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Listen: Lisa Vanderpump, Julie Chen on Reality TV: ‘Drama and Conflict Always Sell’

Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.

In this week’s episode, Variety‘s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum talked with a panel of reality stars and executives: Julie Chen (“Big Brother”), Ty Pennington (“Trading Spaces”), Lisa Vanderpump (“Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and “Vanderpump Rules”), Warner Horizon’s exec VP of alternative programming Brooke Karzen, and “America’s Got Talent” executive producer Sam Donnelly.

Listen to this week’s podcast for free below and at Apple Podcasts:

“Drama and conflict always sell, but on the other end of the spectrum, we love anything that’s inspiring,” said Chen of the secret to making a hit reality TV series. “We want to see dreams come true, stars being made.”

Asked about the biggest misconceptions about reality TV, the panelists all agreed: “That it’s scripted!” they answered in chorus.

“I wish it was scripted. It would be so much easier,” jokes Vanderpump. “We always wish it was scripted, because you get to a place where there’s nowhere to go, and the cameras are rolling. … I think it was scripted, it would be a lot saner than it is.”

The panelists agreed that “authenticity is paramount” — that the camera doesn’t lie, and viewers will quickly reject anyone — or any show — that “smacks of insincerity.”

Karzen referenced the recent season of “The Bachelor,” where Arie changed his mind about his final choice. “We went to him and said, we need to tell that story,” she said. “It’s an amazing pressure cooker, but it’s a social experiment in many ways.”

Among the other topics discussed was the impact of social media — and how it’s had an increasing influence on the direction of the show.

“What social media has done has given our audience a voice,” Karzen said. “They’ve almost become another producer in the show.”

Agreed Pennington, “I think social media is producing the shows these days.”

Contestants can either thrive — or wilt — under that media glare, which often springs up overnight, said the panelists. Donnelly talked about a contestant on “America’s Got Talent” who went from 900 followers to having 75,000 the next morning. “There’s a big responsibility for us to look after our contestants as well,” she acknowledged.

Casting gets harder every year, they all said. “But every now and then, we’ll get someone — a raw, fresh talent,” Chen said. “But at the end of the day, whether they know the show or they don’t, everyone who has been a houseguest says it is so not what I imagined. You never know what’s going to transpire.”

But there has to be a careful vetting process to make sure racist, sexist, homophobic contestants don’t get through. If they have before, they won’t anymore, they said.

“Not since Roseanne’s tweet,” Chen said. “Not anymore.”

New episodes of “Remote Controlled” are available every Friday. Subscribe to “Remote Controlled” on iTunesStitcherSoundcloud, or anywhere you download podcasts. You can find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.

Let us know what you think of Variety’s podcasts! You can email us at podcasts@variety.com to offer comments, suggestions, and ideas for interview subjects you’d like to hear from. 

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