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: One issue that’s come up in the reality business is copycat shows. Carson, what did you think when you saw ads for The Choice [Fox’s dating show that closely resembles The Voice]?
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Daly: So funny. I mean, Idol blazed a path for so many of us, let’s be honest. For the first pitch for The Voice, I heard the words “singing competition” and said, “No thanks.” I have a great career in radio, I love my late-night show, and it’s not a space I feel the need to be in right now because it’s oversaturated. But Mark Burnett produces cinematic television, and I thought it was different enough where it could work.
Seacrest: [To Deeley] You’re hosting The Choice, right?
Seacrest: And now you are spinning in the chair.
Deeley: Yes, literally! It’s The Dating Game but with the chairs. Daly Ryan said it best, though. If you are producing television that strikes a chord with America, everybody has a pursuit of a dream, and if you can tap into that — whether it’s through weight loss, through singing competition shows — and you can do that well, you’re going to be successful. If you do it cheap and you do it cheesy, it’s just not going to work. Americans need some form of escape, even if it’s through a Kardashian show.
Sweeney: That sense of, “I can do that, too. I can be a singer.”
Daly: Do you get pitches that are just bad?
Beers: I don’t take the pitches. They come out of my head.
Daly: Or have you had an idea that you thought, “No one is really going to watch that.”
Daly: Yet they watch Pawn Stars and Storage Wars. (Laughter.)
Beers: Yes. Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men. It’s fabulous. Think about going out and trying to pitch Deadliest Catch. “It’s guys fishing.” “OK, what am I going to see?” “Well, they are going to boat, and then they are going to drop a pot …”
Seacrest: How did you come up with that concept?
Beers: I went to see a crab fishing boat for a special I was doing in 1999 called Extreme Alaska. Within 48 hours, I was 200 miles away at sea and ran into the worst storm in 40 years. The wind was blowing at 70 knots, waves at 40 feet, two boats sunk, seven guys drowned, never found the bodies. And I just kept taping, me and a cameraman. I expanded it to an hour, and it was the highest-rated show in the history of Discovery.
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Sweeney: That’s an amazing commentary on people in the industry. Your life is at stake, and that camera guy didn’t put that camera down.
Beers: I was too scared to do anything else. But here’s the best part. We’re getting blown all over the place. I haven’t slept in about 72 hours. And I’m keeping meticulous notes because in my mind, my twisted mind, I’m going, “OK, when this boat sinks at the last minute, I’m going to take this Pelican case, I’m going to throw it overboard, and I know the current travels south, so two years later that case is going to wash up on a shore in Santa Monica, and some kid is going to walk up to his father, “Hey dad, look what I found,” who happens to be an Emmy Award-winning editor. He’s going to open this case and go, “I’ll make this show.” (Laughter.)
THR: Ryan, how has the Kardashian family changed since they started their shows?
Seacrest: Salary. (Laughter.) Besides money? Turnover with boyfriends and husbands. But the premise is still really simple. It’s a family with a lot of love, a lot of craziness, a lot of chaos. There are aspirational components, too. But at the core, it’s a group of sisters and a mom, and Bruce, who is just trying to figure out what’s happening around him with this storm of women. That struck a chord early on. And they made a pact with themselves to be really honest. We don’t stop at all when we shoot stuff for them. They just let it go, and we shoot with a skeleton crew a lot of times with the intimate moments, with some of the relationship breakups, et cetera. But they’ve constantly got something happening in that family that makes for the next episode, the next season, the next spinoff. It’s endless.
Deeley: Do they have much control over what goes out?
Seacrest: Yes. They do see it. Kris [Jenner] is the executive producer.
Piligian: We would never allow somebody to see anything before it hits air.
Deeley: It’s difficult.
Seacrest: I understand why. I remember when we first started shooting Kardashian episodes, there were words that girls use with girls that I was uncomfortable with airing.
Deeley: I know.
Seacrest: It makes me uncomfortable. I’ll pass this to Craig. It rhymes with “beef.”
Sweeney: I know what it is.
Seacrest: So this word was being used back and forth, and I thought to myself, “You can’t leave that in.” And they said, “Yes. We talk like that.” We ended up taking it out, but since then they actually weigh in. It’s dangerous.
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THR: What’s something that Kris has vetoed?
Seacrest: Not much, actually. They like to see their shots. They like to see how the shoes look.
Piligian: But that’s part of the show. The shoes, and the handbags!
Deeley: Oh, I love it.
Beers: I like Scott. Is he still around?
Seacrest: Yeah. He’s become a very popular character.
Beers: I’d never seen such a dirtbag the first couple of seasons.
Seacrest: He’s made a complete turn. I’ve seen him out, and people walk right past me and go take a picture with him. They are very excited to see him.
THR: What’s the strangest fan interaction you’ve had?
Seacrest: I don’t get that many strange fan interaction cases.
