Tuesday, May 11, 2010

the people behind the reality

Meet Doron Ofir, the Man Behind 'Jersey Shore'

In case you ever wondered what it takes to find the people whose exploits disgust and entertain me/you/reality TV viewers, here's a sample.  Doron Ofir is a casting producer who's been around since 2000, bringing you the Situation, Snooki, the millionaires of Millionaire Matchmaker, the skanks of A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, among others.  And what Shelly Tatro, VH1's VP of creative programming, says about him sums up reality TV casting: "He puts desperate people together and gets inside their heads.  He's very gifted."

And the man himself doesn't have a lofty point of view about what he does: "We are pioneers of an ugly age.  Our business is like a short bus."

As a former casting producer, I can tell you HE. IS. SO. RIGHT.  I worked for a period of time on a show about extramarital affairs and spent my days finding people who had not only had extramarital affairs, but would talk to a stranger about it on the phone in detail, would sign a 7 page release form saying they would talk about that extramarital affair on camera, would get the other participants in that extramarital affair to agree to either talk about it on camera or sign off on it being talked about on camera, and who were all, in the end, pretty damn excited about talking about that extramarital affair on camera.  They were the lowest common denominator, people who had done something terrible and wanted nothing more then to talk about it.

Whether reality TV is the symptom or the disease isn't something I can figure out.  But the fact of the matter is, we live in a fame obsessed society, and there are some people in this fame obsessed society who want nothing more then to be famous for something, anything.  And the feeling I always got about the people who would actually call me, someone they would never meet, and tell me all about that time they did the worst thing you could do to your significant other, was that this was the most interesting thing that had ever happened to them.  And if it could make them "famous" for a minute, an half-hour, a day, they were all for it.

And it was kind of sad, and I felt a little dirty and weird asking people "tell me all about the first time you and so-and-so hooked up" when I don't even ask my friends that, but at the same time, it paid my bills, and I found it fascinating.  Not just for the stories they'd tell me, but for their willingness to share them with me.  In a way, it's an anthropological experiment, which is how Ofir looks at it: "I know for a fact that any place where there is a culture, there's a show.  We obsess over every subculture or interesting, existing world.  Everything and everyone can be turned into reality television."

Obviously there's a good way to hold a mirror up to subcultures (True Life is a great example) and a bad way (sorry, Jersey Shore), but the guy has a point.  Have you ever known so much about drag queens or fashion designers or huge families or kids who live in Jersey?  And of course no representation is accurate, and editing is editing, and writing happens on these shows, and we're fools to think that there isn't, but at the same time - I've never met anyone like Snooki my entire life.  But on TV, in a way, I get to meet her.

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