Reality TV: Stranger than Fiction

Remember the days when reality TV was a walk on the moon, a royal wedding or the California Highway Patrol chasing OJ’s white Bronco?  Oh, how far we’ve come!  It’s like that Bowling for Soup song, 1985, bemoaning the fact that MTV used to be about music, not Teen Mom.

Nowadays, much of the content on television is made up of reality TV.  Looking for a hot crime drama?  Turn on The First 48, DEA or COPS.  Need a drama fix?  Check out any of the Real Housewives, Teen Dance Moms or Real World, MTV’s longest running reality TV show.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The genre is not without critics,  but the fact remains viewers flock to these shows turning these real people into bona fide celebrities.  Just ask Kim Kardashian or Honey Boo Boo.  What?  You haven’t heard of Honey Boo Boo a.k.a. Alana Thompson?  She’s a recurring cast member of the TLC show Toddlers and Tiaras.Alana was so popular—or sensational—the network had to give her a show of her own.  The show has spurred quite a controversy among viewers–and everyone else who wants to put their two cents in–about whether the six-year-old is being exploited. Yet, those would be detractors are still making her show the most watched show on television this month (not that hard going up against the Republican National Convention). Honey Boo Boo and her family of self-proclaimed Red Necks (yep, they’re speaking English despite those subtitles) are laughing all the way to the bank.

For the average fiction writer, reality TV is better than Google.  Where else can you watch real people deal with subjects authors write about?  It’s a great source for capturing the emotions and mannerisms for, oh I don’t know, wrestling an alligator.  Where else can you watch a detective sequentially solve a crime in the first forty eight hours after it occurs?  Sure, you could do it the old fashion way and request a ride along.  But who wants to do that when you never have to leave your couch?  I admit to watching a little of the DEA show to capture dialog and mannerisms while researching a series of books involving DEA agents. Is your heroine a ballerina or a jockey?  Turn on cable because they’ve got their own shows.  Maybe your hero is a forest ranger or an exterminator?  They are there, too.  (If your protagonist is based on the Swamp Man, however, I’m not buying it.  Just sayin’.)

Several authors I know who’ve written books about home restoration admit to spending a lot of research time watching HGTV and the DYI network.  I’m kind of partial to Stars Earn Stripes right now.  I can see a few heroes for future books among the military men on the show.  Gotta love, Grady, right ladies?   Not the stars, though.  Sorry Dean Caine.

So, how about all you authors out there?  Are there any reality shows you’ve used to research parts of your books?

About Tracy Solheim

Best-selling author of the Out of Bounds series--sexy, contemporary sports romance novels. See what she's up to at

Posted on August 31, 2012, in Blog Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I will admit to accidentally watching half an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras. What a train wreck in progress.

  2. But no Swamp Man, right Laura? 🙂

  3. The only reality TV I watch is IRC. I love-love-love Ice Road Truckers. 🙂

    Anyhow, I’ve never seen Toddlers and Tiaras, but my husband occasionally turns on a reality TV show about a family who hit it big making those duck calling whistle thingys. Since watching this show, I’ve started to wonder if the majority of these reality TV shows are actually just actors hired to play a part. For instance, years after Tom Selleck became famous for Magnum PI, I caught a rerun of that dating game that used to be on in the 70’s in which he was one of the three men trying to get a date with the bachelorette. Up until that time, I’d believed all the contestants on the show were regular people like me. So now when I see these shows, I wonder.

    Okay, I have no brains today. I can’t remember the names of anything today. LOL. Good thing it’s a shopping day. Have a great weekend everyone!

    • I know,Sheila, I wonder how many of these people are just “acting”. Then I worry about all the kids who become mini-celebrities because of these shows. What will be the impact on them later in life? You’re the second person to mention the duck whistle show! I need to check that one out. 🙂

  4. Tracy,
    I’ve never considered using reality TV for research, but that sounds like a pretty good idea. I’m with Sheila, however, in that I’m not sure reality “stars” are behaving genuinely. I know my behavior would be greatly altered if I knew I was on camera. Toddlers and Tiaras is like a train wreck–I know I shouldn’t look, but I can’t help myself. If that is someone’s reality, than real life truly is stranger than fiction!

  5. Not reality shows, but I did turn on Revenge for this very purpose: author research. I wanted to see how they handled all the twists and turns of plot to keep viewers tuned in. They never lost me!!

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