Daly: Well, the Dictator thing was pretty strange on television.
Seacrest: Yeah. I don’t know that [Sacha Baron Cohen] was a fan, but that was a live moment.
Daly: Did you know about that?
Seacrest: I had no idea.
Daly: There was a moment I rewound it, and I said, “Seacrest is pissed.” You looked mad for a moment, and then it looked like you gathered yourself.
Seacrest: I knew I was on television, and I knew that he was a character. I didn’t know what he was doing. I saw the urn come up, and then it was just such a strange move. And the first moment I thought, “OK, what is this?” And then I had my second jacket that I could put on. So I became calm in the moment. But … I think the greatest compliment is when you run into people in any town, any city, and they come right up and ask you a question without saying, “Hey, you’re Ryan!”
Deeley: I’ve actually had people hug me, like, “It’s so great to see you” and then go, “I don’t really know you.”
Daly: On the first season of The Voice, Christina Aguilera and I took a photo on set and tweeted it. Within like five minutes, I was inundated with responses. One girl said, “I’ve waited 10 years for this photo.” And it dawned on me that that generation grew up with me.
Seacrest: I watched you every day on MTV. How old were you when you started that?
Daly: 24, 25.
Seacrest: Right, so I was finishing college and watching it in the afternoon. You were so casual, so comfortable, and it was live.
Daly: You should pay me some money for that. For all I’ve done for you. (Laughter.) I felt the same way about blazing the Idol trail.
Beers: Fame is interesting. I always sit down with all of the talent at the very beginning when I sign them, and I say, “This fame thing is a mathematical equation, where more people know who you are than you know who they are. That’s all it is.” Our guys, unfortunately, when they get famous, it just changes everything. All of a sudden they start producing themselves. But I just try to get them to hold onto that. Just that idea. It’s just math, man. That’s all it is.
Sweeney: I played a villain on Days of Our Lives for 20 years, so I’ve had every possible fan reaction you can image. People want to meet Sami and smack her. (Laughter.)
THR: One thing about Thom and Craig’s so-called blue-collar shows is ratings are going up and up. How do you explain that? Who is your audience?
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Sweeney: My husband. (Laughs.)
Beers: Women are watching [broadcast] networks and men are looking for something to do. Our audience is 77 percent male. On network, you guys are getting 60/40, aren’t you?
Seacrest: We have women on E!, it just depends on what network you are on.
Sweeney: It’s amazing because my husband doesn’t really watch a lot of TV, and yet he DVRs all of your shows.
Daly: I watch your shows because I feel like I’m not watching TV. It’s my male version of my own escapism. I want to know, “How does a real man live?” I have makeup on! (Laughter.) It’s a celebration of manhood in 22 minutes.
Beers: The coolest compliment I ever got was when we did Monster Garage. There was a woman who worked for our show; an African-American woman, a welder. And I remember one day she says, “Thanks for making my job cool to my kids.”
Seacrest: Fathers say to me: “Thank you for having a show I can talk to my daughter about. I now sit in front of the TV with my daughter. I couldn’t break through to her.”
Daly: I have a 3-year-old now, and I love the idea that I’m at the center of something that my entire family can sit down and watch. Season one of The Voice … my parents were there, and my son, and I looked around the room and thought, “Man, this is so cool to be watching this with my entire family. … My dad’s 80, and everybody is engaged in it.
Sweeney: I love that 8-year-olds come up to me and say they have a favorite contestant.
Piligian: You know how families get together over television shows like Idol? Well, it was opposite for me because I did Ultimate Fighter. And my daughter was in high school, and all the boys knew that I produced Ultimate Fighter.
Deeley: They must have been terrified of you.
Piligian: Really f—ing terrified.
Daly: And she never dated any of them. (Laughter.)
THR: What are your guilty pleasures?
Deeley: America’s Next Top Model. I love it. I recently met Tyra Banks for the first time and went into an impression of Tyra for Tyra. Then just kind of backed off.
Seacrest: It’s endearing.
Deeley: But I got to be a judge on the show, so it was OK.
Piligian: Seinfeld is still the greatest show. That’s what I go to bed to.
Sweeney: I watch Amazing Race.
Piligian: Can you follow it? I get exhausted.
Sweeney: I would do that show in a heartbeat.
Piligian: And it’s won like 54 Emmys.
Daly: But who’s counting? (Laughter.)
Seacrest: I watch cooking shows. I love the Food Network. I absolutely love Giada De Laurentiis.
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Seacrest: The kitchens and the food … I love watching.
Daly: Food has really become the new rock star.
Piligian: You guys like to go out and eat? Go out …
Deeley: … have a great bottle of wine.
Piligian: ’82 Bordeaux. Greatest f—ing wine on the planet.
Seacrest: We’re coming over for your ’82s! (Laughter.)
Daly: Wow, this is how rich people talk.