Emmys 2012: Ryan Seacrest, Cat Deeley, Carson Daly and More Reveal the Dirty Secrets of Reality TV
UPDATED: How do you ask Mariah Carey to leave a live broadcast? What do you do when Sacha Baron Cohen dumps an urnful of ashes onto your tuxedo? How much Kourtney Kardashian birthing footage is too much? The top names in the business share all that and more (and f-bombs galore!) at THR 's reality TV roundtable.
THR: What kind of notes are the rest of you getting from your networks?
Sweeney: They are a big part of decisions. I think we are looking to tell the best stories. But [to Daly] it is NBC …
Daly: We represent the peacock over here. (Laughter.)
Seacrest: I represent the peacock, too!
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Daly: You represent the whole table! Ryan’s head should be right here, floating. He is the epicenter of all media. (Laughter.)
Seacrest: I like live TV because you get your notes afterwards.
Sweeney: Do you wear an earpiece when you are live?
Seacrest: I don’t.
Sweeney: He doesn’t care what the producers think. (Laughter.)
Deeley: I never used those until I came to America. Always somebody in my ear!
Seacrest: It’s so distracting.
Daly: But a necessary evil. There are 25 cameras! A host has to know what’s happening. “One of the contestant’s mothers is crying.” The producers will tip me off, and I can bring it to the home audience … have more eyes on the floor.
Deeley: We have a great prompter guy. I can veer off script and come back to it. And it’s almost like he can read my mind. And it’s the same with the producer that I have in my ear. However, the most important thing is to be in the moment.
Seacrest: When you lose that moment, it’s obvious.
Sweeney: Ryan, when I was on your radio show, you would literally be having a full conversation with me and you were doing other things, like typing “Hi” to your mom. And then I get in my car like 10 seconds later and the whole interview was edited, and I sound way smarter than I was in the room!
Seacrest: Well, I had to do that. Pull you up a little bit. (Laughter.)
Sweeney: But that’s an amazing talent.
Seacrest: Live TV is more comfortable for me because I started
Daly: It’s the multitasking in your brain.
Seacrest: You produce it, you load the spots, you run the board.
Daly: If you walk into my radio show Monday morning, you are going to see me in my shorts editing with my right hand. I’m like literally the homeless guy on the street playing 15 different instruments at once.
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THR: What is the most frustrating aspect of your jobs?
Piligian: Working. F—ing going to work.
Beers: Dealing with networks, man. There are a lot of very talented people at networks, but there’s constant turnover. You have a relationship with a network exec, and all of a sudden they go on to another place, or move up. Also, I can’t believe people are going out to pitch Netflix and Facebook and YouTube now. They’ve got network execs, too? And I’m hearing the same shit from Netflix that I am from Discovery or NBC?
Seacrest: There goes that sale. (Laughter.)
Sweeney: There are a lot of people I answer to. And my taste and what I think is going to allow the conversation to unfold is maybe different from what the network thinks versus what my producers think. You have to please everybody.
THR: That’s come up with Idol, when Fox chief Kevin Reilly said at the upfronts that there were going to be some changes next season. And then Nigel Lythgoe said, “Well, I produce the show, what are they?” When you hear those different voices, what’s your reaction?
Seacrest: I’m conditioned, after being on that show for so long, that there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. It’s been an incredible machine for so many years, so I’m slightly immune to all of the different voices and grateful for all of the different opinions, to be honest. I was actually sitting on the set this year, and we were trying to figure out audition dates so that they could be cross-referenced with all of the other schedules. Then I saw them in the teleprompter broadcasting to America, live. I thought, “God, I’m the last to know sometimes.” (Laughter.)
THR: Can Idol go on forever?
Seacrest: There’s always an appetite for big performing shows. There are always people trying to pursue a dream. Sure, I think it could go on for a long time.
Piligian: American Idol is the greatest reality television show.
Piligian: Yes. I think it’s one of the most spectacular shows on TV. I said it to Randy Jackson. It’s just so pure, so innocent. America votes for the best singer.
Seacrest: Well, thank you for saying that.
Daly: Surprising coming from the guy who drops the F-bomb every five seconds. (Laughter.)
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THR: Is there a saturation point for singing competitions on TV?
Piligian: Honestly, I thought there was. But then The Voice emerges, and I’m going: “F—. There’s more room for singsong shows on TV!” I’m going to get into that business somehow. We do these docusoaps, and it’s so exhausting. I just want to do one big song show and let them sing. (Laughter.)
Beers: We have to live with our talent for years and years. The first season, they are amazed they’re on television. The second season, they go, “Why is the network making so much money and I’m not?” The third season is, “I want more money.” The fourth season is, “I’m going to try and get even more money.” But then if you get by that hump, all of a sudden they realize, “Hey, I’m driving the pace car in the Indianapolis 500. I don’t give a shit about more money.” All of a sudden that fame takes hold, and then they realize that “without this show, I’ve got nothing.”
Seacrest: Your characters are intense; ours are pretty grateful.
Beers: Yes, because they are only in one season. (Laughter.)
THR: What’s the strangest interaction you have ever had with a contestant?
Deeley: There are definitely times where I am quite touchyfeely with everybody. There are moments where I literally leave work, and I go, “If anything happened to me right now and they found my murdered dead body, and they did forensics on me, I probably have the DNA of about 57 people all over me, and they wouldn’t have a clue where to start.” I smell of sweat and cologne and vague desperation.
Beers: What are your weekends like? (Laughter.)
THR: Do you ever worry about getting too close to some of the people?
Deeley: No. I’ve never had anybody react weirdly with me, and I never had anybody in the street say anything derogatory to me. In fact, I’m kind of the opposite. I invite all of the kids from every season around to my house for July 4th to barbecue.
Seacrest: “Have you ever been hit on by a contestant?” I think is what they are asking.
Deeley: No, I haven’t.
Daly: I find that hard to believe.
Sweeney: Maybe you didn’t know.
Deeley: Well, most of them are gay, so my averages are very low. (Laughter.) We try to leave the door open because what you’re doing is taking ordinary people and putting them in this hothouse. If they want to talk about anything to do with their career ... keep the door always open.
Daly: I tried to play golf with a contestant from season one from The Voice, and [the network] was like, “No, favoritism.”
Seacrest: Yeah, favoritism.
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Piligian: You have to really like the person to play golf with them. A five-hour thing! I can’t do it.
Seacrest: Are you in a relationship?
Piligian: I’ve been married 25 years.
Seacrest: Well, you can do it.
Piligian: But that’s different.
Sweeney: Yeah. She doesn’t play golf. One issue that’s come up in the reality business is copycat shows.