I’m of the opinion that no production efforts can rescue a reality television program from bad casting. That is to say, casting is reality TV’s most important ingredient. You cannot have a good reality show without nailing it.
I generally assess this by asking one question of a cast: Would the personalities be entertaining without the filter of production? “The Bachelor,” for instance, often fails this test. (With Corinne Olympios being something of a notable exception.)
The task is complicated, and gets more complicated as time goes on because people try to play the game. Of course, bad acting can be amusing too, which is a major part of “The Bachelor’s” appeal, but it’s often grating from normal participants who unconvincingly carry on like Snooki to mask unremarkable personalities.
Now, however, social media can help us separate the good from the bad. This is a worthwhile point because there’s a fair argument that social media has become a scourge on the reality television industry, clogging our feeds with detox tea advertisements, strained feuds, and potential spoilers. But from the right reality star, even those potential obstacles can be hilarious. (Good reality stars can be caught up in bad casts, and vice versa.)
This is topical at the moment for two particular reasons: the unlikely but riveting feud between 50 Cent and members of the “Vanderpump Rules” universe, and a recent bout of drunken revelry on the “Real Housewives Of New York City.” You’ll notice both case studies are from Bravo—largely because that network has mastered the fine art of casting—but MTV’s “Jersey Shore” is one of the better examples as well.
Last weekend, 50 Cent picked a bizarre fight with “Vanderpump Rules” star Lala Kent and her much older boyfriend Randall Emmett over what seemed to be a $1 million loan. It escalated quickly, with Instagrammed screenshots of Randall repeatedly calling the rapper “fofty,” and 50 Cent demanding his cash by “Money Monday.” You can read a good breakdown here.
Now, I don’t know if it was purely coincidental that “Money Monday” just so happened to fall on the day of the “Pump Rules” finale. I honestly don’t care. If they orchestrated a fight with 50 Cent to promote the show, that may indeed be even more hilarious, and more confirmation of the argument that good reality television is entirely reliant on rare, ridiculous personalities.
Back in October, I wrote “One Of The Best ‘Real Housewives’ Episodes Just Aired On Instagram,” after the cast drunkenly documented a wild night in the Berkshires to their Instagram stories. I took it as a lesson that: “The best reality television is produced by the best characters. The best characters don’t need editing.”
In a rare turn of events, this turned out to be prescient when the episode aired. Put in the hands of editors, it was all significantly less entertaining than what the ladies shared on Instagram unfiltered. I’m still not over it. (Page Six has the raw footage here.)
You shouldn’t need social media to assess the quality of a given show, but it can certainly confirm your judgments. That gets to the broader lesson, which is that social media supplements the reality television experience, rather than hurting it (which, I’ll admit, I once believed to be the case).
With the right characters, sometimes there’s nothing a publicist or an editor can do to apply a filter. Even when they try, reality has a way of making itself clear.