As big as reality TV is the rest of the time, it's particularly big during the summer — some of the biggest ratings successes of this summer have been things like America's Got Talent, Big Brother and So You Think You Can Dance.
In other words, trying to get your mug on TV isn't about to lose its popularity as a national pastime. But the aforementioned options (and some others like them) are fairly daunting: You probably don't want to lock yourself in an isolated house for several months, have eight (or more) children or become a master dressmaker who can transform car parts into clothing on Project Runway.
No, those methods are for the truly committed or the unusually talented. What about more humble aspirants? What about those of us who aren't prepared for a massive blow to our dignity? What about skipping your own show and settling for a few minutes — maybe just a few seconds — of screen time? Does an ordinary person stand a chance in a world where it seems like everybody wants to be a star?
To figure out the answer, I called Taryn Winter Brill. She's a features correspondent for Good Morning America and a former producer for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? It's safe to say she's seen plenty of televised mugs in her day, and she was kind enough to offer a few ideas for anyone looking to make a minor splash on the small screen.
How to get your sign on television, why you shouldn't wear stripes, and the best places to be a humble man on the street, after the jump...
Taryn started with the baseline fact that if you want an actual speaking part — even on unscripted TV — you're going to have to prove you know what you're doing in front of a camera. Taryn suggests going out and filming yourself interviewing people. And the fact is that in the end, even if you're not an actor, you're still going to have to audition.
What if that's too much pressure? What if you want to see yourself speak on camera but you don't want to audition? One option is the "MOS" interview, in which you are a Man On the Street. When a reporter needs some vox pop for a story and hits the pavement looking for it, the MOS interview is what results.
As you can imagine, making it as an MOS is about being the right M on the right S at the right time. Taryn says if you're in New York, there are a couple of places where reporters are always looking for good talkers. Try hanging out in the big touristy areas like Bryant Park and Times Square looking like you have something to say, or catch a lazy reporter hanging out right in front of his own studio. Want to be on NBC? Head to 30 Rock. Mill around. Look smart.
But remember: You don't necessarily have to go looking for a reporter in order to find one. If you see someone in the middle of filming, don't be afraid to go up and ask: "Hey, do you need some MOS?" [Ed. Note: Make sure you do not say this to an undercover policeman.] If you're nice and polite, you might even be rewarded. But beware: Taryn says it's important to look approachable, so leave your trench coat and fedora at home.
If you want to be part of a daily crowd scene and you don't mind setting your alarm early, you could always try joining the shouting hordes behind the set of Good Morning America (or a similar show). But once you get there, how do you get them to put you on the air?
The key is the sign you're waving, of course. (You do know you need to wave a sign, right?) Taryn says it should be bright and colorful and specific — something like "Happy 101st B-Day, Grandpa Gene!" or "Pawtucket Loves GMA!" Bold colors help, and so does plenty of glitter. And it can't hurt to have a cute kid to hold up the sign.
Of course, if you want both face time and fabulous prizes, you'll want to be on a game show, which is a little different. To make it as a contestant, you've got to have a gimmick — shtick, as my father would say. If you've ever seen just how ridiculously exuberant people are when they get on The Price is Right, you understand how much pure enthusiasm it takes.
But on top of that, you'll need a compelling personal story — maybe your love of deep-sea diving, or better yet, how your love of deep-sea diving fuels your search for the lost city of Atlantis. (If you have actually found the lost city of Atlantis, even better.) Whatever you choose, it has to be something that makes you stick out from the crowd if you're going to go home with the Rice-A-Roni.
Perhaps the lowest level of difficulty of all involves just sitting in the studio audience of a game show or a talk show. Can you work your magic to improve your odds that the camera will pan over you? Taryn says you can. You should avoid stripes, patterns or polka dots for a deceptively simple reason: "They don't look good." (It's always the little things.)
Of course, being extremely attractive also helps, and there's only so much you can do about that. But you do have choices: once again, there's some favoritism shown to big bright colors, so if you've got a closet full of vintage pink Miami Vice shirts, you'll never get a better chance to use them.
Of course, if none of this works, there's always Reality TV School. Yes, really.
Here's the audio from my interview with Taryn: