Mixing faux and fact

Producers massage reality for sake of good TV

Emmy’s reality categories this year could include several shows that don’t keep it entirely real.

In fact, most — if not all — reality series include at least a few situations and players that are manipulated by producers.

“What is pure reality? That’s the question,” says Gary Auerbach, exec producer of MTV’s “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County” and A&E’s “Rollergirls.”

Auerbach’s docu-soaps have been likened to cinema. In classical film tradition, he aims to make shots beautiful, and he directs his everyday-people subjects not to look directly at the camera.

Auerbach says he’s committed to documenting reality, but he’s not adverse to coaxing it on occasion in the interest of story.

“We’re not pushing them to be actors,” he says. “But we talk to them about their stories. If there was a fight the night before, you want to be there when they talk about it afterward.”

Such showmanship is ubiquitous on celebrity-themed reality series, which have proliferated since MTV’s “The Osbournes” broke out in 2002. They often play out like improvised dramas and comedies.

VH1 now specializes in such celeb-themed reality. The channel’s “The Surreal Life,” now in its sixth season, recently spun off “Flavor of Love,” which drops rapper Flavor Flav into a living space with 20 amorous women.

“So much of our scripting actually takes place in the casting process,” says Jeff Olde, VH1’s senior VP of production and programming. “After that, we’re trying to throw dodgeballs they can react to.”

The women on “Flavor of Love” aren’t handed scripts — but they are given plenty of information by the producers that accentuates the catfighting.

“We’ll never solve the question for them,” Olde explains. “It’s more like us going to you and saying, ‘Just so you know, this is what so-and-so is saying about you. You should go ask her directly if she has a problem with you …’ And in the morning, they get the paper — we break in and go, ‘OK, here’s what we want from you guys today.’ ”

“Reality is in the eye of the beholder,” adds Lisa Berger, senior VP of development for E!, which currently airs “The Simple Life.” “Talking about labels is pretty difficult — it’s entertainment. It should be true in terms of human expression. If it starts to feel phony, we’re tuning out.”

So will there soon be a “hybrid-reality” Emmy category?

“There could be,” Olde says. “But I don’t know that everybody’s going to want to show their cards.”

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