What do we need to know before this reality show interviews us?
August 17, 2013 6:39 AM   Subscribe

The producers of a very famous reality show* are going to be in my place of employment today, "casting" employees to be part of a possible new reality show. What do we need to know to before we talk to them?

We only just found out about this in the last few hours, and I should have already left my house for my shift today. I've read past questions but haven't had a chance to review them today. What do we need to know regarding things like:

At what point we'll be asked to sign contracts?
Should we expect to get paid? How much?

And anything else you can think of.

Sorry this is so rushed, but as I said, I'm already late for work! Thanks!

*They currently produce a reality show set in Las Vegas, about a business that lends money against/outright buys objects that customers bring in to them.
posted by MexicanYenta to Work & Money (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Based on a) common knowledge and b) reveals on shows like "Undercover Boss," or whatever they called that thing, and c) the fact that some of these shows still get people to come on them, you should be aware of the fact that shows like this frequently tell you you're going to be on a show (seeing as how they have to explain what all these cameras are doing here), but lie or mislead about the focus or context of the show.

So I would never agree to be on a show like this unless a) I had the express approval of the people who owned the company and b) I was comfortable with the fact that I might wind up on a show called "F'ed Up Companies" or worse.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:44 AM on August 17, 2013 [18 favorites]

Most reality shows I've seen (which isn't that many) seem quite happy to gain viewer ratings by giving them subjects to laugh at and gossip about by putting the subjects under stress then portraying them in a bad light... Oh and the TV companies save a fortune compared to paying real talent for producing quality programming.
posted by dirm at 7:04 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Four things worth knowing:

More extreme personalities make 'better' tv because they help create a narrative.

There is no guarantee that anyone will be presented in the light they want, or fairly. You will have signed up to these terms beforehand, even if it is not phrased that way in the release.

The bulk of the work for the show happens in the editing suite. In other words, the narrative of the show and what gets shown will likely be mysterious to you until you see a cut.

If you still want to do it, know what you might want to get out of it and where it could lead. In commercial terms, the winners are the people who can capitalise on short term fame as quickly and smartly as possible. It's a short window for most, and when the next thing happens, earnings go from hero to zero. Lots of reality stars get caught out because they don't realise this and face heavy tax bills for earnings that they haven't saved for properly.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:17 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

You'll be asked to sign a contract if you're cast. Background reading
posted by Ideefixe at 7:25 AM on August 17, 2013

This is show biz. What MuffinMan says, you will not know what 'character' you'll be until you see it on tv. Now when the producers answer your questions, well, huge grain of salt time. There's a good book about the top level, most prestigious part of that industry, just look at the title. Really fun read.
posted by sammyo at 7:30 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are the least bit interesting or attract drama, you will become popular with them and their "storylines". Any privacy you thought you had will completely disappear.

Very few reality shows are truly reality shows. Honestly, the only one where you get 95% uncensored access is watching the Big Brother live feeds online. There is no editing there and you can see what really happened in the house vs. what CBS decided to air for their television program and their storyline. The editing these shows do is crazy and can totally twist things in a way the producers want the audience to see it in order to create drama and storylines and arcs.

Most (non -competition) reality shows are scripted where they take the actors and their everyday lives and producers add interesting topics, incidents or drama to make the "stars" more entertaining for television.

Most likely you will be asked to sign confidentiality agreements and possible exclusive contracts - where if TLC makes you a huge star, you can't jump ship and go work for A&E and get a better deal. John Gosslin from "Jon & Kate Plus 8" had a lawsuit with TLC over this.

Also See:
Dave Hester's drama with "Storage Wars".
Big Brother has had a lot of controversy with race this season and several Houseguests have lost their real life jobs (without even knowing it yet because they are still in the BB house) because of what they have said on the live feeds.
Finally, this Ask Me post about how "House Hunters" is really filmed is a good read.

Just stuff to think about.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:33 AM on August 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

I just want to repeat what randomkeystrike said (and others).

I had a friend whose company was on Undercover Boss, and she went out of her way to help the production company, and they all got shafted. There was minimal long term impact that I know of for the one-off, but they all felt like crap for weeks afterwards.

If I were you (and my local laws may not apply) I'd check that your workplace was not considered a public space, refuse to sign any release forms, and avoid being in shot.
posted by Mezentian at 8:02 AM on August 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

The contract might be quite long, and you'll be encouraged to sign quickly. Don't.

Read the contract carefully.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:09 AM on August 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Don't sign anything without talking to an attorney. I know that everyone always says that "get a lawyer" is the best answer to anything having to do with contracts, and I know that most people don't, because it's usually not financially worthwhile to do so. This is not one of those situations where a lawyer would be overkill.

These contracts involve your health and safety, your privacy, and obligating you potentially forever to a huge corporation that does not have your best interests at heart. You can be prohibited from talking, at all, about the show. You can be required to waive doctor-patient privilege or other privacy rights you otherwise hold. They get veto power if you want to get a haircut. These contracts often involve 6 or 7-figure fines for violations, and you really need to understand what would constitute a violation. You could potentially be obligated for years, possibly for the rest of your life. Do not sign a contract with these people until you have a lawyer who specializes in this field explain to you exactly what it says and what the pros and cons of signing are.

