ATXTVS6 – MTV: The Evolution of Reality Television

Do you ever wonder how a reality show is developed or what inspired to create the show? What happens behind the scenes and off camera? Or the relationship between the cast and crew? ATX TV Festival brought some of MTV’s reality show creators and producers for a panel where they discussed almost everything about the reality shows they created. 

As someone who loves reality television, especially on MTV, this panel was at the top of my list of panels I must see. The panelists included Jonathan Murray (The Real World, The Challenge), Morgan J. Freeman (16 & Pregnant, Teen Mom, Laguna Beach), SallyAnn Salsano (Jersey Shore, Snooki & JWoww), and Lily Neumeyer (My Super Sweet 16). I’ve literally seen all of these reality shows. Naturally, I was beyond excited to hear the show creators and producers talk about how it all began, and share any interesting facts and personal stories we didn’t see on camera. 

ATX TV Festival MTV History of Reality Jarett Wieselman Jonathan Murray Morgan J. Freeman SallyAnn Salsano and Lily Neumeyer
Top Row (L-R): Jarett Wieselman, Jonathan Murray, and Morgan J. Freeman. Bottom row (L-R): SallyAnn Salsano and Lily Neumeyer

Before I break down all the fun facts I learned from each reality shows, the panel started with each panelists explaining how they got into reality television. Most of them started with internships, working with their local news, and journalism. Eventually, they made their way to where they are today. Ultimately, they all wanted to tell a story, a real story, and create a conversation. 

Sometimes these kids, who want to be on one of MTV’s reality show like The Real World, want to be an adult, get out of their house, and be a part of the adult world. With Teen Mom, it’s different. You see the transition from being a kid to becoming a parent and how that changes their lives, their relationships with their family and friends. These situations we see on these reality shows create conversations between viewers, especially with parents and kids who watch the show together.

ATX TV Festival MTV History of Reality Morgan J. Freeman
Morgan J. Freeman

With Teen Mom, Freeman said he had a lot of parents and young girls, who watched the show together, tell him they were able to have the conversation of having safe sex and prevent getting pregnant at such a young age because of his show. Salsano also shared her experience with parents and teens who watched Jersey Shore together. Parents had conversations with their teenagers about what they should or shouldn’t do when they’re out partying. Young girls saw from a different perspective and learned why they didn’t want to be the girl guys bring home to “smush”.

Each creator and producer knew they wanted a reality show that would bring people back weekly. This led to casting different people with different backgrounds, race, religion, etc. This applied for shows like the Real World, Teen Mom, My Super Sweet 16. However, with a show like Jersey Shore, casting was a bit different. They wanted a cast who all came from the same culture, which was living the guido life. However, regardless of what they were looking for in casting, they all agreed they looked for people who weren’t predictable. Salsano mentioned if you can tell what this character was going to do next, then they shouldn’t have been cast in the first place. You don’t want predictable. The fans won’t like that. You want someone who will surprise you, maybe even shock you.

ATX TV Festival MTV History of Reality SallyAnn Salsano
SallyAnn Salsano

The producers talked about their relationship with the cast. Again, I’ve seen a lot of these reality shows on MTV before and very few times I’ve seen producers interact with the cast, but I never knew there was a relationship behind and off camera. Regardless what show it is, the staff and crew are the people the cast can turn to. They trusted each other. The producers understood when one of the cast members were having a breaking point, because they were all along for the same ride. It’s not the same as someone who’s watched the show because the fans only saw what made it on tv. There’s a lot of footage that had to be cut and only the producers and crew know what was going on with the cast 24/7.

