Robo-hosts who get fed lines by producers include Ty Pennington, Tabatha Coffey

Bravo’s Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, which is essentially a salon version of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, concludes its run tonight. It’s a competently produced, relatively engaging series, even if the makeover part is a bit forced. It’s also hosted by a robo-host, like an increasing number of other reality series.

“Robo-host” (maybe it should be one word, robohost?) is an awesome term reality show producer JD Roth used when I talked to him this summer. If you don’t recognize Roth as the host of Discovery Kids’ Endurance (Survivor for teenagers), the talking head on Fox’s Unan1mous, or ABC’s new hybrid game/reality show Opportunity Knocks, you’ll recognize his voice from shows such as The Biggest Loser, which he narrates.

He’s also the executive producer of all of these shows produced by his company, 3Ball Productions. So why, I asked him in July, does he host and/or narrate so many of his shows? As I mentioned in this msnbc.com piece about the new reality host Emmy, Roth said that’s because “there’s no better way as a producer to control what’s going on on your set than to be in front of it. A lot of hosts now, they wear the earpiece, and I have to sit back there, and they become robo-host, and I gotta talk to them, and everything that comes out of my mouth comes out of theirs.”

That hosts are being fed lines through small, wireless IFB earpieces is sometimes obvious, but it’s also annoying. Real hosts–Seacrest, Probst, even Bergeron–work closely with producers, but they don’t get fed lines while they’re live on camera. Robo-hosts, however, just parrot or do whatever a producer tells them, so they’re basically like human puppets.

For sure, not all are being told everything to say, as producers can also communicate stage directions or other information. But shouldn’t good hosts be able to take directions before filming starts and then just improvise? It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the industry has run out of good hosts and now has to fake them, which makes Roth’s decision to just host himself make a lot of sense, especially because he’s good at it.

Hosts I’ve spotted wearing earpieces recently include Glam God judge Phillip Bloch, Groomer Has It host Jai Rodriguez, Shear Genius salon manager Rene Fris, and Tabatha Coffey, who appeared on the first season of Shear Genuis. Those who have short hair, like all of the aforementioned hosts, are the most easy to spot, but it’s safe to say that others wear them, too.

Even Extreme Makeover: Home Edition host Ty Pennington wears one, as a New York Times article revealed. Dominici told Pennington, “I want you to tell me that this is a very green energy source. And I want you to stick the hose into the ground!’”

The other designers and carpenters on the show wear earpieces, too, although Paul DiMeo told the paper he won’t wear one: “I’m 50 years old. I will say what I say, and they will use it!”

Executive producer Anthony Dominici is unapologetic about what he does, as while the Times said that “cast members tend to bristle when they sense they are being fed lines,” Dominici his cast members will repeat what he says multiple times. “Until I get it right, they’re not in the show,” he said. That’s such a bizarre statement: Until the producer gets it right, the cast member doesn’t get included.

It’s kind of amusing to watch producers try to cover that up the earpieces. Jai Rodriguez wore his in the ear facing the camera on Roth’s production Groomer Has It for a few episodes, but then producers got smart and switched ears–although it was still visible when he turned his head.

Tabatha Coffey’s is probably the worst-concealed earpiece of them all. In the first episode of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, she’d put her hand on the earpiece and then suddenly respond, as if she was a Secret Service agent. On last week’s episode, she was clearly wearing an earpiece when she confronted an employee in the salon’s back room, but when the editors cut back to her, they were blurring out the earpiece: suddenly, the inside of her ear was fuzzy.

If editors have to go to that much work to conceal the fact that the host is being controlled off-camera, there’s something very wrong. How about hiring hosts you trust enough to do their jobs instead of ones who need to be fed and led like babies?

Emmys get a reality check — at last [MSNBC]
Emotional Buildup [New York Times]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.