Without a release, they won't be able to use you on the air. And that's a good thing. Because you do not want to make this decision rashly; you want to take time to consider whether you want to be on television in this context. Do not, do not, do not, sign anything today, even if they tell you that they'll walk away and none of your friends will get to be on the show and everyone will be mad at you. This is the rest of your life you're talking about.

And my understanding is that reality TV participants who are not celebrities make the minimum amount required by the relevant unions for non-union members, which is about $100 per day. And you can be required to cover all of your own expenses out of that money.

In case you couldn't tell, I absolutely would not do this. You may decide differently. But don't decide anything without talking to a lawyer and seriously thinking about what you want your life to look like going forward.
posted by decathecting at 8:31 AM on August 17, 2013 [16 favorites]

I used to work in reality TV (including some shows you've probably heard of and/or even seen), and there is not enough money in the world to make me willing to be on one of those shows.

Hell, there wasn't even enough money to keep me working on those shows. I've never felt dirtier in my life than when I was working in that world and I've produced TV commercials for candy and sugar cereal.

As others have noted, reality series survive on drama and conflict. Much--really, almost all-- of the time, it is drama and conflict conceived and generated by the producers.

In many cases, we would go into the casting process with specific storylines in mind, and cast based on who we thought was either the most likely to give us-- or most easily manipulated into giving us-- the desired drama/conflict/"story."

If the anticipated conflict didn't develop on its own, the on-location producers (which I was not, thank fucking god) did their best to stir it up. You know, things like "Gosh MexicanYenta, I can't believe she said that to you. That's totally uncalled for. I'm surprised you're so calm about it. I know that if someone said something like that to me I'd be pretty pissed off, and I'd want to let them know about it..."

Sounds pretty transparent and unsubtle, I know, but having camera and sound equipment in your face 18 hours a day is fucking exhausting, which is not an accident because people become poor decision-makers when they are exhausted, and are much more easily manipulated.

But don't worry, even if the cast resists being manipulated into following the intended storyline, with hundreds or sometimes even thousands of hours of footage, the editors can create pretty much any story they want. So you'll have that to look forward to as well.

As to the contract, you could (and should) have a lawyer go over it with you, but know that the production company is unlikely to be willing to make any substantive changes. There's always another sucker desperate to be on TV who will sign it without a second thought.


posted by dersins at 10:00 AM on August 17, 2013 [22 favorites]

And what dersins says.

I pinged my friend and her experience was even worse than I recalled.
posted by Mezentian at 10:12 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Run from these people as fast as you can. I'm acquainted with someone who was on one of the "best" of these shows, and just... no.
posted by SMPA at 10:13 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

These contracts involve your health and safety, your privacy, and obligating you potentially forever to a huge corporation that does not have your best interests at heart. You can be prohibited from talking, at all, about the show. You can be required to waive doctor-patient privilege or other privacy rights you otherwise hold. They get veto power if you want to get a haircut.

Re this.

You need to go into this situation thinking of yourself as an actor, not as something more like a gameshow contestant or a documentary subject.

Think of all the things actors sign away when they accept a big TV role.

- A company has control of what you can and can't talk about in public.

- A company has control of what you look like. hair, makeup, clothes. On air, of course, but that extends to the rest of your life.

- A company has control of your public behavior. Who you are out in the world will have to correspond to the brand built around your persona on the show. Which may not correspond in any way to who you actually are.

- A company has control of your image and publicity, which means that you might be required to give interviews, do press junkets, and make public appearances.

I would potentially be OK with being involved with a show that is like the show you mention in your post. I think most of the employees of the business in question are portrayed in an OK manner and there's a minimum of "are you going to take that from this bitch?" type behavior. It's not Real Housewives or Teen Mom. But I would still give serious thoughts to the part where you become a public persona, and a professional performer of sorts. Is that something you honestly want to do? Not the "be famous" part, but the part where you don't have control of whether you prefer Coke or Pepsi, and your privacy is seriously compromised.

Oh, and yeah, of course, one thing to remember aside from all that:

THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS. They are not here to help you or make life better for you. They are unlikely to behave in what you'd consider a generous, kind, or fair manner. Their project is not about you -- as much as they want you to think it is -- it is about their project. This isn't because they're mean, bad people (though they might be), but because this is a job for them. They are here to do their job. They are not here to be a good person to you.
posted by Sara C. at 10:28 AM on August 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

A close family member was on a benign-seeming fashion-based reality show and it really is true: you have no idea how you'll appear on the show until it airs. In this case, strategically piecing together scenes and lines to distort whatever actually occurred on set was commonplace.

I would run, not walk. Is your workplace somehow making this mandatory?
posted by third word on a random page at 5:07 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Update? What happened when you got to work?
posted by decathecting at 7:35 PM on August 17, 2013

Another thing I thought about:

I'm presuming this is a workplace based show. Are you happy in your career? Are you burnt out? Do you feel like you could ever get burnt out? What would you do if this show became really popular and everyone in the country associated you with this particular field? What kind of impact do you think it would have on your career? What if the producers of the show edited your contributions to make you look bad at your job, or to play up something negative about you in a professional context?

