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The New Quiz Show Scandal -- Reality Television

We all figured some of it was fake: Joe Millionaire’s slurping make-out noises, the depth of the relationship between Brigitte Nielsen and Flavor Flav, Jessica Simpson’s breasts. And “reality” was always a misnomer for shows that involve Donald Trump or people on desert islands. But these shows purporting to be unadulterated documentaries are unreal in a more obvious way: They are secretly crafted in advance by writers. And I’ve got the entertainment equivalent of the Pentagon Papers to prove it. Maybe more like the equivalent of the photo with President Bush holding the fake Thanksgiving turkey in Iraq, but still, they are definitely papers.

Many of the shows that supposedly follow the real lives of real people are really scripted by real writers, many of whom were unemployed because their sitcoms got replaced by reality programs. So reality shows are just sitcoms starring good-looking people instead of hot actresses and the fat, ugly guys who play their husbands. That’s why they’re 50% more entertaining.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Dec. 12, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 12, 2004 Home Edition Opinion Part M Page 2 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Joel Stein -- Stein’s Dec. 5 column said a photo showed President Bush holding a fake Thanksgiving turkey during his 2003 visit to U.S. troops in Iraq. The turkey he was holding was real. Also, the name of Nicole Richie, co-star of “The Simple Life,” was misspelled as Ritchie.

Through sources I cannot reveal but would definitely not go to jail to protect, I got hold of a 19-page, single-spaced outline of an upcoming episode of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Every moment is planned in advance, including a few specific lines for the straight guy to deliver, which Bravo says is not unusual for any reality show. It’s something that people in Hollywood know and think is no big deal. Like Mike Ovitz.

This script tells the touching story of Patrick Mullare, a guido who lost 100 pounds and lives in his parents’ basement (see latimes.com/realitytv for the full script and Cialis pop-up ads). On Page 5, Fab Five member Jai conveniently provides exposition and sets up the tension by finding a greeting card in Patrick’s room from Rene, an unrequited crush.

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Six pages later, Jai brings him to the bar at the Tribeca Grand (“INT. HIP AFTERWORK SINGLES BAR”) where Patrick invites a woman to the party the queer guys are throwing for him that night. Then there’s “a funny moment” where Patrick, after showering, slips back to his pre-queerified self and almost uses hair gel.

The final page of the script is Nora Ephron-worthy. Rene shows up and is attracted to the de-straightened Patrick. But Patrick “keeps looking down the street; will the girl from the bar come? He sees nothing.... Over his shoulder a set of car headlights appear and get continuously closer until the car stops. She gets out of the car; Patrick hasn’t noticed. She taps him on the shoulder.... He invites her in to see his new place, she accepts, and they walk off into the proverbial sunset.... Fade out.” I never thought a man could cry while reading a reality show script about another man’s struggle to lay off pomade.

It’s not just “Queer Eye.” It’s even affected the otherwise upstanding straight world. Writers staged that clip of Nicole Ritchie crashing her car that’s being used for the promos of the new season of “The Simple Life,” the supposedly real adventures of Ritchie and Paris Hilton.

The waiter tripping and injuring himself in “The Restaurant,” a show that documented the disastrous opening of a Manhattan eatery, is a reenactment.

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According to supervising producer Christie Zelling, at MTV’s “Made,” where high school students get to live out their incredibly depressing dreams, the staff writes voice-overs for the teenage stars, some about boyfriends they no longer have and all of which the subjects find “totally cheesy.”

Producer Matt Swanson says that when Ozzy threw a block of wood over a fence and shattered the window of his noisy neighbors during the first season of “The Osbournes,” it was just a sound effect and a phony reaction shot. We wanted to believe so badly in reality TV that we believed a man so feeble he can no longer remember whether or not he ate a live bat could somehow throw like Curt Schilling.

“The Simple Life” is so unreal that people who produce the show refer to it as a “hybrid sitcom” or a “soft-scripted show,” a fact Fox does not deny. This fall, when the entire season’s gimmick was that Hilton and Ritchie slept in trailer parks, they checked into hotels all but two nights.

In an upcoming episode, I found out, Hilton and Ritchie tell some kids that the best present for their daddy is to get him laid by their mom. So the women go to a bar to score some condoms. The producers had pre-interviewed a guy in a baseball cap who would agree to take them to his apartment to give them some rubbers. But the ever-confused Hilton and Ritchie went up to the wrong guy, who, not surprisingly, happily agreed to take them to his place.

The producers, however, yelled, “Cut,” confusing everyone in the bar, who thought they were at a reality show taping. Then Hilton and Ritchie started the scene again and approached the baseball-cap guy, because the producers had already lighted his apartment. It seems they had momentarily forgotten how effectively Hilton can act in night vision.

Once you find out reality stars actually need help to be that dumb, they somehow stop being entertaining. We wanted to believe reality shows were real because they made us feel like other people’s lives were more messed up than our own. Though that may not be true, at least we know that without writers they’re just as boring as we are.


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