for those who have reality tv as their guilty pleasure
Reality Ravings | Australia's leading Reality TV blog!

Casting Agents The Unsung Heroes Of The Reality Genre

People who are enjoying watching the new season of My Kitchen Rules or loved Big Brother last year will know that what gets us hooked to a show is normally the cast.

At a reality TV conference  this week they discussed the role of casting agents and how they were the unsung heroes of reality TV.

Washington Post reports:

At the RealScreen Summit reality TV conference in Washington this week, a panel of casting experts, producers and network executives discussed what goes on behind-the-scenes of the casting world, a topic that doesn’t usually get much attention. Turns out, it’s not an easy gig.

Sheila Conlin, who owns casting and production office The Conlin Company, talked about one particularly difficult couple she found for Fox’s “Kitchen Nightmares.” “They were stubborn and a lot to handle, which for me, is a dream,” she gushed. Translation: When someone’s that difficult off-screen, it’s likely they’ll be crazy on-screen. That means buzz, which means ratings, which can translate to a hit.

Here are some fun facts we learned from professionals that, after hearing some of their stories, we’re now calling the unsung heroes of the reality TV world.

Crazy is good, but too crazy is risky.

The panel agreed: Everyone wants reality stars who “pop” on camera. Casting directors hone these instincts to spot future reality stars, and are usually able to tell almost instantly whether someone will connect with an audience or become a Twitter sensation.

While “larger than life” personalities are a plus, experts warn about recognizing signs that a person might not be ready for the spotlight. Someone with lots of drama can seem ripe for stardom — but it won’t help if they storm off the show on day two of a five-day shoot.

For example, take the case of the Arizona couple who owned Amy’s Baking Company, a highly dysfunctional eatery featured on “Kitchen Nightmares.” That was the first episode where Gordon Ramsay ever just walked out and quit. While the out-of-control, bickering owners got spin-off offers at first, the excitement quickly died down when it became clear the couple couldn’t work with anyone.

Even if the casting is perfect, some people get panicked when the cameras start rolling.

Eli Lehrer, Lifetime’s senior vice president of non-fiction programming, discussed a problem he faced at Bravo with “Tabatha Takes Over,” about the woman who helped failing salons. Eccentric people excited to be on camera during the casting process tended to clam up when the actual cameras started rolling. The trick, Lehrer suggested, is to tell the people the cameras are there for casting – but really, it’s the first day of filming.

These days, reality show participants can be too savvy for their own good.

Kristi Russell, president of Metal Flowers Media, faced an unexpected challenge while helping the casting process for Discovery’s new series “Naked and Afraid.” (Two strangers must survive for three weeks in the wild without food — or clothes.) You’d think with a title like that, people would know the drill. Instead, some participants showed up for filming and demanded to know the location of the Craft Service table. They weren’t too pleased to find out that no, it wasn’t a glamorous TV shoot, and no, they really wouldn’t have any amenities. Thirteen people wound up dropping out. Didn’t they understand the concept of the show?  “I don’t know what they thought they were auditioning for,” Russell said.


Sometimes, someone unexpectedly shines on screen.

Years ago, Authentic Entertainment’s Lauren Lexton tried to pitch a show about wannabe actors in Hollywood – one hopeful featured in the series was the assistant to a then-unknown house flipper named Jeff Lewis. Network executives passed on the series, but were intrigued by Lewis’s brash personality when he appeared on screen. A reworking of the show, and fast forward to 2014: Lewis has his own reality empire on Bravo, as “Flipping Out” marks its seventh season this spring.

Reality competition shows are getting increasingly ambitious with online casting calls.

These days, some popular competition series (“American Idol,” “X Factor” and “America’s Got Talent”) accept online auditions. Those open calls can get around 20,000 submissions, said Diahnna Baxter, general manager of eTribez, an entertainment technology company that compiles such videos and organizes a database of prospective contestants for producers. Then, they sift through the thousands of videos to look for compelling storylines. It can be tough – but a lot cheaper than going to dozens of audition cities.

It might sound dry, but casting is all about research.

What do the network and producers want? After answering that question, casting directors scour the land for anyone who might make a good fit: They cold call, they find people on social media, they comb through dating sites, they hire private investigators. Russell estimates calling 1,000 bars in various cities to find ones that might work for Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue.” After that, there’s still lots of information to find out, including pre-interviews, interviews and screenings — and most importantly, establishing enough trust that the person will sign all the paperwork and actually agree to be on the show.


1 Lebay { 01.30.14 at 1:49 pm }

The Amy’s Baking Co ep of Kitchen Nightmares was GOLD. My daughter saw a snippet, and then downloaded it. All I can say is Meow.

2 brain dead dave { 01.30.14 at 2:03 pm }

Good on the casting directors for being able to spot potential as reality tv contestants. “Heroes” is a little over used these days. I’m hard pressed to name a single reality tv contestant who has gone on to become a true star…and please , no Altijan Juric fans on my case on this one.

3 Anonymous { 01.31.14 at 1:07 am }

Southern Star Consultant Producer (Big Brother) Deb Stewart did a speech at Generation Next: Facing Up to Reality about casting, writing and editing for Big Brother.

Apparently some of the talk was along the lines of how to ‘cast the next Tully’. I don’t know what was said exactly but I say good luck with that. Don’t think you can recast her, a bit of a once in the life of a show thing.

Actually don’t think they will be able to cast for 2014 as well as they did for 2013 but we’ll see I guess!

Also for anyone interested (not a lot of you on here I don’t think but anyway) – Tully confirmed to OK! Magazine that her and Drew have split up, so much for calling Sydney Confidential’s pieces fiction –

4 brain dead dave { 01.31.14 at 8:51 am }

Tully and Drew have split? Gee, who could possibly have predicted that?

5 Andrea { 01.31.14 at 9:38 am }

Thanks Anonymous for that.
What a shame, its so tragic isn’t it?
Hopefully poor Tully was paid for the interview because she said her and Drew are broke.
Run Drew, run, as fast as you can!

6 Carol (without the e) { 01.31.14 at 11:50 am }


“Who instigated the break-up?
Both of us. It was mutual. We both wanted it to work really badly and when it wasn’t, we’d get angry with ourselves and upset. It was sad. I felt like I’d risked so much for him; I’d lost a lot.”

I read between those lines and would be willing to bet that Drew got sick of the jealous bitch and HE made the call. Living apart meant that she couldn’t control who he was seeing etc. That last sentence was probably used in a much more flowery screaming match between the two. It was her decision to walk away from her life when she started smooching him at every opportunity in the house… so blaming him now is laughable.

I’m happy for Drew. IMHO, he can do so much better.

7 rose { 01.31.14 at 1:49 pm }

The casting agents for Big Brother Australia did a great job. I wish they would improve the casting of US shows by hiring them.

It is too bad about Drew and Tully but it wasn’t going to last. I was just glad that they cared about each other and that he wasn’t using her.

They are both gorgeous and I hope they are both happy.

8 rose { 01.31.14 at 1:54 pm }

I don’t think the issue is casting the next Tully. The issue is casting the next Tully and Drew. Drew is an unusual guy and hard to find on any reality show. I’ve never seen anyone remotely like either of them on a reality show.