Reality TV is even faker than you think

In a must-listen segment from this week’s installment of WNYC’s On The Media, an anonymous TV producer pulls back the curtain on what really happens during the production of many “reality” TV shows.


David Lyle made his name in reality TV.
Reality TV is his professional calling card.
It’s his specialty.
And now Mr. Lyle is the CEO of the National Geographic Channel.

David Lyle, CEO of the National Geographic Channel

  • What is Lyle’s most grievous crime? A lack of respect for the viewer and a mercenary dismissal of the Geographic’s hundred years of journalistic scruples.

    Lyle and folks like him – including the board of the Society – assume that the people they address are little more than kennel animals desperate for titillation, conflict and shiny baubles. The cynical embrace of lying as an artform is contemptible but apparently profitable, which begs the question, What is the National Geographic Society’s new goal? Let’s be honest: money.

    For a hundred years the Society performed enormous services, educating generations of citizens about the world beyond their orbits. It also did something considered impossible (or, at least, not bankable) in contemporary society: it prospered by excelling in art and ethics. Geographic could have made more money – by endorsing products, selling products, becoming more commercially involved – but its original mandate and the stature of its founders’ ethics argued against cheapening the brand. Its success was based on accuracy, truth, and “being there.”

    In this way it the magazine became the third largest periodical in the world with a subscription rate over twelve millions. The Society won that confidence honestly. Selling the brand isn’t something the founders would have considered.

    Cynical carpetbaggers from outside the society dangled large bags of money in exchange for the Society’s name. Board members who considered themselves far above the hoi polloi assumed that suckers in front of their TVs just wouldn’t know the difference, and grabbed the bags gladly. Shame on you. The men who created a great institution of learning, for the public good and not for their own gain, would say the same thing. Perhaps more forcefully.

    • I can hear the reply from 17th & M: It’s a new day, Jan. And television is not like the Magazine. Two different worlds. Two different types of audience.

      In fact, John Fahey effectively said as much in this interview.

      The challenge, of course, is coming up with another source of revenue that doesn’t rely on “titillation and conflict.”

      Thanks, as always, for being there, Mr. Adkins.

      • Guest

        As a current employee at NGS, I can tell you that there are many of us who agree with both of you. And, as JF says in just about every staff meeting, we are lucky to have the Channel’s money. The Board and executives don’t care about the history of NGS. All they care about is whoring out the NGS name and making money so that they can continue with their overblown salaries, bonuses, and perks. All the while, the worker bees struggle to stay afloat with their low salaries; trying to put out the best products they can with little resources and budgets; and dealing with the revolving door of interns (among other things).

        • Don’t despair, even if it gets worse… before it gets better. 🙂 … Happy 2013!

        • 4seasons

          I totally agree! One can’t help but notice, that these so-called “reality” shows on Discovery, Nat Geo etc. are all based on one template using inter-changable “actors” with different hobbies. It’s not entertaining, but annoying beyond words. I got rid of cable two years ago as I was sick and tired of paying a
          fortune for commercials and stupid “reality” shows featuring
          hyper-loudmouth morons. Now I’m not only streaming shows (documentaries!) with substance and that I’m actually
          insterested in, but I save a lot of money too.

          • 4S – I’m certain you’re not the only one. Yet these reality shows still draw a crowd, which is why NGC keeps producing them. Not until more people vote by doing what you’ve already done will anything change. …. Thanks for your comment, and for stopping by.

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