There is no such thing as keeping a secret on the show. Salsano said, it’s funny when a cast member says they want to keep a secret from the house because eventually it will come out. However, it’s not exactly the crew behind revealing the secrets as they do have a trusting relationship with the cast. For example, the Real World crew knew about Dustin’s gay porn secret but kept it to themselves to maintain that trust. It wasn’t until Dustin’s roommate and girlfriend, Heather found out about his secret from her mother. There’s no preventing what happens in the real world, and that moment was real. However, whatever is said during the cast member’s personal interviews on the show is a different story. (This also applies with The Challenge and Jersey Shore.) What’s said in the interviews will be aired. There’s no keeping those “secrets”. On the other hand, it’s a bit different with Teen Mom. The crew members aren’t allowed to say anything they saw or heard while filming as children and custody issues are involved.

MTV The Real World Austin Johanna, Melinda, Wes, Danny, Lacey, Rachel, and Nehemiah
MTV’s The Real World: Austin cast members, Johanna, Melinda, Wes, Danny, Lacey, Rachel, and Nehemiah

The Real World

  • Eventually, reality shows were starting to seem staged and taken in the wrong direction. Real World didn’t want that. So, they decided to start showing some of the behind the scene stuff. Like showing the cast members using the “bat phone”, which is the phone the cast uses to call production to let them know they’re ready to leave and where they’re going for the cameras to follow. Also, hearing producers ask questions to the cast during their interviews, and showing producers get involved during intense moments such as fights, break downs, etc.

MTV Road RulesRoad Rules

  • A fan asked if Road Rules would ever come back. Murray explained the crew had the most fun working on the show. They always looked forward to traveling and seeing new places. Eventually, it wasn’t easy traveling with all the equipment they used in a small van or bus, which led to The Challenge. (More on this on the next section.) Murray mentioned they have thought about looking into bringing it back and how it would be like today since a lot has changed since they last aired Road Rules. Murray told the fans if you want the show to come back let MTV know. You never know what could happen if you try.

MTV The Challenge

The Challenge 

  • The viewers didn’t want to lose their favorites from The Real World and Road Rules. Murray knew the viewers wanted them back on the screen. After realizing how hard it was to carry all the equipment on Road Rules, he came up with the idea of sending the crew and some of the fan favorite cast members to a foreign country and compete in a series of games.
  • It was a hit because it somehow became a “soap show” where viewers would see their favorites return almost every season, see how their lives have changed between seasons and the drama they created on and off the show. 

    MTV The Challenge Cutthroat CT Bananas
    CT and Bananas on The Challenge: Cutthroat
  • Originally MTV didn’t want CT back full time after he was sent home from punching Adam during The Challenge: Rivals, but were okay with bringing him back for one episode for another season. That one episode on The Challenge: Cutthroat – where CT literally carried Bananas on his back during an elimination round and instantly sent him home – was the only episode that had the highest rating. MTV changed their mind and wanted CT back full time for the next season.
  • No one expected CT to change and fall in love with Diem. When Diem was sick, CT stood by her side the entire time. When she passed away, he told the network he needed time. MTV knew what he was going through and told him to take all the time he needed if he ever decided to come back.
MTV Jersey Shore DJ Pauly D Ronnie Vinny
GIF Credit: We Heart It

Jersey Shore

  • Originally, it was supposed to be a guido elimination game on VH1. Salsano just wasn’t feeling the idea. Personally speaking, after seeing the cast of Jersey Shore play Know or Go on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, a guido elimination game would have been fun to watch.
  • She – along with someone else – went out to the beaches and found out how renting shore houses worked. People were okay being roommates with strangers for the summer. However, Salsano learned people would be picky about who they were interested in rooming with and they would tell the realtors what they wanted, such as specifically describing the kind of guidos they wouldn’t mind living with (height, weight, body type preferences), if they wanted only girls or guido roommates, etc. It sounded like a dating service, ha.
  • Salsano said, what she saw on the beach and boardwalks is what the viewers saw on the show. It was 100% real.
  • Salsano posted casting calls around the beaches or told people they might want on the show about the audition. Salsano said Snooki had given them her information for the show and when they called her, she said -in which Salsano did her best Snooki impersonation – “who are you and how did you get my number?!”
  • Salsano said they didn’t want the cast to meet during casting or before the show because she didn’t want them to get used to or know each other. She wanted that to be explored on the show.MTV Jersey Shore Snooki Deena DJ Pauly D
  • Jersey Shore became a hit overnight. The cast was getting noticed more and had paparazzi following them everywhere. Salsano told them to be who they are and don’t let the fame and money change you; Everyone already likes you for who you are.
  • Fans where everywhere! They had to get security every where they went. Especially at the t-shirt shop because thousands of fans would be waiting for them outside the shop.
  • When one of the cast members did something you shouldn’t watch with your mom or grandmother, Salsano would call them and explain what’s going to happen during the upcoming episode. They would say ‘I can’t believe you’re going to air that,’ and Salsano would respond with a ‘let me tell you what I didn’t air’. It always ended with a thank you from the cast member.
  • Snooki getting punched by a guy was a turning point for the show and the relationship with the cast and crew. They really were a family.
  • There was debate on whether or not to show Snooki getting punched.

