Earlier this month, the suicide of Russell Armstrong brought severe scrutiny to the unscripted Bravo TV series, "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." Armstrong's failing marriage with real housewife Taylor Armstrong was featured as a constant theme in the hit show. Viewers and critics can't help but wonder whether his suicide was precipitated by living in the fishbowl of reality TV. This tragedy is only the latest in a long line suffered by reality TV participants. Part of the problem is self-selecting: casting calls hunt for wild, abnormal, struggling, outrageous or narcissistic personalities that can deliver drama, a formula that has ensured on-screen success for The Real World, Survivor, The Bachelor, Jersey Shore and more. But what happens off screen to the nouveau famous? How do they adjust to their own new realities? One entertainment critic wants producers to bear a lot of responsibility for their Frankensteins. National Public Radio blogger, Linda Holmes, is calling for a Code of Ethics for producers to abide by. Among her proposals to protect the real people of reality TV: aftercare and counseling; fully disclosed contracts; limits on liquor; guaranteed shut-eye during production; some guaranteed access to friends or family; built-in salary increases; and recourse for disputes. How contrary does this code run to the status quo? Should this latest tragedy be a Jenny Jones moment for unscripted television? Would you be more inclined to watch a show if it was code-compliant? Do you feel guilty watching TV that marries borderline personalities with entertainment? Should producers be required to protect the stars of reality TV from themselves?
Linda Holmes, Writer, NPR’s Monkey See Blog about entertainment and pop culture
John Carr, Reality TV Producer, Credits include ABC’s The Bachelor, MTV’s The Hills and more