Reality shows have taken over much of television. This weekend, the unscripted genre is poised to overrun Los Angeles.
A gaggle of reality show luminaries are slated to converge upon the Convention Center for the inaugural Reality Rocks Expo. The two-day event, which is cosponsored by the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets, is being touted as "the ultimate reality TV experience" and aspires to be the Comic-Con of the unscripted reality show world.
"Let's face it, the stars today on television are reality stars," said Robert Sunshine, one of the producers of the event and the senior vice president of the Film Group, who added that he's "surprised there was nothing done on a national scale" to recognize the power of the format.
But like many unscripted shows, the event, which organizers hope will draw 15,000 people and will include panels, performances and workshops about reality television, has run into some casting issues. The names of the top billed reality stars are mostly recognizable but hardly the A-list crowd.
Convention appearances are supposed to include: Audrina Patridge ("The Hills"), Karina Smirnoff ("Dancing With the Stars") and Omarosa ("The Apprentice"). But then there's also Tanisha Thomas ("The Bad Girls Club"), Marilin Archie ("She's Got the Look") and Judge Lynn Toler ("Divorce Court"), to name a few of the names only the truest reality show connoisseurs might know.
The lineup is "pretty weak," said Andy Dehnart, editor of RealityBlurred.com. "The reality stars they have are not big draws. If you're dipping into the judge show pool, you clearly are in a really shallow pool to begin with. There's nobody I would fly across the country to see and this is my job."
Sunshine doesn't deny the lineup isn't as rockin' as the title of the expo might suggest — "like anything else, it can always be bigger, it can always be better" — but he's quick to note the project's infancy.
"We're just getting started," he said. "Even Comic-Con wasn't the powerhouse it is now when it first started."
The event is meant to feed the interests of two types of fans: those who want to become reality stars and those who just love reality TV. (Ticket prices vary greatly from a one-day pass for $35 to a two-day jump-the-line pass for $250.)
Reality buffs will be treated to previews of new reality series and can participate in "meet and greets" with reality personalities. Panel discussions will include "Dating and Love in the Reality Spotlight" and "TV Dinners: How Television Changed the Culinary Industry," and workshops will be held on "How to Create, Produce and Pitch Your Reality TV Show" and "How to Become a Host/Reality Star — Parlay Your 15 minutes of Reality Fame Into a Career."
The rags-to-reality-star fairy tale has enabled some in attendance, like "Dancing With the Stars" regular Smirnoff, to cash in on their TV success by launching a number of businesses. The reality star dancer, for instance, plans to use the expo to promote, among other things, her Bearpaw footwear collection, a new fitness DVD and a makeup line.
"Part of my decision to participate was definitely because I saw it as a way to spread the word about my projects," Smirnoff said. "But, you know, we are in the middle of 'Dancing with the Stars' and it's a great way to lobby for votes and to interact with fans."
Most broadcast networks, though, aren't rushing to get involved in the jamboree.
"We went out to the networks, initially, and all of the networks seem to really like the idea very much," Sunshine said. "But I think like all new ventures — just like Comic-Con — when you do a launch the first year, some of the people are just shy and hold back."
But Fox and cable networks Warner Horizon Television, WE TV and Wedding Central are participating. Meanwhile, Viacom-owned MTV and VH1 will be there. Most other programming is being backed by production companies (i.e. Bunim/Murray, Mark Burnett Productions).
"Anything we do on a grass-roots level is to drive [viewership]," said Wendy Weatherford, vice president of consumer marketing and promotion for VH1, which will push the April 17 launch of "Audrina." "When we were approached about doing this, we looked at our programming grid to see what shows were premiering around the time of it."
Should the fete achieve Comic-Con status, networks would no doubt fall over themselves to join — just as they have done for the fan-boy convention in San Diego. Last year at Comic-Con a number of shows made their debuts: NBC's "The Cape," ABC's "No Ordinary Family," the CW's "Nikita" and AMC's "The Walking Dead."
"It's a great for fans who truly enjoy what is so often viewed as the poor bastard step child of entertainment," said Jeff Jenkins, executive vice president of entertainment and programming with Bunim/Murray Productions and an honorary advisor to the expo. "Reality TV isn't going anywhere. And this will be a way for it to continue to live on."