If there are political aspects to what you do (not in terms of the government, but in terms of stances to take on a particular controversy, or the like), where do your loyalties lie? Do you have a controversial opinion? Be prepared to become America's poster child for that controversial opinion. Do you have an unorthodox approach to your job? Be prepared for that to be front and center in your portrayal on the show, and for you to be known for that unorthodox approach even if it has nothing to do with 90% of your life.

What if, after a few years, you no longer wanted to do the show, or no longer wanted to be in that career? What if your contract wasn't renewed and you became Former Star Of Notorious Reality Show, a la Dave Hester and Storage Wars?
posted by Sara C. at 9:02 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

My (adult) sister was recently cast on a competition-style (everyone lives in a house together) reality show, went through the contract phase, and was thankfully informed that she wasn't going to be selected after all.

As a part of the contract process, my parents (who live in a different state than my sister) were asked to sign paperwork that said that they would be expected to be available and open to be interviewed about my (ADULT!) sister at any time, and if they at any point refused or resisted involvement, that actors would be hired to play them and that the network would have full creative license in regards to the "family members".

posted by macrowave at 10:16 PM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another possibility is that you might be asked to sign some sort of a release so you won't ruin a shot if you end up in the background. If you decide to do this you should ask for money.
posted by yohko at 10:02 AM on August 18, 2013


(First of all, sorry it took so long to update. I work 14-15 hour shifts, so it’s hard for me to get a block of time to do an update.)

To clarify some points: the business I work for is a restaurant. The owner is the one who pitched the idea to the network, so obviously, he’s totally on board with the idea. The concept, as far as we’ve been told, is that it would be about the personal stories of the people who work there. Not one of these chef-oriented shows, where the chef yells at people and the employees scurry around. We aren’t a fancy restaurant and we don’t have a chef. (We’ve been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives in the past.) However, ever since I started working here, I've said this place would make a great reality show – the crazy is off the meter. Any one person working here could be the star of a reality show all by themselves. Anyway, yeah, we’re taking it all with a grain of salt – no telling what the end product will be. But frankly, they could just film it as is and have a great show.

All the employees are by nature very cynical. The reaction of about 90%, upon hearing about the idea, was “HELL, NO!” The few that are interested in doing it are looking at it as an acting gig, rather than a reality show. i.e., create a character, and play that to the hilt. Personally, I’m old, I don’t care what people think of me and I’m not worried about future employers. If I do this, it will be to make some of that fast cash, and use it to help fund my retirement. Some of the others feel the same way, and some are more concerned about their reputation.

While we’re all aware of the need to have an entertainment lawyer review any contracts before signing, it was interesting to read some of the specific details you guys posted. Thanks! Some of the points you mentioned would definitely make me turn this down, like the medical privacy issue.

So, as to what happened: No contracts were presented while they were here. They showed up in the middle of one of our busiest times, and they sat in a back booth with a small camera. They recorded short interviews with a few people that the owner had hand-picked – i.e., token gay waiter, token sassy waitress, kitchen manager. Several people refused to be interviewed. The crew was supplied with some potential topics of discussion by the owner. (The main thing this accomplished was to prove to the employees that the owner has absolutely no clue what goes on in his restaurant.) They followed a couple of servers around very briefly. And that was it.

There are other restaurants being considered, but supposedly we are the front runners for this series. If it does come to pass, it will be very interesting, because the owner has no idea what he’s gotten into. It will *not* reflect well on the restaurant, and especially on him, but boy, howdy, it will make some great TV!

I’m marking everyone as a best answer, because they were! Thanks, guys, I knew I could count on you to come up with the dirt!
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:58 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Everything you write is consistent with the reality of this reality show situation, which is that they're not stopping by to explain to you guys what they want, they're stopping by to do a reccie on what they're interested in.

Seriously seriously do not trust these people to have your interests at heart. Not because they're bad people, but because their behavior so far is consistent with the name of the game -- they have in mind a project they want to produce, and they want to see if they can do so at your venue. None of you are part of the equation as people.

Regarding your interest in participating for "fast cash", the dollar amounts are likely to be low. This is not going to pay for your retirement, unless you become the breakout star of the show and they have to pay you a lot in order to keep you interested in participating. If your thought is that you would appear vaguely in the background and then $$$$$$$$$$, you should really be thinking more like $. You would probably be paid non-union background actor scale, if even that much. We're talking jury duty money, not retirement money.

You should definitely consider what it would be like to be an actor playing yourself on TV, and whether that would get old, and to what extent your time and privacy are your own. What would you do if the network wanted you to fly to New York for upfronts but it was the same weekend as your best friend's wedding? (Hint: you would be contractually obligated to skip the wedding.) What would you do if the network decided they hate your hair and require you to have it cut into a style you hate? (Hint: you have a horrible hairstyle until the show is cancelled a decade from now.)
posted by Sara C. at 3:39 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

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