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So You Want to Be a Reality Star?

So You Want to Be a Reality Star? Well, Sign Away Your Rights.
March 17, 2013

By: Kim Brimm
Managing Editor, Tampa Bay

Reality television has taken off in the last decade with everyone looking to shop around their idea for TV's next reality hit. Alan Funt is credited with creating the first reality-based television show with his 1948 series Candid Camera. In the more than 60 years since reality based television has appeared on American television, the scope and subject matter has expanded far beyond the situations that Funt created in his series. The television genre has exploded and now there is a reality show for everyone. There is Basketball Wives, Mob Wives, Starter Wives, Survivor, Fashion Star, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Real World, Bad Girls Club and The Bachelor to name a few.

Reality show producers typically look for people that can hold audience’s attention and get them great ratings. With hopes of their 15 minutes of fame or a chance to showcase their talents, thousands audition every year to be on these shows. Once picked, many aren’t aware of what exactly they have gotten themselves into. The contracts can be at least 30 pages long and filled with dozens of provisions. Some of these contracts give producers the right to come into your house and take your personal belongs. Yes, they have to return them—eventually. Most reality television contract provisions cover a variety of topics which include becoming pregnant, contracting a sexually transmitted disease, being kicked off, injured or hospitalized. Don’t forget most of them make you pay for all long distance phone calls. Two of the most interesting provisions listed in these contracts give producers the right to your life story and the right to defame you.

The “Life Story” provision usually grants producers rights to your story in perpetuity. These rights include everything that you do in conjunction with the show but also events that happen before and after the tapping. If an incident happens and the cameras didnt catch it, they can reserve the right to recreate the incident and shoot it however they want. Producers have the right to use participants’ stories in any medium they see fit including movies, Internet websites and print publications. Producers can also make a movie about participants’ life without further payment or consultation. Have an issue with someone on the show? Producers have the right to use whatever tactic they want to incite the conflict (for ratings) and kick you off the show if the conflict comes to blows.

The “Right to Defame You” provision allows producers to present participants in any way they want. Footage can be edited to make participants look like a party animal or a sociopath. This provision makes it almost impossible for them to get sued for their portrayals of people on their shows. Basically, they can make anyone look like the villain and are well within the scope of the contract to do so.

One bad act or a reality show can have repercussions for years. Most Americans have access to televisions and the internet and can easily research video from reality shows. Prospective employers and mates will have access to this footage also. Beware of the decisions you make if offered a chance to be on reality show. Producers are the ones in control.

Reality television stardom has its ups and downs. In the end, the only person in control of how people are seen on these shows are the producers. Before signing on to be the next star of The Bad Girls Club or The Bachelor take a minute to consult an entertainment attorney so you know what you are really signing up for.

A copy of a “Real World” contract obtained by The Village Voice can be found here.

A lawyer’s take on 15 minutes of fame.
Kim Brimm is a Managing Editor for the Cooley Tampa Bay campus. She also serves on the ABA Law Student Division class representative. If you have an idea for an article, would like to join her team, or just want to help her with her experiment called "Law School" feel free to contact her at