The Lifetime Channel shows the reality of reality in a scripted series, UnREAL, airing new episodes on Monday nights with the entire season available at the Lifetime Channel website.
Ten years ago a guy walked into my office looking tired and heavy hearted and needing to talk. He was in a process of discernment. He loved making films but hated his current job, which he found soul-crushing on the on one hand, but too lucrative to leave on the other. We talked for awhile before he would even admit that he worked on a reality television program. He was tired of creating and exaggerating conflict, of manipulating people and making people who were basically good, look like buffoons or villains.
Monday night I felt like I got a glimpse into the world he had described when I watched latest episode of UnREAL on the Lifetime Channel. This is not a family show, be warned.
Rachel (played by Shiri Appleby) produces a fictional reality show called “Everlasting.” Think, “The Bachelor.” She always appears weary, on the edge of a deep sadness as she skillfully, if not reluctantly, uses her intuition to get close to contestants, learn their vulnerabilities and then manipulate them to create conflict and further the storyline for the show.
She knows how to induce tears or a cat fight, a tender moment of personal revelation and romance, or a devastating scene of rejection. All of this is part of her job and she is good at it and miserable for it.
At one point her executive producer Quinn, played by Constance Zimmer, rallies the crew saying, “We want tears people, bonuses for nudity and for 911 calls.” The producers want us to believe we are seeing a competition for true romance. In fact what the edited episodes of reality shows that end up on the air are contrived by cynical, calloused methods, with little regard to the human dignity of the people cast as contestants.
The show is probably exaggerated but not as much as fans of the genre might hope. The conversation I had with that man ten years ago was not the last I have had with many other people working reality and discerning a new career path.
Let’s be Real
Here are five things reality show fans need to remember:
- “Reality” on TV is highly manipulated. The contestants are carefully cast, the situations contrived, viewers often do not see the context for the shots they see.
- If your life was filmed for a week, a skilled editor and producer could make you look however they wanted. The programs reflect more the agenda of the producers than the reality of the lives of the contestants.
- Judging people is never good for the soul. If I watch reality TV so that I can let myself be drawn into indignation at their excesses it may seem harmless, but that feeds a dangerous tendency to condemn others and feel self-righteous.
- The joyful moments are easy to fake, the suffering is often real. Try to have compassion for contestants.
- Think very, very hard before you would ever consider being part of a reality show.
Live in the fullness of your own reality, Family Theater You Tube and look for the ways that our loving God is always trying to send people and circumstances into your path to invite you to a deeper and fuller life, even if it is not one that would sell on television.