So You Wanna Be a Star? Now That Reality Shows Are Taking over TV, Here's a Question They Don't Ask on Game Shows: How Do They Find All Those Contestants?

By Peyser, Marc | Newsweek, August 12, 2002 | Go to article overview

So You Wanna Be a Star? Now That Reality Shows Are Taking over TV, Here's a Question They Don't Ask on Game Shows: How Do They Find All Those Contestants?


Peyser, Marc, Newsweek


Byline: Marc Peyser

Joseph Negroni has a song he'd like to play. OK, it's really just the theme to "Jeopardy," but you've never heard it like this. Negroni is a human bongo. He cups his hands over his mouth and makes sounds that pop like a bag of Orville Redenbacher's, only in tune. On a rainy morning in New York, Negroni has brought his unusual skill to a hotel ballroom to audition for Fox's "30 Seconds to Fame," which is something like "The Gong Show" on speed. "We want people who are funny and unique, but you might not consider them real talents," says executive producer Michael Binkow. "If you can play 'La Bamba' with your nose--great!" Negroni, a bespectacled sixth-grade math and science teacher, isn't unique enough--yet. When his "Jeopardy" doesn't quite fly, he tries putting a hand over his eye socket and popping it. The sound is--how shall we say this?--flatulent. Great! "Can you play 'Jeopardy' while you eye-fart?" Binkow asks hopefully. "I wish I could," Negroni says. Binkow smiles warmly. "I bet you're a great sixth-grade teacher," he says. Exit Negroni. Enter a guy with a hula hoop.

Welcome to the endless summer of reality TV, where even a lowly talent show can become a national obsession. Reality hasn't hit television this hard since the first run of "Survivor," and--brace yourself--it's far from over. Fox has ordered another installment of "American Idol," even though the program's own Dr. Evil, Simon Cowell, hasn't renewed yet. NBC has three hit shows: "Dog Eat Dog," "Meet My Folks" and the gross-out king, "Fear Factor." And CBS's "Big Brother 3," alas, is bigger than ever. All of which raises one question: where do they find all those contestants? Sure, some knuckleheads will do, eat, say or wear anything to be on TV. But two years after reality shows became network fixtures, turning up "real" people has become tougher than understanding the rules to "The Mole." You think it's easy to find 25 intelligent, attractive, seemingly normal women to date the same creepy guy, as they do in "The Bachelor"? Or to get regular people who are willing to eat boiled sheep eyes on "Fear Factor"? So where do they find these folks? Read on--only please don't use these tips to audition. We'd never forgive ourselves.

Though many reality shows hold open calls, casting directors increasingly scout for people who wouldn't ordinarily romp around on national television. Amanda Marsh, the apple-cheeked Kansan who won "The Bachelor," was eating in a restaurant when the producers discovered her. "We walked up and said, 'Are you single? Are you interested in finding the right guy on a television show?' " says Mike Fleiss, who created "The Bachelor." "I want someone who thinks this is the most exciting thing that's ever happened in their life." Some casting agents do more than pound the pavement. …

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