The Art of Pulling Off A Reality Show Con

Reality shows can be tricky to pull off. Consider the BBC show The Real Hustle, meant to expose the methods used by con artists and thieves to steal money. How can producers show individuals getting duped without actually committing frauds in the process?

After a couple of UK newspapers alleged in February that producers of The Real Hustle were using hired actors to pretend they were being conned in episodes that ran from 2006 to 2008, the Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trust opened an investigation to determine whether the shows had breached guidelines on accuracy and disclosure.

The results of the investigation have just been published, and they reveal that Hustle didn't improperly mislead audiences, but it did create "a lack of clarity and precision" about which was the "mark" and which was the "set up."

Producers recruited people desperate to appear on reality TV shows. Contrary to the claims by the newspapers, these individuals weren't trained actors. Nevertheless, they had no idea what show they were appearing on.

Call it the middle-ground of scamming.

The BBC Trust says in its latest ruling that the Hustle producers should have been more delicate about the way they handled these scams, and as a result has ordered that the shows never be re-aired. The committee says, however, there was no serious breach of editorial standards. In the future, the BBC Trust acknowledges there may be better ways to create more transparency without "destroying the mystique of the show," such as having filmed individuals confirm their reactions as genuine, not using web sites meant for actors, and giving more details about filming methodology on the producer's website.

The Real Hustle is about the air its 10th season.


Twitter: @eriqgardner

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