Violence on MTV: Why Did Producers Stop Intervening on ‘Real World’?

Real World Portland Fight

As violence becomes part of MTV's reality show offerings, 'Real World' and its spinoffs drift further from their original experimental missions

On one of the final episodes of “Real World: Portland,” viewers watched as a cast member wrapped the cord of a blow dryer around its handle and hunted down another member of the house.

“All day, every day, I’m banging on you and your bitch,” housemate Nia shouted at Johnny.

Nia’s makeshift weapon served as a step up from her bare hands, which she’d already used to repeatedly strike a fellow cast member on the back of the head over 10 times after an argument escalated. As Nia swung with blow dryer in hand at Johnny’s head, Johnny’s girlfriend Averey intervened, throwing blow after blow at Nia’s face while ripping out her hair extensions. Several cast members attempted to break up the altercation, but the two women had tight grips on each other’s hair, and refused to stop throwing punches. The situation continued, as Nia later sucker-punched Averey in the back of the head.

It was one of the most brutal fights in “Real World” history, and very difficult to watch.

But, missing from the brawl were not only producers, but also the familiar “Real World” franchise phrase, “It’s not worth it.”

Throughout “Real World’s” tenure on MTV, there has been an understanding of an unofficial “no fighting policy,” one that often leaves heated members of a show talking themselves down from physical violence because they don’t want to be kicked off the program. Whether on “Real World” or its spinoffs including “Road Rules” and “The Challenge,” housemates have avoided coming to blows due to the belief that, in doing so, they’d lose their coveted spot on the season, and have managed to talk out their disputes in more level-headed ways.

(In other situations, cast members have dubbed fighting “worth” getting kicked off, and thrown punches only to be swiftly put in a production van and hauled off set. A standby cast member would later be brought in from the wings to sub in.)

Many viewers assumed that Nia’s actions on “Real World’s” 28th season would lead to her being promptly expelled from the house, and were surprised when a quick, informal vote between cast members left her with bags still unpacked. Averey and Johnny, fearing for their safety, decided to spend the rest of the season in a hotel nearby.

As it turns out, there is no contractual policy against fighting on “Real World,” contrary to what many viewers and cast members may have thought. Bunim-Murray, the shingle behind MTV’s flagship reality show, told Variety it handles each situation on a case-by-case basis, at times ejecting a cast member, at times holding a house vote to see if a cast member should remain.

“As a general rule,” the production company said, “the roommates are told that any physical aggression can result in their removal from the house.”

But, as seasons progressed on the series and its spinoffs, producers have stepped further and further away from their involvement in physical altercations, leaving cast members with fewer concrete consequences for their actions while cameras roll.

The evolution of the illusory “no-fight policy” can be seen most clearly when 2013’s “Real World: Portland” brawl and its subsequent house vote are compared to a physical altercation on 2003’s “Road Rules: South Pacific” between cast members Abram and Donnell. After the fight was broken up, producer Kevin Lee emerged from behind the camera to guide the voting process.

“How we handle these things is I need to look at the video, you guys need to talk about what happened,” Lee explained to the cast. “And you need to tell me if you feel safe moving forward with the trip with the present group intact… There can’t be anymore fighting. I won’t allow that to happen.”

While the cast members discussed the dispute, Lee even went so far as to provide them with an immediate tape of the fight so they could better assess whether they wanted Abram to stay.

These lengths now seem outdated on the Bunim-Murray MTV shows. No producer mediated the “Portland” house vote, which lasted all of three minutes. On seasons including “Real World: Seattle,” cast members allowed to stay in the house did so while agreeing to attend anger management classes after striking another housemate. Nia was handed down no consequences for her violent behavior, nor was Averey. The Portland season came to a close, with deep tension and a bad aftertaste.

Even on competition series “The Challenge,” violent behavior seems to be condoned more and more by the production team. Notable fights on 2009’s “The Ruins” and 2011’s “The Duel 2” led to male contestants being promptly ejected, but on a recent episode of this summer’s “The Challenge: Rivals 2,” cast members simply laughed and shrugged off Anastasia repeatedly striking CT.

