Reality TV is here to stay. In this new column, Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, MSNBC.com's Television Editor, and Andy Dehnart, creator of the Reality Blurred Weblog, will tackle your questions about the world of reality TV.
Wondering about how a certain show pulled something off? Have a question about a certain contestant? Whether it's "Survivor," "American Idol," "The Apprentice," "Real World" or another show, send in your questions and we'll do our best to find the answer.
Q:I just can't stand the projects [on "The Apprentice" ] this season. Last season they were much better and focused on REAL business skills. Creating a kid's toy, creating an ice cream flavor? How about just marketing and selling ... hope the projects will get better, what's your input? —Branden, Greenwich, Conn.
A:Gael says: Well, some of last season's projects were questionable as well. I mean, selling lemonade?
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Two thoughts from me: First, someone behind the scenes has obviously been busy running around brokering deals with various corporations (Mattel, Ciao Bella gelato, Crest, Zagat). It's a great deal for the corporations: Their product is discussed for most of an hour, and on endless Internet bulletin boards for days later. It's an hour-long commercial for vanilla Crest.
And second, for all that Trump boasts about the show being a condensed MBA program...we know the truth. Sitting around figuring profit and loss statements would be a big zzzz. I'm thinking the show thinks that those of us watching can relate much better to toys and ice cream, despite how forced it may feel. —G.F.C.
Andy says:Although most of the challenges we've seen this season seem to exist primarily to pimp a sponsor's product, I think they're actually requiring the contestants to use a broader range of business-related skills. Many of the tasks we saw last year focused on individual skills, such as the ability to create an advertisement or negotiate a deal. This year, the tasks force them to deal with the challenges of being in charge of a whole business, rather than just demonstrating that they can be successful as a minion with a narrowly-defined job.
Last season the teams sold lemonade; this season they had to sell ice cream, but first they had to develop and create the flavor. While they managed Planet Hollywood for an evening last season, this time they had to construct a restaurant almost from scratch, which required them to consider everything from the decor to the cuisine to the cleanliness of the restaurant. These tasks might not highlight specific b-school skills, but they seem to more closely mirror what Donald Trump is looking for in an apprentice. —A.D.
Q:[On "The Amazing Race,"] I assume there's a photographer assigned to each team. How is it possible that in 5 seasons, we've never seen another photographer in a shot? I couldn't imagine them staying out of each other's frames for a matter of minutes — let alone 5 seasons. —Jeffrey, Overland Park, Kan.
A: There's a reason why "The Amazing Race" is a two-time Emmy-winning series: the quality of the entire production is outstanding. That's probably the best explanation as to why the show looks like it's shot by invisible camera operators. From the editors to the crew, everyone contributes to a nearly flawless production. The non-stop action and tension, which is increased by everything from the music to the quick editing, probably makes us less likely to notice those revealing details like reflections or shadows that may exist.
The editing is definitely key, because that's when producers can adjust for any accidental glimpses of the crew. As Television Without Pity recapper (and MSNBC contributor) Linda Holmes says, "I'm sure they can also readjust the shots by, for instance, reframing at the editing stage, to show only part of a shot if there's somebody at the side who can be done away with, just as you might zoom in to reframe a photograph."
The production team isn't entirely transparent, though. Each team of two contestants is followed by a crew consisting of a camera operator and a sound person, so there are a lot of people running around. Careful placement of the cast members and crews makes it easier to shoot around those who shouldn't be seen. For example, notice that the teams are always squished together in the back seat of cabs, which allows for a clear two-shot of them as they drive around and fight; that's also the reason why one of the team members rides behind the other one even when they're in charge of driving. But watch carefully when there's a shot of a cab or car racing past another, and you can sometimes see the silhouette of a person sitting in the passenger seat: that's the camera operator. —A.D.
Q: Whatever happened to Kwame, who almost made it to the end [of “The Apprentice”] last season? Did he get another job as a result of being the runner-up? —Jan, Los Angeles
Job offers reportedly abounded for Kwame after the show, but in the end, he appears to have decided that the best boss is himself. According to an August update on his personal Web site, KwameJackson.com, Jackson and the two friends who convinced him to audition for “The Apprentice” have founded their own company, Legacy Development Partners LLC. The company is now taking on a three billion dollar mixed-use development project in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The project, Rosewood, will include homes, stores, restaurants, and a performing-arts center. It takes its name from the famed African-American community in Florida which was destroyed in 1923. They hope to break ground in 2006.
In September, Jackson received an Entrepreneurship award from the Small Business Administration and Minority Business Development. He also has a book, “Taking the High Road,” which reportedly is scheduled for a November publication. And shortly after “The Apprentice” ended, he was named one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People.
But since getting fired on “The Apprentice,” Kwame has at least one other bad day: He was disqualified as a judge for the Trump-owned “Miss Universe” pageant for waving to contestants in the lobby of their hotel. Once again, his eye for the ladies brought him down. —G.F.C.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor. Andy Dehnart is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.
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