March 7, 2011

Reality TV: Beware of Typecasting

Filed under: Uncategorized — publicandprivatespace @ 10:09 am

Katherine Martin

Every year millions of people try out or send in audition tapes with hopes of staring on a reality TV show. Just as there is a show out there for every viewer, there is a show out there for every contestant. Some people participate for genuine reasons, they want to be discovered, they want to find love, or, maybe, they want to share their amazing stories with other people. While there are many, different shows out there to suit the needs of a diverse population, there is a common aspect to every show, and that is typecasting. On every show there is a character that appeals to each type of personality so everyone has someone to root for. It is more complex than saying there is a “good guy” and a “bad guy” on every show, because we do not always root for the “good guy,” sometimes, it is more entertaining to see a cunning and scheming character fool everyone and come out on top.

The popular show, Survivor, is an example of a situation in which it is fun to watch an “evil” character work the other contestants to win the grand prize of $1,000,000. Viewers loved watching contestant Russell Hantz scheme and deceive his way to the final three on two seasons of Survivor. The show is called “Survivor” for a reason; survive until the end no matter what, which leaves no room for the “good guy,” hence the ever popular reality TV cliché, “I didn’t come here to make friends.” On the March 2, 2011 episode of Survivor, contestant Matt Elrod was voted out of his tribe for congratulating the opposing team on their victory. Sometimes reality TV contestants tug on viewers heart strings because of their good character, work ethic, and perseverance and viewers want to see them make it, but other times, it’s more fun to watch a “bad guy” shake things up with a little drama.  

The characters we see on reality television, especially those who appear on multiple shows, are not blind to the fact that they have a certain “role” to fill, they are expected by producers to be a certain way. Who could forget the famous Omarosa? She killed as the driven, cut throat business women on the Apprentice, and has since appeared on twenty other reality TV shows. On VH1’s Breaking Bonaduce, star Danny Bonaduce got behind the wheel of his car after he had been drinking and bragged that a car crash would make great television. Producers can also create one-sided characters by only showing footage of the participant acting a certain way, or doctoring the footage in another way to control how viewers will interpret a character. Amazing Race contestant, Jonathan Baker, was seen on the shown acting nasty and rude towards his wife, fellow contestants, and service workers around the world. After losing a race with another couple, Baker famously shoves his wife, blaming her for the loss. Baker claims that he is really not like that at all, according to him his softer moments were not shown, he claims “I got the worst rap of anyone in reality television ever.”

In my research, I could not find any source that suggested there is a certain type of person who is most likely to be on reality television. In my experience, I have seen shows whose participants were all probably chosen for reality TV because they crave attention and behave outrageously, it makes for good television. The cast of Jersey Shore was not chosen because they all bring something intellectually or culturally different to the table, they were chosen because they act like the stereotypical Guidos and Guidettes. By day we see G.T.L., if you are not a fan this stand for gym, tan, and laundry, and by night we see the cast mates at local clubs drinking, fighting, and looking for potential one-night-stand mates. However, on a lot of shows, even shows like The Real World, there are a variety of people and personalities, this is where the conflict comes from, and that makes for better television.

Labeling is something we naturally do as humans; producers are trying to appeal to us by pre-packaging people into boxes that make contestants actions easier for us to understand. As viewers, we should be aware that we are seeing reality TV participants through the eyes of the producers, and not judge them too harshly because we do not always know the whole story.


  1. Jon Ahrens
    I feel this blog address the topic they chose very well. I liked in the opening paragragh the description of typecasting because I really had no idea what it was. I also liked this blog because reality t.v. is huge right now and people need to realize that these people are like the blog said typecasted. Many times when watching a show I think about what this blog says exactly. Recently when watching Jersey Shore I realized that not much of their time in the shore is actually shown. If you pay attention you can see that every one hour show is about 1 day in the shore. Which makes me realize that we are not exactly watching a reality show anymore because its doctored so much its like a movie. Only the dramatic, audience drawling events are shown on t.v. I feel you did a great job explaining your topic and backing it up with good source material that almost all of your audience can relate to.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 10:23 am | Reply