Tolerance of Anastasia’s behavior perhaps underscores the insidious nature of violence on the “Real World” franchise, especially since she hails from the ultra-violent “Portland” house where anything — including fists and blow dryers — would fly. Older vets of the “Real World” franchise are not so quick to place their hands on a fellow housemate, having seen people get kicked off programs for that type of behavior. Anastasia’s actions and the lack of consequences raise questions: Is slapping worthy of a house vote or expulsion? It was 15 years ago on “Real World,” but evidently not now. And are Anastasia’s actions towards CT condoned because she’s a female, and he laughed it off? If so, where do producers draw the line? Is this inherently a sexist way of dealing with violence?

The murky nature of handling on-camera altercations is influenced no doubt by MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” which saw several in-house fights during its six-season run. Produced by 495 Prods., “Jersey Shore” flaunted its drunken brawls in teasers, and significantly upped the noise factor for MTV’s slate of reality programming, specifically on house reality shows. With “Jersey Shore” pulling massive ratings for MTV, and Bunim-Murray’s Oxygen reality show “Bad Girls Club” thriving on unruly, violent behavior, it’s unsurprising that the tonal qualities of these programs would seep over to “Real World” and its spinoffs.

And, without a doubt, auds lap up such brutal fights. Websites including Grantland offered detailed breakdowns and point systems for Nia’s brawl with her housemates, and Twitter users took sides after the fight, trolling Averey, Nia and Johnny and offering slo-mo recaps of each blow in debates about “who won.”

Though they increased Web chatter for the show, the drawn out fights on “Real World’s” Portland run did little to boost the show’s slumping ratings, which have been more than halved since “Real World’s” 2011 return to Las Vegas.

As “Real World” becomes more known for its drunken hookups and fist fights, it slips away from its original intention of serving as a social experiment between young twenty-somethings, and moves towards being a mere boiling pot for brash drama. It is reassuring, when watching “Road Rules: South Pacific,” to see a producer step in front of the camera to address a serious fist fight, but that may never happen again, given the franchise’s trajectory.

What’s more, while some may say that fighting on these shows without intervention is true to the reality of tense social situations, that argument seems to ignore the fact that the reality of these shoots is that there are cameras surrounding these cast members, and their spot on a show is a privilege, not a right.

To allow that privilege to hang in the balance and be questioned — and even taken away entirely — is far more dramatic and real than letting cast members repeatedly duke it out until one parts ways with a production over fears of another attack.

Consequences are a part of the real world. Why doesn’t “The Real World” feel the same?

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  1. Sarah says:

    You guys are biches that ruin shows with your complaining and censorship, how pathetic are you idiots? The reason people watch these shows are for the fights and hookups it’s hardly an “experiment” your website is pathetic…

  2. inthecircleshow says:

    You went on and on and it is clear you never read my comment. Its a documentary. If you don’t understand what that is, that’s your problem. The argument was not about right or wrong in regards to hitting someone. The argument is about being in an uproar about something that is real. Let me explain to you about a reality show. If it happens it should be shown. In real life there are no producers to break stuff up. All this stuff you are talking about in regards to MTV bringing people together is like asking a maid to fix my car. Its not her job. The purpose of this show is to show what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. When you have people with different opinions, backgrounds, and cultures, there are times when things can get intense. When you say “them”, I’m just going to act like I don’t know what you are talking about. If you are someone who is anti media this is just going to be a pointless debate because you have a grudge with it already and nothing I say can change that. Let me add its juvenile to make assumptions about someones life based upon their views being different than yours, which further shows me you are one of the people I spoke about in my original post, someone who have never been outside of their comfort zone and have too many opinions. At the end of the day I enjoyed the show. Because it was authentic. Your arguments are equivalent to watch a reality doctor show and getting upset cause real blood and wounds were shown. Stop it.

