How do you keep 'em down on the farm after they renegotiate their contracts?
All of which raises an interesting question: How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm — and the audience willingly suspending disbelief — after they renegotiate their contracts?
Series like “Duck Dynasty” and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” — which has also gone through its own renegotiation process, sweetening the deal of the central family — theoretically rely on at least a degree of authenticity. And while the Robertson clan was well off even before the show, it’s hard to debate that their new-found fame has significantly altered their lives — they acknowledged as much in an interview with USA Today — unless you know a lot of duck-callers invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner.
As for the “Honey Boo Boo” gang, should we really believe they aspire to little more than a big ol’ helping of roadkill for dinner now that TLC has provided them the means to eat like, well, richer rednecks? Momma June’s makeover is only a small cosmetic reminder of how life has changed — and why the notion they’re really worried about how the yard looks for their commitment ceremony is patently absurd.
The reasons these shows work, of course, is because viewers approach them as sitcoms. But they still derive a certain kick from the sense we are seeing a regular family, able to compare its quirks and eccentricities to our own.
For the most part, reality shows haven’t addressed the way in which the programs themselves affect these dynamics. The “Jersey Shore” cast still went out carousing, for example, as if they were the same anonymous Guidos trying to get laid based on their chiseled abs alone and not their fame (or notoriety).
In real life, anyway, having endorsement deals and being courted to appear on “Dancing With the Stars” does have a way of changing things — particularly in our celebrity-obsessed culture.
By contrast, the characters on “The Big Bang Theory” remain who they are regardless of how much Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki get paid per episode. Tim Allen and Kelsey Grammer’s fat contracts didn’t change who Tim Taylor and Dr. Frasier Crane were on their respective sitcoms, even if the reports of their wealth might have had an impact on how the public viewed the actors.
Wowed by the success of these programs — and eager to draft off their popularity in pursuit of ratings and traffic — the media have largely avoided these questions, or dismissed them. The USA Today piece notes how situations are staged, and no one seems concerned about the artifice strangling the golden, er, goose.
“Just how ‘unscripted’ is ‘Duck Dynasty?’” asked the AP’s Frazier Moore. “It doesn’t matter. The ties that bind these characters are true-to-life, and the star quality they exhibit just being themselves couldn’t be faked.”
Right, sort of like that Shroud of Turin. Maybe it wrapped up Jesus and maybe it didn’t, but it sure looked real.
These are semi-existential questions, and probably risk over-thinking what makes these shows tick — a bit of alchemy that, based on all the half-baked imitators, even the TV industry doesn’t understand. (All the explanations, naturally, are provided with the benefit of hindsight.)
Still, the renegotiations also underscore that while such programs are classified under the heading of “reality,” in order for them to thrive, we all have to participate in perpetuating a bit of fiction.