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When do reality shows cross the line?

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08/31/2011

Cheryl Jacobs photo 2x 

I sat down last night looking for fodder for my latest blog post and tuned in to a new episode of Millionaire Matchmaker and then disillusionment hit me. Why am I still watching this show? I used to love to hear Patti and her wise cracks— she’d put those arrogant, Stepford-wife-seeking-men in their place! But now every episode feels exactly the same, and even worse, fake.

I happened to pick up the RedEye this past Monday on my commute to work and I read the story about Daniel Kibblesmith, a Chicagoan who works for Groupon who appeared as a bachelor looking for love on Monday’s episode. In the article, the author explains how Stanger’s camp reached out to Groupon’s PR team, ideally to get the founder on the show. Turns out he’s engaged, so Groupon’s camp offered up Daniel and they settled for him.

Interesting. So much for the idea that millionaires seek out Patti’s services. But what really irked me, was while Patti watched the tape of a perfectly nice, although nerdy, Chicago boy introducing himself to the club, Patti remarked, “give him his money back, I can’t help him.”

First of all, Patti, you claim to be a professional matchmaker, so you should be able to help anyone. Second of all, it says on the bottom of every episode, that none of the bachelors who appear on the show actually pay for your services, so don’t suddenly pretend they do just to embarrass them more.

Now I realize that’s how every episode of this show works and that people sign up willingly to participate knowing they could be embarrassed, but this time for whatever reason, I got upset at being duped— probably because it was a local guy.

Now Millionaire Matchmaker isn’t even really my biggest gripe. At least no one physically gets hurt. But this morning I got upset. Really upset. I turned on my computer and did what I do every morning over a bowl of Cheerios—check my email and read People.com. There it was, after weeks of speculation and criticism (that I agreed with), Bravo announced it is still moving forward with the second season of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills as planned. Here is the full statement from Bravo Media President Frances Berwick:

"Bravo will proceed with the Monday, September 5 premiere date of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Given that these episodes were filmed months ago, the producers of the show taped a brief interview this week with several cast members to introduce the premiere…Re-editing of the episodes is still underway."

For those of you who haven’t heard the news, one of the “househusbands” from the show recently committed suicide leaving behind a five-year-old daughter and 11 and 13 year old sons. His cast member wife spent last season sobbing to her cast-mates about how awful her marriage was, as the show vilified her spouse in every scene he appeared in. The second season is supposed to carry a similar plotline for her “character,” only this year she does file for divorce. Now, I’m not saying that this guy was totally innocent of all wrongdoing. I didn’t like him either when I watched last year. But in lieu of everything coming out about him now, how he put all of his money into building his wife up so she’d fit the shows’ wealthy mold, I’m starting to feel a little differently.

Here are some of his own words in a Daily Beast article:

“‘I didn't really understand what we were getting into.’ He said that times when he was shown leaving parties, disappointing his wife, were in fact late at night.  

He agreed that his decision to stay in the background of the show ‘backfired.’  

‘I’m going to be more engaging next season,’ Armstrong said. In person, he appeared more at ease than he had on camera and seemed eager to show reporters speaking with him at a party that he was kinder than audiences had seen him being.  

In a reunion special for the show, broadcast in early February, Armstrong responded to questions about what it was like watching his marital troubles on television. ‘It was difficult,’ he said. ‘The last three years have been very challenging for the entire country. I, candidly, have been working 80-hour weeks. It’s very easy to get preoccupied with kids and business and the day-to-day grind.’  

So, I do feel bad for the man, I don’t believe he understood exactly what he was getting himself into. Moreover, I feel horrible for his parents, who’ve now spoken out against the show, and most importantly for his children, who hopefully don’t yet know all the details of his passing. But inevitably now will, thanks to the show and media coverage. And it bothers me knowing that a new season of the show is about to premiere (so soon after) that will once again vilify a man who can’t even defend himself.

I understand that Bravo was counting on the show airing and a lot of fans will be disappointed. I, too, was really looking forward to another season with my favorite housewives, but when does it cross the line? Shouldn’t this be it?

As I see it, the show needs to be re-shot without Taylor Armstrong and her family, or somehow they need to both be edited out of all scenes and plotlines. But I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

So what do we as viewers do? Do we boycott shows like Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, or rather do we watch shows like Millionaire Matchmaker and Keeping up with the Kardashians that embrace their scripted-ness?

I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to tune in to the second season of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills on Monday. I might see how they handle the first episode and go from there. But I’m curious to hear others thoughts…do you think Bravo has gone too far?

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