How Do Reality TV Families Get Cast? The silver balloon that drifted 50 miles across Colorado last week may have been part of an elaborate hoax cooked up to land the Heene family a reality show, authorities say. Reality show guru Bill Hayes, founder and president of Figure 8 Films, discusses how reality TV stars are selected.
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How Do Reality TV Families Get Cast?

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How Do Reality TV Families Get Cast?

How Do Reality TV Families Get Cast?

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The water cooler chat as the week began was all about that giant, silver balloon that drifted 50 miles across Colorado with no six-year-old boy trapped inside. America was chatting because they'd learned that it was all a hoax. A hoax cooked up by the Heene family. Their alleged goal: To land their own reality TV show. Instead, they landed in the middle of a federal investigation. That episode got us wondering. How do reality shows select their stars? How do they find folks like Jon and Kate Gosselin of the TLC show, �Jon & Kate Plus 8.�

(Soundbite of TV Series, �Jon & Kate Plus 8�)

Ms. KATE GOSSELIN: It all started with the two of us.

Mr. JON GOSSELIN: Then we had our beautiful twin girls.

Ms. GOSSELIN: Cara and Madelyn.

NORRIS: Or the prodigious Duggar family of the show �18 Kids and Counting.�

(Soundbite of TV Series, �18 Kids and Counting�)

Ms. JENNIFER DUGGAR: And our children, Josh, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna...

NORRIS: To find out, let's go straight to the source. Bill Hayes is the founder and president of Figure 8 Films. He's developed both those shows as well as several others and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. BILL HAYES (Founder and President, Figure 8 Films): Thank you very much for having me.

NORRIS: As auditions go, what do you make of that balloon stunt? Is that the right way to go about getting your own reality TV show?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HAYES: No, and I find it very sad. It's a sort of a reflection of what lengths people will try to go to, to actually be on television, which is a bit of a crazy thing. We would never select somebody like that. One, because of their motivation, and, two, the network requires us to do a background check on everybody, and this family wouldn't have made it very far in that process.

NORRIS: Well, it sounds like you're looking for regular families but to some degree there has to be something outstanding about them, or in some cases even unusual in the case of these shows because they have really big families. So, how do you balance that?

Mr. HAYES: Well, the word actually we use is not regular, it's relatable. We look for people that our audience can relate to. And then you have to find something that that's extraordinary about their lives so that people will say wow. That's - our job is to create or tell stories with our subjects and we're very much about having our subjects be participants in their own storytelling. And a lot of the subjects who are great for television are typically people who don't want to even be on television.

NORRIS: So, do you find them or do they find you? I mean, is this a case where you don't really want anyone in the club who actually wants to be there?

Mr. HAYES: You know, I don't want to discourage anyone from reaching out to us with their story. We, a lot - I get submissions every day and I get some crazy ones quite often. The truth is we typically find the stories as opposed to them finding us.

NORRIS: You get submissions. What do people send in?

Mr. HAYES: Oh, goodness. One of my favorites was an optician had sent me a package, and they had this really nice thing to clean your glasses with, which I'm always losing the things to clean my glasses with, so I thought that was great. I couldn't really see doing a television show but at least I got something out of the submission.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HAYES: But, you know, it's submissions about adopted families, a few weeks ago a guy in prison reached out and wanted to tell his story and wanted to change his life, could be single dads, it could be large, adopted families with way too many animals, just a variety of different people who, God bless them, think they have a story to tell. And those are great stories to tell. I have to tell them look it's - what we're doing is very specific to this particular network, TLC, and their demographic and the types of programs they want.

NORRIS: You know, there is something perplexing about this because, you know, many of us get hives when we have to prepare for company coming over, you know, does the house look good, do I even have...

Mr. HAYES: I'm with you. Trust me, I...

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: in the refrigerator. In this case, you know, inviting multiple cameras and lights and, you know, everything else that comes along with a major TV production. It makes me wonder why would anyone do this?

Mr. HAYES: Indeed. You know, different people have different motivations and, you know, the world is made up of many different types of people. And many of them are extroverts and I used to say if you're brave or crazy enough to let us tell your story, then we would love to do that. But we are very straight up at the outset of any process with our subjects and this is what we're going to do and this is what it will entail and, you know, are you available for this ride?

NORRIS: Bill Hayes, it's been good to talk to you.

Mr. HAYES: Thank you so much.

NORRIS: Bill Hayes is the founder and president of Figure 8 Films.

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