    • Kirk H says:

      “You went on and on / Stop it.” You’re the disrespectful brainless audience that still watches MTV shows. Some day you will be cast and then you can tell everybody how you’re “pissed off” and then go around punching things.

  3. Park Lovel says:

    I didn’t watch that season, but it was nice to see that arrogant bitch get her ass kicked

  4. inthecircleshow says:

    I think people who have lived in perfect communities where they are sheltered from violence and things of that nature, are the only one’s making an uproar about this. I think the behavior was wrong, but it’s real life. Why you want to see reality TV as long as things stay cute and cookie cutter.

    • G. Jardoness says:

      inthecirclshow. The real uproar, is not with the violence itself. That is only a symptom of an outlook you seem to share. The belief that something is only ‘real’, when there is misery. An often self-inflicted suffering, the result of an avalanche of poor and poorer choices made, heaped one on top of another.

      For them, life is regressive — If you’re anti-social, if you drop out of school, if you can’t hold a job, if you see no point in taking care of yourself and can’t afford proper medical care, if you smoke, if you drink, if you party, if you do drugs, if you get into fights, if you go to jail, if you get someone pregnant, etc. etc… What sort of ‘real life’ have they assured themselves, and their children?

      Unfortunately, you belief, those who did not make such choices are somehow sheltered, rather than having given thought to or taken the advice regarding the consequences of their actions… But you are right, the other symptom is the extent to which that prurient interest of ‘reality tv’ is universally entertaining… And in that, sadly, ‘they’ are the ones getting the last laugh on you.

      Perhaps, one day, MTV and the like, can find the bravery to express their freedom by seeing how far they can reach, rather than how low they can go… But I’m not holding my breath for the day they bring together a diverse group of young people to find a solution, or discuss and discover how much they have in common and can share — rather than how easily it is to manipulate some and encourage them to be ‘real’… Hang in there inthecircleshow.

  5. Jon says:

    Johnny and Averey have both stated separately that they moved out of the house prior to the vote and were forced by producers to return to the house for the vote. They also said along with Jordan, another roommate, that Nia repeatedly threatened them, the crew, and said she was going to get gangbangers to mess them all up. Reportedly, she smoked quite a bit of marijuana while there.

    Personally, I would have rather seen them air all of Nia’s fight including the drink throwing where Johnny and Averey basically stood there and took it in their bedroom with Jordan stopping Nia from advancing. Since she could not advance, she threw any cup of liquid she could find at them. This should have been followed by her being hauled away in handcuffs and thrown in jail. She should still be finishing her book from her cell as far as I am concerned.

    I’ve watched Real World pretty much from the beginning and this so far past the line from when David pulled Tami’s blanket on RW 2: Los Angeles. He got booted because she felt threatened on just that day. Comparatively, the entire house was repeatedly threatened along with the crew by Nia. Somehow she got a favorable edit as well which never should have happened. There are rumors that the Portland City Council was investigating the situation as well and a possible lawsuit against BMP and MTV might have been in order for misrepresenting what they were filming.

  6. shawna says:

    i think these ppl need to grow the fuck up! who acts like that!? they should be ashamend of themsevles. i miss watchin the old real worlds! time for a new show, maybe bring back all the vets and have them in a house. no challenges or such, i would watch that, im tired of fights, and seeing stupid girls think its ok to hit a guy. they should be going to jail for that shit!

  7. To answer the headline posed question: Because producers of reality shows traditionally pump up the hateful behavior in order to provoke conflict. By now, the cast of these shows already know what is expected, and act accordingly.

    • Sharon says:

      I’m with ya! We tolerate it and young people think it’s cool and the adults don’t do anything to change it. I hope this NIA has consequences.

  8. mikestir says:

    The most shocking part of this is that THe Real WOrld is still a show on TV

  9. Ron says:

    Few notes to the author:
    -BMP lied to you. Their contract, which has been leaked online to Village Voice, explicitly says that assault means immediate expulsion.
    -In regards to voting, BMP used to let the person who was attacked decide the fate of the attacker. See Parisa expelling Trisha on RW: Sydney. The RW: Portland vote was a new bizarre protocol where only those who were not involved in the fight could vote.
    -This is also clear with Road Rules: Latin America and Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Extreme Challenge. Gladys attacked a fellow cast member on Road Rules and Ayanna did the same on the challenge. In both, producers made the decision, not the cast, and the reason given ON CAMERA to the cast member was the show’s contract prohibits violence.
    -Johnny has said in interviews that he called producers on the in-house phone that goes to the production staff and they did nothing. Very important point. When others have previously called on the phone, there was immediate intervention and protection (Parisa on Sydney, Greg on Hollywood). Johnny earlier also asked production to do something after the bathroom attack and they said they wouldn’t. He then left the microphone room and was attacked by Nia with the blow dryer. Compare this to Hollywood where production broke up a near-fight and brought Greg into a safe room.
    -MTV lets you embed clips. You’re a professional website. Embed. Don’t use YouTube.
    -There were 30 minutes in between Nia’s first attack and her sucker punch. During these minutes she threw not just one drink at Averey as they showed, but every possible drink. It was illegal assault to her and Johnny.

  10. Slogan Media says:

    Agreed 100% I even posted such a comment on Twitter after the brawl aired.

    • Mike says:

      Yeah but thats what johnny did to Nia that provoked her he threw a liquid at her and johnny’s girlfriend also sucker punched Nia when she was going for johnny but no one noticed that at all

  11. MBK says:

    Violence on reality television will continue to escalate until law enforcement takes appropriate action. The second question asked in pitch meetings for reality shows (after “What’s the log line?”) is “Where’s the conflict?” As producers compete to up the ante conflict-wise, violence becomes an attractive creative option, especially when no negative consequences result.

    If violence on “reality” shows is indeed authentic, legal consequences should be swift and resolute. If not, viewer notification should be required to make clear that portrayals of criminal violence are fictional. The FCC is quick to step in if an inappropriate word is uttered, by where are they when blatant criminal behavior is committed under the reality banner? The evidence is there for all to see, including law enforcement agencies who are duty-bound to apprehend and prosecute those who break our laws.

    The public’s sick appetite for violent content — witness the broad popularity of viral videos documenting brutal beatings and other illegal behavior — is a tempting target for programmers. But allowing authentic criminal acts to be presented and condoned as reality entertainment is absolutely unacceptable. Variety should keep focusing a harsh light on this disturbing development and loudly call on the proper authorities to do something about it now.

    • JPR says:

      This is so well-said. I couldn’t agree more. I would love for authorities to arrest Nia, or for Bunim-Murray to be forced to admit it was staged. Either way, for shame.

  12. Kay says:

    I think this is just prime example, of many, about where we are as a society at this point in time. Car crash television is something that has been growing in popularity for a number of years. If it gets people talking then it gets people watching and isn’t that what the networks want regardless of the consequences for anybody, especially since good ratings are so hard to come by nowadays.

  13. Jeri says:

    Can you PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell me why that that thattttttt ‘girl’ was not arrested, charged with several counts of battery and sued to the highest level. Bravo to the couple who walked away!! MTV you should be ashamed of yourself for not helping to protect them!!!

  14. G. Jardoness says:

    A tongue-and-cheek article espousing concern over the absolute parade of encouraged and celebrated adolescent train-wrecks that have become MTV’s sole product and existence?

  15. Reblogged this on FilmBliss and commented:
    “Real World: Portland,” viewers watched as a cast member wrapped the cord of a blow dryer around its handle and hunted down another member of the house

  16. WillCall says:

    it’s likely that the MTV producers themselves staged this fight for ratings. definitely a desperation move.

  17. Toon says:

    This is a sign of the desperation of these networks and shows to get viewers that they have to resort to violence, which sells actually. People love violence, sex, and anything ugly these days, except for me. This is one reason, aside from lack of interesting people on the shows, that it’s been over 20 years since I’ve watched MTV. A means to a end for TV as we know it. RIP

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