Does Reality TV really give you a career?

Reality TVFor some time now, I have made public (to clients and friends) my utter dislike of reality shows. Any reality shows – building houses, dancing people who like to be called “stars”, getting thin people fat, getting fat people thin.

To me any form of reality TV show is the curse of modern television. I remember television in the days when variety meant clever, on the spot, sharp and often unrehearsed Tonight shows with the likes of Grahame Kennedy and Don Lane, and when local drama series (that were really dramatic) dominated the ratings .

Now the stars of TV are mainly Mr and Mrs Nobody with a good back story (mother left without husbands, blind singers, old housewives and lonely spinsters who always wanted to be stars), but I save my biggest arrows of dissatisfaction for the reality TV talent shows themselves.

Up until a few years ago, TV talent shows were looked upon as the dregs of the earth in entertainment. The classic example was a low budget little number called Pot of Gold the Ten Network used to run for an hour five days a week at lunchtime, where a couple of judges (one of which was usually the always acidic but generally accurate Bernard King) would watch sword swallowers, jugglers, dancers, little ballerinas, singers and occasionally even actors make fools of themselves. A couple of people came out of it relatively unscathed but one could never say it made careers.

Well, how things have changed! TV talent shows in various guises are now big-budget, prime time extravaganzas. Well known judges populate them (usually pop stars) and everyone from little school boys, to lonely housewives to real professionals parade themselves before the panel for judgement.

The latest in this horror show of entertainment for the masses is The Voice which currently is rating it’s head off for the Nine network. It is based on similar big budget shows in other parts of the world and it has been sold to us in Australia as the pure side of reality talent shows. Instead of nobodies with sad back stories, the series has encouraged people with professional backgrounds to audition (but preferably with sad or quirky back stories).

So, in the last two weeks as the early episodes go to air we see four pop people (I refrain from the word “stars”) needing to be convinced of talent by only hearing and not seeing various performers. If they turn their chairs around-bingo, you are into the next round.

Reality TV - The Horror
The Horror of Reality TV

There is something about this show I find more repellant than all the other juke box talent sideshows that have come before it, as it tempts people in the profession: pop, theatre,music theatre etc, to be judged (or as I am told, coached) by the four pop people, many of whom have not the background, credits or training of the performers being paraded before them.

As a result, in London, as a classic example, leading music theatre star Kerry Ellis, original UK Elphaba (Wicked), Olivier award winner, star of about 10-15 major stage shows, went on the show and was rejected. This week in Australia a similar thing occurred with highly experienced pop singer and iconic entertainer Shauna Jensen. I have discouraged many performers from doing this show because of these type of experiences, but the enticement is huge national exposure and that vacuous overused word – fame!

I could write a thesis on ‘fame’- what it is and what it isn’t – and how the idea of millions people knowing the name of a pop singer or a music theatre star will encourage the most experienced to put themselves through potential humiliation for that little bite of the glittering prize -ie. being known by Mr & Mrs Joe Average.

Television has not been kind to theatre performers in recent years, the decline of variety shows and the very Australian idea that a stage performer cant also be a film and TV actor, has made many established actors feel the need to be judged by pop singers with limited experience, but who, for one pop song or marriage or other, are household names.

So the madness of reality TV talent shows goes on, till people are sick of them.

Now we come to the latest sideshow, a reality TV show that promises a role on Broadway: Channel Ten’s I Will Survive show, which I am sure you can read about elsewhere on this site. It is the new kid on the reality block, and I don’t know enough about it yet and will examine it in more detail in coming months, but I gave one warning; I have had a lot of experience in getting green cards for actors. A greencard is the only way an actor can perform on Broadway. So meeting US talent agents or the like means nothing unless you can legally work there.

There are two ways of getting to perform on Broadway; win the greencard in a lottery or work up an application (which can take several years) providing proof that you are an artist of exceptional ability who has performed professionally on three continents.

This new show promises a role in Priscillaon Broadway and meetings with top talent agents. Beware people, this sounds like daydream land and I would like to know what American equity feels about an Australian walking on stage without proper paper work.

All I will say again is, don’t be sold into dreaming that this is another way to elusive fame! In time, we shall see what this show can really finally offer the winner.

Reality TV talent shows in all their shapes and sizes will continue while people want the quick ride, the hurried fix, the express route to fame. I prefer our artists who are extraordinary, who work hard to get to America and possibly Broadway. Look at people like Tony Sheldon, who have done things the legitimate way and are now reaping the rewards as a result.

You know, I dont think Tony ever appeared on Pot of Gold or The Voice…


Since writing this article, some people have been commenting on the fact that I Will Survive, doesnt actually promise a role on Broadway. This is why I said in the article more information as to what this show actually offers is needed before I make a judgement. I used this opportunity to give some info on what it takes to get a greencard and therefore have the legal right to work on Broadway.

I strongly query exactly what this new show offers, its press releases and the releases I have read to encourage actors to audition are to say the least – vague. Again I stress that meeting with US talent agents or the like is pointless if the performer doesn’t have the right to work. So any agents who agrees to meet with non green carded actors would only be doing so for the sake of the TV show.

I would be more interested in a reality casting show for a new Australian production of a musical, even though these shows have had mixed results overseas, they have discovered a couple of excellent people, most notably Laura Osnes, who won the Grease reality casting show and is quickly getting a reputation as one of the most exciting and important new music theatre stars in America.

A reality casting show for a new Australian production of Oliver or Sound of Music could at least draw more audiences to the production and give the winner a bona fide and legitimate prize.

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Les has written 59 articles on AussieTheatre | Read more articles by