20/20’s access offers very little insight or new information about reality TV

Reality Rules: When TV Gets Real, a “special edition” of ABC News’ 20/20 that aired last night, was the predictable mix of clips and information about reality TV that constitutes news only for someone who has paid no attention for the last 10 years or so. And as the hour wore on, it got even more pointless and boring, failing to deliver on its promises such as “the inside secrets of getting it all on tape.”

The show’s access revealed some interesting things, showing executive producer SallyAnn Salsano’s live feed of Jersey Shore‘s cameras in her Florence, Italy, apartment (so she can watch raw footage as it happens all night). We also got to see Andy Cohen in his office, which appears to be bigger than his set.

Andy Cohen revealed that he didn’t want the “of Orange County” subtitle on the first Real Housewives because, he said, “I thought, this is ridiculous. This is never going to happen in another city.” And producer Michael Hirschorn, who was responsible for celebreality’s rise when he was at VH1, discussed the “post-partem depression” and “unintended consequences” that some cast members experience. And we learned a little about the good that can come from being on a reality show: Caroline Manzo said that “it’s a tremendous gift to be able to see yourself from the outside looking in, as others see you.”

Beyond that, 20/20’s Chris Connelly and Deborah Roberts mostly described rather than explored, investigated, or analyzed. For example, they told us that Jersey Shore‘s success can be attributed to the fact that its producers “shoot absolutely everything,” but few shows do that.

With its heavy focus on Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives, most of the network shows that got any screen time were, surprise, ABC shows, like The Bachelor and Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition; it even pimped the upcoming Expedition Impossible. 20/20 also spent an excruciating amount of time on the casting process for some future, probably ABC dating series.

Most frustratingly, a lot went unchallenged or unexplained, which is supposed to be the point of journalism. The Wrap’s Mali Perl insisted that Teresa’s table flip was “the first time we saw people lose it that was so epic.” Really? Are we just going to ignore The Real World‘s first, and second, and third (and every other) season? Or, if we’re just thinking about the post-Survivor era, the nine years of people losing it on reality TV that came before The Real Housewives?

In a segment about contestants making money off of their TV show appearances, it mentioned that Jersey Shore‘s Snooki “has written a novel,” but didn’t bother to note that A Shore Thing actually did not sell many copies.

The show also asked us, “Remember Wes Hayden?” Yes, absolutely. But here’s what 20/20 had to tell us about Wes’ post-TV life: “Well, he’s on iTunes.” Thanks for the investigative journalism, ABC News.

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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.