Reality TV: Exploitation Exposed

Filed under: Co-option (If You Can't Beat 'Em...), Prank News

So you wanna be on TV?

CBS TV LogoMagic Molehill Productions and CBS TV are soliciting pranksters for a new reality TV show, tentatively called “Pranksters”. Here’s the casting call as seen on on November 8, 2007:

Casting Call: ‘Pranksters’

Magic Molehill Productions is casting Pranksters, a reality show in which comedians compete for a chance at their prank show. Lynne Spillman, casting dir., Cydney Kaplan, coord. Shoot starts Summer 2008 in L.A. Seeking–Comedian Pranksters: males and females, 18+, any ethnicity, pranks should be innovative, hilarious, and represent your comedic point of view.

Send application and three pranks (on DVD or as email attachment) by Nov. 13 to Pranksters, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #1380, L.A., CA 90028 or email to

I was contacted by one of the casting producers and asked to apply as a contestant for the show. They asked me to submit three pranks on DVD for consideration. Apparently, after an international search, they will narrow it down to eight pranksters who will be in competition with each other to perform a prank a week for eight weeks on camera. Supposedly a panel of “experts” will judge the “quality” of the prank. The prize is an unspecified amount of money and the possibility of your own show on CBS. All contestants have to be in LA for two months. Accommodations and an unspecified stipend are provided. They wanted to know if I am interested.

I asked, “Do you know who I am and what my work is about?” I immediately began thinking about how to hoax them. I contacted my friend Dino D’Annibale to see if he would be willing to play me on the show for two months. Dino agreed to do it.

I then received an email asking me to sign this Contestant Application and a Release and Waiver. The document states that the production company owns all rights to the work I submit, plus to my image, voice, actions, likeness, name, appearance and biographical material worldwide in perpetuity. They even have the right to use my likeness and alter or modify it regardless of whether or not I am recognizable, even if I am not selected to be on the show. There is no offer to pay for any of this. It is all be at my own risk and expense. And that’s just the beginning. It only gets more restrictive and controlling from there.

By signing, I would be giving the producer the irrevocable, unlimited, perpetual, worldwide, royalty and payment-free license to use and reproduce my materials in this program and in connection with the promotion and publicity for the program in any and all media now known or which may exist in the future. I would also be consenting to let them do a background investigation and I would pledge to cooperate. Plus, for a period of three years after the initial airing of the show, I would not be allowed to discuss any confidential information I learned, whether or not I was selected to be on the show.

One has to assume that all pranks that appear on the show will be fully vetted by the network legal department for political correctness and legality. So, if CBS does decide to move forward with this show (it has not been green lit yet), the final product will be, for all intents and purposes, pure pablum.

Do they not see the irony in what they are trying to do? They are asking pranksters — people who have dedicated a large portion of their brain cells to coming up with ways to secretly confound, obfuscate and obliterate all semblance of authority in their lives — to submit their best pranking efforts to a committee of lawyers, producers and network executives for approval and then to be judged by some panel of “experts”?

Upon reading the application and release form and talking further with them, I declined.

The casting producer called me several days later and invited me to be on another show called “Who Do You Trust?” to be shot for one day in early 2008. The premise, as vaguely presented to me, is that two people are teamed up and have to decide whether or not to trust each other and work collaboratively or not. The prize is a large sum of money. I said I’d consider it and immediately called another friend, Norman Savage, who had played me on both Entertainment Tonight in 1988 and To Tell the Truth in 1991. Norman was willing to do it.

I then received the Eligibility Requirements and Contestant Application and Applicant Background Questionnaire for this show. These documents are even more outrageous than the others. As one friend put it, “They are asking questions even my wife doesn’t know the answers to.” These documents are worth reading just to experience the sheer gaul of these television producers.

The paperwork is probably no different from that used for other reality TV shows. It’s hard to believe that people actually sign these outrageous, invasive and exploitive contracts in exchange for the chance to be on TV. But one has to assume, given the size of the industry, that there are enough celebrity wanna-be’s willing to do it. It just shows what people will do for their 15 minutes of public humiliation.

For some comic relief, Nalts, a videographer and jokester, was apparently also invited to apply. Here’s a video he shot of himself hoaxing the casting agent: