‘House Hunters' not so perfect

Bristol Palin may have merited a 6 as a "Dancing With the Stars" hoofer but was a 10 in the ratings. ADAM LARKEY / ABC
Bristol Palin may have merited a 6 as a "Dancing With the Stars" hoofer but was a 10 in the ratings. ADAM LARKEY / ABC
Posted: June 16, 2012

"I would say … that 70 to 80 percent of the shows on TV are bull****. They're loosely scripted. Things are planted, Things are salted into the environment so things seem more shocking."

That would be Mike Fleiss, talking this week about reality shows. As the creator of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and about a score more of this invasive species, Fleiss would probably know. (His own programs, his insists, are legit.)

His comments coincided with a scandal that rocked House Hunters, HGTV's signature show. If you've somehow missed 13 seasons of this popular home-sweet-home idyll, the premise involves an individual, couple or family looking to relocate with the help of a Realtor. They narrow it down to a few properties, weigh their options, and seal the deal, all in a neat half-hour narrative.

Except a former participant revealed that it's an illusion. She wasn't considered for the show until after she had closed on her house. The other real estate options she was shown agonizing over? They weren't even on the market. The owners just let them tape there.

HGTV quickly issued a non-denial non-denial: "We've learned that the pursuit of the perfect home involves big decisions that usually take place over a prolonged period of time — more time than we can capture in 30 minutes of television. However, with a series like House Hunters, HGTV viewers enjoy the vicarious and entertaining experience of choosing a home — from establishing a budget, to touring properties and weighing the pros and cons of each one. We're making a television show, so we manage certain production and time constraints, while honoring the home-buying process."

In other words, yes, it's a charade. Shocked? You shouldn't be. The people who make this stuff are very careful not to ever refer to it as "reality TV." They are quite punctilious in always calling it "unscripted" (I'm assuming on advice of counsel).

The argument has been going on for half a century, back to Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Did Marlin Perkins' camera crews really stumble across a pit viper locked in battle with a bobcat in that perfectly manicured clearing, or did they pit them against each other? It's a short hop from there to Real Housewives.

Surely, you've noticed how unbelievably persistent the loudmouths and crazies are on competition shows? It's because reality TV thrives on controversy and conflict, and villains provide that. On last season's Bachelorette, the caddish Bentley abruptly left the show. A couple of weeks later, the producers actually brought him back. He may have been a disgrace to mankind, but the guy was ratings gold.

The thing is, everyday life is fairly tedious and distinctly lacking in excitement. That's why documentaries are years in the making. It takes that long to get two hours of usable footage.

TV producers simply don't have the time or the patience. They know that reality needs a little nudge. Or as Fleiss could tell you, because he also gave us such classic "unscripted" series as Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, The Cougar, Leave It to Lamas, and H8R, sometimes it needs a great big shove.

Stop the world. This weekend on Oprah's Next Chapter, our broadcast bodhisattva visits the Kardashian clan for a series of interviews. In the promo, she asks the tough questions like, "Kim, would you be where you are had you not made a sex tape?"

This is how far our world has sunk, people: Oprah is reduced to depending on the Kardashians to boost her ratings.

Cast out.Sometimes I think that all the adulation lavished on Mad Men is some sort of elaborate prank that I'm not in on. Because the fifth-season finale proved once again that this is the worst-acted show since Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Go back and look at the scene where Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) visits Beth (Alexis Bledel) in the hospital after she has received electroshock therapy. Bledel, who has such a remarkably blank screen presence that she makes January Jones look like Helen Mirren, is actually schooling Kartheiser.

The only person in Mad Men's cast who can act is John Slattery (Roger), and even he does a better job in his Lincoln car commercials.

Who done it.So the big night has finally arrived. After two seasons and enough rain to waterlog Noah, The Killing will finally answer in a two-hour episode the question we've all been waiting for: Who killed Rosie Larsen?

Can't wait. I just hope I'm not the only one who needs a quick refresher. This has dragged on for a while now. Just remind me, who is Rosie Larsen?

Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_tv. Read his blog, "Dave on Demand," at www.philly.com/dod.

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