MTV JWoww Snooki

Snooki & JWoww

  • Salsano said the scariest thing she ever experienced was taking Snooki home after giving birth to her son. There was paparazzi everywhere just to get that first shot of Snooki’s baby. They had blocked Snooki’s entire street from preventing anyone to get through. Yet, a paparazzi drove through the grass, pass the barricades, and onto the street just to get a picture. Salsano joked had she known it would be this crazy, she would have gotten a fake baby.
MTV Teen Mom
From left to right: Maci, Amber, Farrah, and Catelynn

16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom

  • Freeman said not every pregnancy story is the same, especially when you’re a teenager, which is what he wanted to show, the reality of different teenage pregnancies.
  • Each girl has their own needs and different producer. Each girl has different things they do and don’t want to show on the show and the producers they have know and understand that.
  • There was a debate on whether or not to show Amber hitting Gary.
  • Freeman met his wife during the birthing of Macy’s son, Bentley. She was a nurse. Freeman invited Macy to his wedding and she did the same with her wedding. They’re not “co-workers”; they’re friends.
  • Freeman kept in touch with Amber while she was in prison. They wrote letters to each other. 

MTV Laguna Beach Lauren StephenLaguna Beach

  • It was actually inspired by 90210 and not The O.C. 
  • The cast members were so interesting outside of school and were glad their lives weren’t just in high school, which ended up being more like The O.C. instead of 90210.
  • They had to hide the “famous real world” on Laguna Beach. If there was a magazine with the cast on the cover, they would take out from the shot. They had to have security to maintain the fans or wait for them to leave at the surf Stephen worked at. They didn’t want the fame they got from the show on the show because that’s not was Laguna Beach was about.

MTV My Super Sweet 16My Super Sweet 16

  • Neumeyer was inspired by how many people would watch wedding shows. She began to wonder what was a coming of age moment for young people, and looked into different cultures and traditions. Eventually, she came across kids who would have big parties and receive big presents.
MTV The Challenge Dirty 30
Photo Credit: BuzzFeed

The panel ended with a never before seen trailer to the new season of The Challenge. In honor of its 30th season, this season will be called The Challenge: Dirty 30, where 30 of the dirtiest The Challenge and Road Rules alumni will return to compete for – get this – “with $1 Million on the line”. My eyes literally widened when I saw that in the trailer. I don’t necessarily think the first place winner or winners will win $1 million each. I think the first three place winners combined will win a total of $1 Million. That’s still a lot of money and obviously the highest cash prize in Challenge history. In the trailer, fan favorites like CT, Bananas, Cara Maria, Darrell, Corey, Camila, Jenna, Derrick, Veronica and Tony were seen. You can check out the entire cast list and the trailer only on BuzzFeed. The Challenge: Dirty 30 will premiere July 18th on MTV.

Photo Credit: Tammy Perez

About Amy

I watch A LOT of tv shows and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm obsessed with couples from my favorite TV shows. I get lost in the different worlds of books. I sing my heart out and have my own concert in my living room with my iPod blasting. Lastly, I love to write. You can follow me on Twitter @iAMart_22

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