  2. Rebecca Freeman

    After reading your blog, it got me to realize how much I judge people that are on reality shows. I tend to forget that the scenes that we see on the reality show aren’t the whole lives of these people. Everyone has their bad moments in life, and if someone was taping me 24/7 I’m sure they could pick out some bad scenes and portray me as a negative person. But the fact is that these people wanted to be filmed and had the choice to be on a reality show or not. They should know before hand that people are going to have an opinion about them after viewing their actions on a regular reality television show. I do agree that in each reality show there seems to be a variety of different people, for different viewers to root for. Everyone relates to different people, so I believe producers want a variety of people on reality shows, to cause drama and action like you said. What I feel is a negative aspect of all of these reality shows, is some of the affects it has on viewers. Most of what we see on these reality shows like you’ve mentioned; The Jersey Shore and Survivor, aren’t what happens in the lives of average people. The behavior that goes on in The Jersey Shore isn’t the best, but it makes it look as if nothing is wrong with having one night stands all the time and binge drinking every night. Young people can get the wrong message from these popular reality shows, and feel like this is what they should do to have fun. Reality shows are there to entertain and I think you said it right when we label and pre-package people into boxes when we really don’t know them.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 10:33 am | Reply

  3. By:Kirsten Kipp
    I thought this was a very interesting post because I watch reality TV all the time and knew that every show was targeting a specific audience but I never thought about it as in depth as this. Every reality show has to have a different types of characters so that way the show can be appealing to as many people as possible. And reality TV producers know that drama sells, so therefore they are going to pick out contoversial characters that they know will start up drama. For instance, if you have ever seen the show Real World Road Rules challenges, the show consists of about twenty people who travel to a different country to compete in numerous competitions, while people are eliminated every week, until a prize of a good amount of money is won at the end. But when they are not competing they are always drinking and partying, which lets face it can always bring up some sort of drama. The stress of the competition and unruly behavior leads to many people wanting to watch to see what crazy event will happen next.
    Also I agree with what you say about labeling because even when its not the show such as Jersey Shore be labeled as Guidos and Guidettes, we are labeling individuals in shows as well. For instance, on a show like the Bachelor, everyone always picks at least one girl who is considered “the bitch” and another one who would be cinsidered “the sweetheart”. We judge these people wihtout any knowledge of who they are and assume that what they are protrayed as on TV is who they truly are. This may not always be the case like you said for Jonathan Baker. So maybe we as America need to take a step beck and not be so quick to judge other people on TV, even if it is our natural instinct.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 10:35 am | Reply

  4. By Adrian Smith

    I realized how reality shows draw in viewers after reading this article. In order to get good ratings and have lots of veiwers, the show must have entertaining elements. The cast of the show is the most important aspect. The cast are the ones who are constantly shown and the show revolves around them. People wouldn’t want to watch a show that had boring cast members. The show needs outgoing, exciting, and soemwhat disruptive people in order to make the show more entertaining. Jersey Shore is an excellent example because of the arrogant and slightly unintellectual peopel on the show. It makes for entertaining teelvision. To a certain point, people have to typecast reality TV shows because the vast majority are all the same. They involve strangers living together or performing a certain task together. The loudest or most disruptive one gets the most camera time so that the show is more entertainig. Producers look off of otehr reality TV shows taht are doing well and copy them. Since a show like Jersey Shore is so popular, rival producers look at what it has; loud, obnoxious cast, members, sex, drinking, and partying. Of course if other shows want to be more popular, they will incorporate what makes a show more popular.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 10:36 am | Reply

  5. – Ben Fortkamp
    I cannot say much against this article, as I agree with most of the logic behind it. Reality television is definitely a hobby that has overtaken American pop culture. Reality television references are everywhere in today’s pop culture shows, tabloids, and advertisements because they have become so popular. And much of this popularity is due to the fact that producers typecast, which is explained very well in the article. When I think back on the reality television I have watched, I have to say that I rooted for some jerks on certain shows just, so I could see a little drama. But when people think the way I do, I just wonder what the repercussions of the reality stars are when people already have this preconceived notion about them. Are they hassled a lot? Do people think the world of them? Whatever the case, I just hope that people who enter into this type of entertainment realize fully what they are signing up for.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 10:37 am | Reply

  6. I completely agree with your point of view. Although I cannot stand watching more than 5 minutes of a “reality” show such as jersey shore, I can relate to shows such as survivor or amazing race. In one season of survivor they pitted two teams against each other, heroes vs. villains; this labeling alone will make a slanted connation of any cast member on any side. It is true that to make better television, and attract more viewers, clips are reviewed to see if they will change a person’s image. It is this type of slanting that’s also on the news almost every day. If almost anyone observes the news, they will find a slanted viewpoint. I believe that it is this standard of sharing a story in a different viewpoint sets the stage for reality shows to change the public’s opinion of a person and make it acceptable.

    Comment by Thomas Mooney — March 9, 2011 @ 10:41 am | Reply

  7. I really enjoyed this article and I think it mentions a lot of things that people should know when watching reality TV. I knew that these shows definitely stereotyped people, but I never knew that they intentionally portrayed people in a bad light. With Jonathan Baker’s case, I think he has a right to be upset. There were millions of people watching the show that now think he is a horrible person, just because the editors cut together pieces of footage to make show show more “interesting.” However, to an extent, I think this is partially the person’s fault who signs up for the show. It’s their decision, no one is following them around with cameras without their consent, so I think they need to watch what they do and not do anything they wouldn’t want the whole world to see. This reminds me of the webcam article, because its the same type of idea, being watched all the time and not having control over what people say and do around you. While reality TV may be entertaining and funny, America as a whole needs to take it less seriously and realize that the people on these shows are not necessarily acting the way it looks on screen.

    Comment by Sarah Williams — March 9, 2011 @ 10:43 am | Reply

  8. Andrew Henderson

    I agree that there is a lot of typecasting in Hollywood and in the media today. Shows have to use it in order to stay successful. Even shows like American Idol use the good guy/bad guy approach. However, I think this is causing a more serious problem in our society. Kids these days watch Jersey Shore, Survivor, The Amazing Race, and many other reality television shows. They grow up thinking that the terrible actions on these shows are socially acceptable. It honestly makes me sick that they air shows like Jersey Shore, Skins, and Survivor. These teach kids the pre-marital sex is OK. The society with live in today has absolutely no morals, values, or integrity. People see these shows and they learn that drunken fights, random hook ups, and abuse is “what everyone else is doing.” They start to idolize the people on these shows and its developed into the issues we face today. I honestly believe that stations like MTV and VH1, though they used to be good stations, are the cause for the crap that goes on today. It honestly infuriates me that they air the stuff they air today. Gone are the days that people were respectful, moralistic, and maintained integrity. Its disgusting knowing that 1 out of 4 people have HERPES. This is a result of people just sleeping around with anyone that walks. And these shows are showing it every time they air. Its teaching kids that drunken bar fights and driving drunk is suppose to be “funny.” When in reality its having a serious negative effect on our society. In all honesty, the majority of TV shows today are crap. They desensitize viewers and destroy their morals and integrity. If any change needs to be made, its removing these shows from the media!

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  9. Julie Whalen

    Reality TV is one of my guilty pleasures, so this post was very interesting to me. I noticed that often people were chosen with different morals and personalities, but I never really realized that the reason they were chosen was to appeal to every type of person. That way everyone has somebody to root for. I have done this on every show I have watched and just never noticed. So I just want to note that that’s clever on the part of the TV producers who pick the cast of reality shows.
    I disagree with people liking to see the bad guy win though. Even if the bad guy is interesting and adds a nice touch of drama to the show, I always still want the good guy to win. Keep the bad guy around until the end for entertainment purposes, but only so we can witness how crushed they are when they lose. That way in the end it sends a good message to viewers: be a nice guy or not only will you lose a million dollars, but everyone will hate you.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 1:45 pm | Reply

  10. Markus Lackey
    Reality television is very addicting to many people. Many people are attracted to negativity mostly drama. It helps many people escapes from their own reality, or it could possible help them improve their own situations. . But this is not only found in reality TV it is found in reality. In major news stations such as Fox News, when a celebrity does something positive for the community or for kids in China the news fail to report it; however, when a celebrity does something negative, like Michael Vick going to jail for dog fighting it becomes front page news for weeks at a time. I also believe in every show there has to be a character that causes conflict in order for shows to be interesting and successful.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 11, 2011 @ 9:17 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: