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The Reality of the Situation

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While I was watching @Midnight on Comedy Central, Chris Hardwick presented a clip from truTV's South Beach Tow that had gone viral on YouTube. It featured the reality show's Bernice falling two stories from a parking garage after being pushed by a car, getting up and throwing her fist through the window of the offending vehicle. It may be a cool thing to question the reality of reality shows, but at what point do we quit calling them "reality shows," and start calling them "mockumentaries"?

Because, let's be clear, as easy as it is to pan reality TV, there's a market for them. They're easy to produce, and they provide regular water-cooler talk the next day. The problem comes when producers start to create drama for better ratings. And I'm not talking about clever editing to heighten a feud, I mean actual staging and scripting of scenes. The problem isn't that they're doing it, it's that while doing it, they still purport to be "reality."

The Office was a great example of a show that took the reality show, or documentary, format and put it together with a script. For a successful run of nine seasons, it looked like a reality show, but we know that Steve Carell was Michael Scott, that John Krasinski was Jim Halpert, that the events were fictional and no one was in any real danger. If Michael Scott had actually jumped from the roof of the Dunder Mifflin offices and survived, we could excuse the show's producers, because none of it was real.

On the other hand, there is South Beach Tow, a "reality" show that seems to hang on to that designation simply because Tremont Towing is an actual company operating under the employ of the actual people who appear on the show. What isn't real, however, is any of the story that they present on the network that's dedicated to reality programing. They have been caught on several occasions faking scenes. They try to get around this by saying that the stories are based on the real lives of the people involved, but by the same logic we could call the movie W. a documentary.

Again, to be clear, I have no problem with a show like this existing. The gripe I have is specifically one of designation. If you're going to call yourself a reality show, should be no scripts whatsoever. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo features the pageant child and her family just being themselves and doing what they do. That's reality. It's not my cup of tea, but it's a real family going through real stuff. Whenever anyone on South Beach Tow says anything, it sounds like they're reading off a cue card. That's not something that real people do!

So, the reality of the situation is this: South Beach Tow, keep doing what you're doing, because obviously some people love it, but, if you do, drop the "reality show" facade and present your true colors. You're a mockumentary series, bro. Claim it, own it, wear it loud and proud!


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