The Reality of Casting a Reality TV Show
There is no doubt about the entertainment factor of reality television, but have you ever thought of the people who create the shows you watch every night? Before any prospective reality TV star can experience their moment in the limelight they must go through an extensive behind-the-scenes screening and security process. The brunt of that work falls upon a casting director. That director or casting team must have the necessary skills to address the unique challenges — and sometimes big personalities — that the reality TV world attracts.
Reality TV show hopefuls can expect to get very well acquainted with a casting team. That’s because these people are responsible for finding out everything there is to know about the prospective talent.
There are many steps that need to take place before the television credits can roll. Most major reality TV shows will have an online application period for the show, hold open auditions, or put out a call for video applications. From there a casting director has the task of weeding through thousands of hopefuls, narrowing the pool to people who will be contacted for phone or in-person interviews.
The process of casting for reality TV is a thrilling one for Sarah Monson, who has worked on shows such as “Survivor” and “The Bachelorette.” To her, being a casting director is about helping people make their dreams come true, and she has leveraged her experience to write a book called “Me On TV.” Part walkthrough guide on how to make it onto a reality TV show, part biography, it is clear Monson loves her job.
Expect Background Checks
Once the first round of people has been plucked from the masses, the series of background and psychological checks begins. This is an important safety measure to ensure a TV show isn’t putting its cast and crew at risk.
Jason Cornwell says physical abuse, restraining orders, or any violence on a background check means that person will be a no-go for the show. Cornwell was a reality TV star himself – he was on the 1997 season of MTV’s “The Real World” – and now owns a casting company. He says violent allegations or convictions are especially important to identify when casting for dating shows or for instances when contestants may be living in close proximity to one another.
Psychological checks often happen after someone has made it past the background check stage. This process can involve an additional in-person interview, often with a doctor in attendance. On matchmaking shows like “The Bachelorette,” these psychological tests can be used to assess one’s compatibility with the rose-bearing suitor. Otherwise, these checks also gauge a person’s mental stability, their vanity, and how they may crack or sustain in a house full of strangers.
The last test is often one checking for sexually transmitted diseases – we’ve all seen what romantic exploits can happen on reality TV, and this is a health and safety precaution for those on the show.
Real or Not Real?
It’s one of the most-asked questions in reality TV: is what you’re watching real? According to casting directors and producers, the answer is a little bit yes, and little bit no.
A fictional radio story told on NPR’s “This American Life” spoke to this phenomena of creating something out of nothing. The main character is a casting director on a reality TV show where the team is in the midst of trying to make cast members fall in love, hate each other, or do something that will produce dramatic television. The producers ask a series of leading questions, prompting and prodding, knowing exactly what they can selectively extract from the interview to create compelling television.
While this radio short story is fiction, leading questions shaping “reality” happen all the time – in both casting, and during actual show production. Casting director Lindsay Drucker says they often ask people about their political views or past relationships in hopes of igniting an impassioned response. In that small window of time, a casting team has to make the decision as to whether that person’s personality will fit (or clash) with the dynamics of the cast and boost ratings.
In the end, being a casting director requires good judgment and an ability to make snap decisions. Spotting talent can be difficult – and prompting that talent to reveal vulnerabilities and create good television can be more difficult still.