Social media presents new reality-TV challenges
This undated photo released by MTV shows the cast of "Jersey Shore," from left, Vinny Guadagnino, Angelina Pivarnick, Paul 'DJ Pauly D' Delvecchio, Jenni 'JWOWW' Farley, Ronnie Magro, Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi, Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino and Sammi 'Sweetheart' Giancola.
LOS ANGELES - It became one of the most talked about "Jersey Shore" moments.
Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and an unidentified male partygoer sloshed drinks at each other in a berserk bar brawl. The slaphappy altercation, however, hasn't aired on MTV. That's because the boozy battle was hastily captured on a low-grade camera and posted online months before the cultural phenomenon's second chapter is scheduled to debut.
The just-push-upload incident is the latest example of how instantaneous media is simultaneously building buzz and spoiling reality TV. The intentionally raw medium relies heavily on spontaneity, or at least something resembling spontaneity, and doesn't pack the same punch without Never Before Seen Footage or The Most Shocking Elimination Ever.
"It's a blessing and a curse," said "Jersey Shore" executive producer Sally Ann Salsano. "You're always grateful when people want to talk about your show, but in the end, those same people are the ones that take things, like what happened with Snooki, out of context. I know I'll have a chance to tell my story, but more people are going for the cheap shot."
The slapping and soaking delivered and received by Snooki, who was infamously punched in the face by a stranger at a bar during the show's first season, went viral after it was posted on the celebrity news website RadarOnline.com, later popping up on multiple blogs and debated about on HLN. Salsano acknowledged she was not stoked that the moment was spoiled.
When it comes to keeping secrets, reality TV producers don't typically have the same luxuries as their scripted TV counterparts. When there's no sound stage in which to hide or script to keep under wraps, it's not easy to protect made-for-TV drama from playing out online, as with the not-so-private production of the second season of "Jersey Shore" in Miami.
"The good thing about 'Jersey Shore' is it's not a puppet show," said Salsano. "There's no parade in the street for people to watch, so most of what's posted online is just the kids coming and going. Much of the story is happening inside establishments or at their house. I promise not to air 12 episodes of The Situation walking around sucking in his gut."
Reality TV spoilers have been around since the inaugural season of "Survivor." Restrictive nondisclosure agreements that threaten legal action, signed by anyone exposed to a reality-TV production, are usually enough to keep the most important plot lines from leaking onto the Internet or elsewhere.
Newer tactics include forbidding the use of social media during filming. For example, the "Jersey Shore" ensemble said ciao to Twitter before they moved down to Miami. Even if contestants are allowed to post online during production, such as the ninth season "American Idol" finalists sporadically do, the updates are usually overseen by the show's producers.
Curiosity remains high though, especially when cracks emerge in the barrier between a show still in production and the rest of the world. Just ask manufacturing sales representative Steve Carbone, who has been dishing dirt about the sudsy dating franchises "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" for nearly seven years.
"I'm not doing anything wrong," said Carbone, who lives in Dallas. "I'm just relaying information that's told to me. People can choose to believe it or not. It's just my track record has proven that I know what's going on. People that have come to know me know that I've gotten two out of the last three seasons dead on and told people exactly what will happen."
Last season, Carbone correctly revealed that hunky pilot Jake Pavelka would choose feisty marketing representative Vienna Girardi during the final rose ceremony. He also accurately predicted that Facebook advertising account manager Ali Fedotowsky would ditch Pavelka to keep her job then become the leading lady on the next season of "The Bachelorette."
Carbone, who said he's never been told to stop spoiling the show by the producers or the network, insisted he has sources close to the production that provide him with his info. However, many amateur sleuths are able to stitch together what's happening on a reality-TV series simply by searching online, scouring for clues in status updates and photos.
"We glean information from wherever we can -- Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, whatever," said college student Ron Lee, who operates a spoiler website. "That's the nature of the fun that comes from trying to spoil reality TV. You try to get as much information as possible since everyone is chomping at the bit to know what's going to happen next."
Fans share those findings online, attempting to deduce such elements as who the suitors are on the next season of "The Bachelorette" or what the route will be on the globe-trotting contest "The Amazing Race." RealityFanForum.com members were able to figure out almost the entire course of the 16th season of "The Amazing Race" months before it premiered.
"I can't speak for the network or the production, but I really like that people see us when we're traveling around the world," said host Phil Keoghan. "If you're a fan of the show, you're not going to go, 'Oh! I can't watch the show now because I know where they're going.' If anything, you're going to be more excited because you want to see what happens."
Such teases sometimes become part of the action. Take, for example, the third season of "The Real Housewives of New York City," which often features the show's drama queens reading about themselves online. During a recent episode of the Bravo docu-soap, sassy chef Bethenny Frankel flipped out when rumours of her pregnancy were posted on PerezHilton.com.
"There was so much junk being published all fall about the women," said Andy Cohen, Bravo's senior vice president of original programming and development. "I don't think anything that was published has made it any less interesting now that it's airing. I think it's still fresh, and I think people are addicted and they can't wait to see what happens next."
When the self-proclaimed "guidos" and "guidettes" of "Jersey Shore" return to film the remainder of the second season later this summer at the same shore house they partied in during the first season in Seaside Heights, N.J., executive producer Salsano said extra measures, including beefed-up security, will be taken to ensure the integrity of the show.
"We will do everything we can to protect the story," she said, "and everyone else will probably do anything they can to get around it."