truTV executives think we don’t care that some of their shows are fake

When Court TV rebranded itself as truTV, the network said it would focus on shows that are “not reality” but “actuality.” That could have meant the network was going to order shows that followed “actual” people and events rather than soft-scripted, heavily orchestrated reality shows. Instead, they use the word “actuality” because “bullshit” wouldn’t work so well as a tagline.

While the network has aired real, truthful reality series like Black Gold, which is produced by Deadliest Catch creator Thom Beers, some of its shows are just fiction masquerading as reality, such as Operation Repo, which has actors acting out scripted stories, even if they are “based on real events.” That’s not reality TV, but because it’s framed as a reality show, it draws viewers who think the stories involve real people and have real consequence.

Its executives don’t care.

Turner Broadcasting’s Steve Koonin told the L.A. Times, “Notice we don’t say it’s reality. We call it actuality. This is our version of reality.” And the channel’s executive vice president and general manager, Marc Juris, told the paper, “What’s critical is that the people who are the main characters are real. These are real teams. This is their profession, and these are their stories.”

And while at least one of the network’s stars insists in the story that his show is real, even if these are “real teams” and “their stories,” what we’re watching is still fakeness passed off as and capitalizing on people’s appetite for actual reality. As some jerk reality TV critic quoted in the story says, that’s offensive to pretend that the only thing that matters is that the people are real, even if they’re doing fake things.

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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.