Most reality shows are, to some extent, fake, frankensteined together in the editing room or herded along by producers if not outright staged. But a trend emerging from TCA is that of the mock unscripted series — the reality parody that pulls together the snap zooms and the "next ons" and all the other tropes common in the "nonfiction" realm of the small screen. TV is following in the footsteps of the internet in this — recent web series like The Onion's "Sex House" and Yahoo's "Burning Love" skewered both the tendencies of and visual language of "The Real World," "Big Brother" and "The Bachelor."
BET's "Real Husbands of Hollywood," which closed out the second day of the winter press tour with a very funny session from stars Kevin Hart (the creator) and J.B. Smoove, is a satirical male-centric answer to the likes of the "Real Housewives" franchise and "Basketball Wives." Hart and Smoove will play variations on themselves, with Boris Kodjoe, Duane Martin, Nick Cannon and Robin Thicke joining them in surreal Los Angeles situations.
"We’re mocking what everybody makes fun of on a regular basis," explained Hart. "We’re just doing it to where now people can put a picture to what we’ve been saying for years." He added that the scenarios in "Real Husbands of Hollywood" are built around the cast's lives. "We’re making fun of ourselves. Boris, who’s know to be an attractive man — we feel like his time is past. Nobody thinks you’re attractive anymore, Boris.
"Nelly being a rapper, but he’s into weights. Stop lifting. It’s too much. Robin being with Paula Patton, we feel like it’s not fair because Paula Patton should be with one of us. These are things that we do, self-inflicted, you know. We create our own problems in our environment, and we react to those problems from the other actors that are involved in the show."
Cannon was initially only on board to do a few episodes, but started getting more involved and bringing things from his personal life to the table as he took to the series. Hart said that "he wanted us to incorporate things about him and Mariah in the show because it’s things that people have said about him for so long. He said, you know what, if people are saying it, why not make fun of it and make it even crazier than what it already is." The show, which premieres on January 15th, is partially improvised, though they go into scenes with an outline and story in mind.
"Kroll Show," Comedy Central's endearingly bizarre new sketch series from comedian (and "The League" star) Nick Kroll, may have as its highlight a pitch perfect "Degrassi" parody called "Wheels Ontario," but another of its memorable strands is "PubLIZity," in which Kroll (in drag) and Jenny Slate play the stars of a reality series about a publicist agency. Both are, yes, named Liz, though Kroll's Liz is the hard working one and Slate's is the one who just wants to live her life.
The most entertaining aspect of the ongoing strand is the dead-on way it spawns spin-offs like a Russian nesting dolls — Slate's character gets plastic surgery for her dog from Dr. Armand (also Kroll), who then gets his own domestic reality show ("Armand of the House"). "That spins off when he gets divorced into 'Armand About Town," said Kroll. "And then that spins off to Andy Milonakis, who plays my son Roman in the show, gets his own reality show called 'Roman’s Empire' and that spins off and they keep spinning off." Kroll Show" premieres on January 16.
"The Joe Schmo Show" is both a reality series and a parody of one — it's SpikeTV's resurrection of Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese's hoax show that ran for two seasons in 2003-2004 and centered around a unknowing target who thinks he's in a reality competition, unaware that everyone else is an actor (including, in its first round, Kristen Wiig). The first two seasons of the show skewered a "Big Brother"-style strand and then a "The Bachelor"-style one.
This time, the fake concept being laid out is one of a bounty hunter competition show called "The Full Bounty" — as SpikeTV's Sharon Levy said, "we thought bounty hunting, that’s it because that will, give us the level of outrageous and unexpected that we need. It’s also a great way to do smart comedy, to parody. And that genre, bounty hunting and police and kicking down doors, you know, that seemed perfect for us." Lorenzo Lamas, who plays a version of himself, claimed "this is not a reality show. It’s really a sitcom with a reality participant in it," a sentiment executive producer J. Holland Moore echoed.
It's harder to keep the conspiracy in an age in which technology and reality storytelling have gotten more sophisticated. As Moore said, "reality TV wasn’t as crazy back then. So it was easier to do crazier things. It’s gotten so crazy over the years. To go over the top on that, that was even more difficult as well."
Another executive producer, John Stevens, added that "It was one of the most stressful jobs I’d ever had because we’ve got a really smart guy, smarter than anyone I’d ever seen on the previous series. They were, like, we are going to get this guy with a master’s. It was very nerve-racking for me as a producer."
But in the end, what made the first season of "The Joe Schmo" show so interesting and unexpectedly subversive is that it achieved something that may be the opposite of what the average reality show is about — sincerity and compassion. 2003 contestant Matt Gould was a genuinely nice guy, so much that the series was altered to accomodate how protective of him the people behind it started feeling. With people much more aware of how reality show contestants are expected to behave, this is surely something that's become trickier to find.
"You don’t want a guy who is going to act on screen," said Moore. "You don’t want a guy who is doing it for the camera time, you know. You want a real genuine individual. We sent teams in cities all over America undercover. They would go to locations, and they would talk to guys, and if they got a good vibe from them, we’d talk to [them], put them on tape, and we would watch hundreds and hundreds of people. You don’t want the guy who wants to be on a reality show." "The Joe Schmo Show" premieres on January 8.