or not a reality show is, you must always remember one thing: These people are well aware that they are on TV.
posted by Palerale at 9:40 AM on August 27, 2009

But that's not to say it isn't great TV.
posted by dzaz at 10:18 AM on August 27, 2009

yeah, second hand accounts from FOFs all say the same thing. "reality" tv is anything but. Very scripted, very basic stuff. Kinda like "professional" wrestling, just fewer metal chairs.

Which is fine as long as you are aware of what you are watching, and know it.
posted by edgeways at 10:29 AM on August 27, 2009

Both of the articles I found written by people on Elimidate were pretty hilarious- here's the one idiopath mentioned and another one of a Seattle man in the same position. He got tired of the whole thing and actually demanded money to be kept from walking out.
posted by arnicae at 10:30 AM on August 27, 2009

I'm another person who knew a person who was a Production Assistant for some of the shoots in NJ. It's heavily produced/scripted/directed/edited.
posted by spec80 at 2:41 PM on August 27, 2009

A former boss of mine was approached for Wife Swap. Both she and her husband completely exaggerated their behaviors and traits, sometimes making things up entirely, to try to be on the show. The producers encouraged this.

Reality TV must be taken with a grain of salt.
posted by schroedinger at 5:08 PM on August 28, 2009

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