Emmys 2012: Ryan Seacrest, Cat Deeley, Carson Daly and More Reveal the Dirty Secrets of Reality TV
"Are we allowed to swear?” asked producer Craig Piligian upon gathering for a conversation with his reality TV cohorts at Milk Studios in Hollywood on June 2. Sure, why not? Television’s most freewheeling format lends itself so well to a no-holds-barred discussion about its most zeitgeisty programs. Ryan Seacrest (American Idol, Keeping Up With the Kardashians), 37; Thom Beers (Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers), 54; Cat Deeley (So You Think You Can Dance), 35; Alison Sweeney (The Biggest Loser), 35; Craig Piligian (Dirty Jobs, American Chopper), 54; and Carson Daly (The Voice), 38, come clean about the perils of hosting and producing unscripted series, from the Kardashians to weirdest fan moments to their own guilty pleasures.
The Hollywood Reporter: What’s the toughest decision you’ve had to make on live TV?
Carson Daly: For me it was: Do I ask Mariah Carey to leave the MTV studios one July afternoon in 2001 when she came in without being booked on the show? Normally when Mariah came on Total Request Live, it was very regimented. In this case, she came out pushing an ice cream cart, in short-shorts, reading poetry.
Cat Deeley: I do that every weekend. (Laughter.)
Daly: It was like, at what expense are you getting good live TV?
Ryan Seacrest: Every episode of Idol is tough. Something goes wrong, there are no cues, and you have to play it off. I’ll go to break and ask, “Did I get that right?”
Deeley: If you do make a mistake and handle it with a bit of charm and self-deprecation, it really endears you to the audience. I’ve had everything go wrong, from falling over to dropping the microphone. If you laugh and carry on, people enjoy it.
Alison Sweeney: That’s the point of live TV. You want it to feel that at any moment something could go wrong!
Thom Beers: I’ve hosted some of my own talk shows. One time, I’m moderating this discussion, and the two guys start beating the crap out of each other. I’m sitting here going: “If I sit here, I’m going to look like a big wuss. If I jump in, I’m going to get my ass kicked.” And I jumped in. I got a good right to the jaw.
Daly: It’s dangerous!
Deeley: I’ve never been punched.
Seacrest: I’ve only been crushed by Ruben Studdard and his brother. (Laughter.) They sandwiched me. I think it has to do with my lack of height and size. I’m like a toy.
THR: Craig, you make so-called “testosterone TV.” What is a crazy moment on one of your shows that never made it on the air?
Craig Piligian: I had an incident with the American Chopper guys. It was wintertime, and I was supposed to apologize to them about something and wasn’t going to do it. They were inside a Winnebago and were making me wait outside. They had a big security guard. I’m freezing my ass off. I was out there two f—ing hours waiting. And I said, “F— this!” and opened the door, went inside and said, “Lock the f—ing door, leave the security guy out there.” I told Paul [Teutal] Sr.: “We are going to have a rough time here because it’s me against you guys. You guys better really be prepared for this.”
PHOTOS: Behind the Scenes With TV's Biggest Reality Players
Deeley: I’m terrified just listening to this.
Daly: This moment is now the toughest moment for me. (Laughter.) Who won?
Piligian: Everybody got really quiet for a moment because they thought I was a little nuts.
Beers: You have to be.
Piligian: We settled the score right there and went on for 10 seasons. That could have been a nice moment on TV, but it didn’t work out that way.
Beers: I did that with the Ice Road Truckers guys. All of a sudden they are like, “OK, we are going on strike.” I stood up, “Bring it on! Let’s do it. Come on.” Like this. Network people saying, “Are they going to fight? We don’t fight on television!”
Piligian: Thom’s and my slates are kind of the same. There are tough guys who want to know if you can take a shot.
Seacrest: You guys employ psychopaths. That’s your problem. (Laughter.) I’m just standing next to Clay Aiken. Less intense.
Beers: In season two of Monster Garage, Jesse James was sitting in a car welding. I cleared the entire studio and said, “I want to know: When did I become an asshole?”
Piligian: I was doing Survivor: Africa, and we wanted to do something with f—ing camels. So we went to this remote place where this guy trains camels. I’m tired. I’ve been in Africa for 3½ f—ing months, and I ask, “So how do you make them do what you want them to do?” He takes a baseball bat to the f—ing camel’s knees to get it to go down. I turn to [executive producer] Tom Shelly and go: “Dude. We can’t use camels on Survivor. We can’t have this guy hitting these camels with baseball bats.”
Seacrest: No one tells a story like you tell a story. (Laughter.)
Piligian: I told Mark Burnett, “We aren’t using f—ing camels.”
Seacrest: Is [Jeff] Probst high maintenance? Does he have a mirror in his tent?
Daly: He’s not here!
Seacrest: Yeah. Where is he? He’s joining us via satellite.
THR: The story brings up a good point about ethical dilemmas in reality TV. Is there something you caught on camera that made you say: “You know what? This is probably not a good idea for us to show.”
Piligian: We did a show called Jousting on History. And one of our jousters, a big Australian guy, the horse stepped on his foot. He had a steel glove on and mashed the horse in the face. They sent me the video, and we took the guy off the show.
Seacrest: That’s a good decision. I remember looking at the raw footage of Kourtney [Kardashian] having Mason, the baby. I’d never seen a delivery in that much detail. Half of me was interested, but I was shocked that she essentially reached down and delivered her own baby. And I was like, “How much are we going to show of this?” And I realized that they were more qualified women to make this decision. She would have loved for us to air the entire thing. But I remember thinking, “How far do we go?”
Daly: Right. What’s the edit point? At blood, usually!
Sweeney: We’ve had awkward moments. Obesity is largely about terrible tragedies that happen and the circumstances that lead contestants to that point. When we do home visits, producers make some tough calls. You want to help people at home relate to it but have to protect our contestants.
Beers: My biggest challenge was how much to show of Captain Phil’s death on Deadliest Catch. I also wrestled with how to handle drug abuse by one of the sons, too. The network said they didn’t want to touch on that. And we said: “We are not taking that out. You need for Phil to have forgiveness at the end. It’s integral.” And they basically said: “No. You cut it out or we’ll cut it out.” And I said, “Well, then you are going to cut it out because — and, as a matter of fact, I’m delivering this show two hours before it airs — because you will never cut it.” It was a stalemate. Then trying to figure out how much to show of Phil. At the end, it was just tragic. It took us weeks just to get through the edit …
Daly: You guys did a great job.
Beers: … breaking down in tears. I watched three minutes of it and said, “I can’t watch this.” Trying to find that balance, where you let the sons tell the stories of how he died as opposed to watching Captain Phil die. It was much more powerful.