Reality Schmeality

Former Phoenicians amp up the reality TV biz with Joe Schmoe

NT: Earth to TV Land! You think I'm going to miss a single episode of a show where people are paid to make fun of someone?

Wernick: It's more than that. Reality TV has set the bar so high that it's harder to fool people. On every reality show from now on, contestants are going to say, "Am I on The Joe Schmoe Show?" We've changed the whole genre, because now everyone will think, "Are they fucking with me? What the hell is going on here?"

NT: I think Matt's first tip-off should have been that all the men on your show are dogs. Hasn't he noticed that reality shows always have buff guys?

Reese and Wernick
Reese and Wernick

Reese: (laughing) Hey, you're the first person who's said that to us. We gotta write that down! "Get buff guys."

NT: And the collectors' plates with the faces of the contestants on them that you smash into the fireplace whenever someone gets voted off. I mean, it's all brilliant, but it's so obviously contrived.

Reese: As is all reality. We wanted to make it as serious as possible, to the point of complete ridiculousness. All of the ceremonies, the music, the set direction, the tone of the host's voice. We were shooting for parody.

NT: So the other contestants are all actors playing contestants. Did it ever occur to you that Matt might recognize some of them? I just saw Brian in a pizza commercial. And Franklin Jones, who plays the old guy contestant, was on The West Wing.

Wernick: It was very risky, and led to many sleepless nights. We tried to find talented, undiscovered actors. But then the actor playing Hutch was on Six Feet Under, one of Matt's favorite shows. Another one of our contestants played Rachel's boss on Friends, another show Matt loves. It was a huge risk, but we were hoping that out of context, the actors wouldn't be recognizable to him. We spent millions of dollars on the show, and Matt could have come in and said, "Aren't you the guy from Six Feet Under?"

NT: Another risk was putting the fat, ugly contestant in a G-string. And, hey, does the guy playing the homo have to be such a screamer?

Wernick: But there are characters exactly like that on reality shows. The extreme gay guy is a stock reality-show character. He's not a comment on homosexuals, but on reality TV characters.

NT: What does it say about people that we want to watch reality shows?

Wernick: It says that we could do quality TV with the best writers and actors and subject matter, and people would rather watch car chases on the news. Because on a scripted show, you know how things are going to end, but with reality TV, you don't. Which is appealing to all people.

NT: Okay. But what will happen to reality TV once you guys run out of gimmicks?

Wernick: We've taken the first step with this show. First, there was reality TV, then there were the reality shows with a twist, like Joe Millionaire. We've taken the twist to the next level, and it will have to evolve from here. But I promise you, reality TV is here to stay. It's cheaper to produce than The West Wing, and it gets ratings.

NT: Here's my theory: I think the real punch line to your show is that the joke isn't on Matt, it's on the viewers. I think Matt is an actor, too.

Reese: And you're wrong. He's a real guy. I think as much fun as it is to put one over on the guy in the show, it wouldn't go over to try and fool an audience member. I'd be outraged if I were the viewer and that happened to me. I'd be outraged if I were watching this show and then I found out that the producers had tried to fool me.

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