For your Friday and weekend reading, here are five deep dives into reality TV shows and personalities that I’ve really enjoyed reading over the past few weeks—and links to reality TV news you may have missed elsewhere.
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Reality TV’s Wildest Disaster (New Yorker)
This is a wonderfully detailed account into what happened on UK’s Eden, the show that let people create a society for a year but didn’t air new episodes for almost as long. During the year, there was cast rebellion, cheating, walk-outs, and so much more. Sam Knight’s report, including from the actual Eden location, is a must-read.
When the show ended production, as planned, last March, that prompted some inaccurate reporting claiming that the show had been cancelled but the cast was left behind. The piece addresses that: The show never stopped filming, though the production was fraught with problems. Those problems led Channel 4 to delay broadcast of the remaining episodes until this August so they could get the participants’ perspective on what happened.
Kathy Griffin Isn’t Apologizing Anymore (The Cut)
The fascinating details include the end of her friendship with Anderson Cooper, which came after he appeared on Andy Cohen’s show and said he was still friends with her, despite not having reached out to Kathy.
The TV That Created Donald Trump (New Yorker)
Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Emily Nussbaum looks back at how television helped create Donald Trump.
Of course, that includes The Apprentice, as she deconstructs the show to look at how “Mark Burnett helped turn the Donald Trump of the late nineties—the disgraced huckster who had trashed Atlantic City; a tabloid pariah to whom no bank would lend—into a titan of industry, nationally admired for being, in his own words, ‘the highest-quality brand.'”
But the piece also covers a lot that I wasn’t aware of, from his 1980s TV appearances to pro wrestling, all of which helped shape the public’s understanding of him.
Mic arts critic Kevin O’Keeffe looks at Big Brother‘s past and present: the “alarming number of contestants who have said transphobic, homophobic, racist and sexist things — yet the people behind the reality show have only occasionally felt it necessary to air those comments.”
An intriguing argument by Kristen Rando that suggests “The Bachelor and The Bachelorette promote a Disney branded agenda, implying that predominantly white, heterosexual, good-looking people who abide by traditional gender roles will find love.” Kristen Rando argues that the “rampant sexism” and the way The Bachelorette “exposes the double standards in the franchise’s conservative philosophy.”
She also makes fascinating connections between Disney and its hit ABC reality franchise, pointing out how “people of color in Disney media adhere to harmful stereotypes depending on their race, or are merely background characters in a white hero’s story”—just like in most seasons of The Bachelor and Bachelorette.
Reality show news
- Auditions started at Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs in August, and its senior supervising producer told The Orlando Sentinel, “I’m impressed by the turnout, and I’m impressed by what we’re seeing. I can’t even see the end of the line right now. This is great, especially in this heat.” The number he estimated, though, was just “up to 2,000 hopefuls.” (Orlando Sentinel)
- Only about 2,000 people showed up to audition for American Idol in Sacramento, far fewer than it used to draw, which led TV critic Chuck Barney to ask, “Is ABC making a great big mistake?” (Mercury News)
- World of Dance tied Big Brother‘s live Thursday episodes for fourth place in 18-49 ratings this summer. Among total viewers, Big Brother fell behind World of Dance, but was ahead of Bachelorette. (Indiewire)
- Filmmaker Liz Garbus has been embedded inside The New York Times since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, to document how the newspaper has been covering him and his administration. The result will be a four-part series that airs on Showtime next year. And if you can’t wait for that, I highly recommend watching Page One—it’s a fantastic documentary. (CNN)
- What happened to the Destination, the crab boat that sunk off-camera on Deadliest Catch? (It wasn’t a featured boat with cameras aboard, but the show has included its story, including of the Coast Guard’s search.) Possible answers came during Coast Guard investigation hearings. (Seattle Times)
- Cooper Hefner, Hugh Hefner’s son, is now running Playboy, and says in a profile that the E! show The Girls Next Door didn’t help the Playboy brand: it “brought the company down-market” and “collected a young audience but didn’t do a good job of conveying how Playboy is both playful and sophisticated,” he said. (Hollywood Reporter)
Reality star news
- Nick Viall and Vanessa Grimaldi broke up. E! News asks, “What went wrong?” to which I’d answer, “The Bachelor.” (E! News)
- LuAnn de Lesseps says “I believe [Tom] was not cheating on me” but said he also wouldn’t stop going out with ex-girlfriends, which is why she filed for divorce. Plus, she says, “I started seeing things on the show, which I didn’t know he was saying. Like, ‘I’m a dog with a leash.’ All of these things were hurtful, on top of the continued going out and still making the same circle.” (People)
- Bethenney Frankel will have surgery to remove skin cancer on her face. She said, “I had a growth on my face that was enlarging. I guessed it to be a basal cell carcinoma and had it lanced and removed. The doctor confirmed it is indeed basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, and says while it is cancer, I am lucky to have it removed—so it won’t affect my overall health.” (People)
- Bachelor in Paradise‘s Corinne Olympios blames herself for her “severe black out” on location, saying “I drank a little too much when I was on medication. I shouldn’t have been drinking that much and mixing different alcohols. … The only regret I have is letting myself drink too much — that’s it. It was unfortunate. But you know what, I’m an adult and I have to move past it.” (People)
- Omarosa Manigault is one of the White House staffers whose access to President Trump is being limited by new White House chief of staff John Kelly. The reason, The Daily Beast reports: “The stories Manigault would present to Trump, often on a phone or printed out, would often enrage the president, and resulted in him spending at least the rest of the day fuming about it.” (Daily Beast)
- Michelle Visage confirmed she’ll be a judge for the new season of Ireland’s Got Talent.
- Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio changed the name of his new restaurant in Manhattan because its name has racist connotations. Fowler & Wells is now Temple Court. It was named after “Lorenzo and Orson Fowler and Samuel Wells, were proponents of phrenology, a popular 19th-century belief that the shape of one’s skull revealed characteristics like mental aptitude and personality. The practice was frequently used to justify slavery and to advance a belief in African-American inferiority,” according to the New York Times. Colicchio, who named a cocktail the Phrenological Cabinet, insists he was ignorant of the meaning: “I have a fairly liberal persona and never in a million years would consider myself a racist, so it never crossed my mind.” (New York Times)
- Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, a cast member on The Apprentice, is running for the Florida Senate. He’s currently a member of the Florida House of Representatives. The election is Sept. 26. (Miami Herald)
- A show based on the life of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kim Richards is in development at ABC. It’s called Glass Houses—a title that reminded me of this. (Variety)
- Clay Aiken apologized and called himself “a fucking dumbass” for his previous defense of Donald Trump. He tweeted: “Remember all those times I defended @realDonaldTrump and believed he was not actually racist? Well… I am a f*****g dumbass.
Reality TV industry news
- Four Teamsters who harassed Top Chef cast and crew in the Boston area were acquitted of extortion. The trial included testimony from host Padma Lakshmi and the show’s location manager, who said he’s feared for his life ever since the 2014 incident. (Deadline)
- Long-time reality TV executive Amy Introcaso-Davis is leaving GSN and joining E! to lead its development and production. Before GSN, where she developed Skin Wars, Amy was at Bravo and Oxygen, and is responsible for series including The Real Housewives, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Glee Project, and Flipping Out. (Variety) Also, read my interview with Amy from last year.
- The new Facebook Watch’s most-popular show is, of course, its worst: A&E’s Bae or Bail, which the network said “has over 24 million views” and “over 230k shares and more than 35k comments” as of Sept. 7.