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Secret Agent Man

Let's Get Real About Reality

Is reality TV really the reason you're not working?

Would you like to know my definition of a loser? It's someone who blames others for his or her own shortcomings. I knew a guy back East who was just like that. He always dressed like a slob, and he'd get his hair cut at a pet shop. The man was a mess. He would go around complaining he couldn't get a date because women are too picky. It never occurred to him that he was the source of his own problem.

I mention this guy because I'm constantly running into actors who are just like him. Lately I've been hearing a lot of you blaming reality TV for your inability to find work. Oh, really? So that's the reason you're not working? Call me crazy, but is it possible that Mark Burnett's success has nothing to do with your failure as an actor? I was thinking maybe your nonunion status, lack of representation, and crappy business sense might have something to do with it. But hey, what do I know?

The first thing you need to accept is that reality television ain't going anywhere. It's here to stay. Why? Because most of these programs are cheap to produce and they generate a lot of revenue. Look at it this way: The budgets for those awful dating shows on MTV are lower than the sticker price of a brand-new BMW. Even high-end shows like American Idol and The Amazing Race cost significantly less per episode than Lost or 24. That's why Survivor, which premiered in 2000, is still on the air. Low cost plus high profit equals success. That's the kind of equation networks love. And that's why all the doomsayers who are constantly predicting the demise of these shows are 100 percent wrong.

Actors whine that too much airtime is devoted to reality TV, time that would normally go to narrative programming. That's actually a valid point, but I seriously doubt it's the reason you're not working. And if you insist on looking at your career in such a twisted manner, what about game shows like Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? or magazine shows like 20/20? Are they getting in your way too? I picked up a recent issue of TV Guide and counted the number of prime-time network hours devoted to these types of programs in a given week. It came out to 10. That's a lot, almost as much as reality TV. So now what? Are you going to start blaming John Stossel and Wayne Brady for all your problems too?

Now, on the other hand, some of you have told me in a hushed voice that you're thinking about auditioning to be on a reality show. That's fine. It's your soul. You can sell it to whomever you like. But from a career perspective, I would advise you not to do it. The temporary fame might give you an ego boost, but it isn't going to help you as an actor. If anything, agents and casting directors might take you less seriously. We used to have meetings with people from Survivor and other shows like it, but that got old fast. I kept thinking, "Who are these people? And why am I talking to them? I got into this business to represent actors, not glorified game show contestants."

So love it or hate it, it's time for you to stop obsessing about reality TV. It is what it is. There's still plenty of opportunity out there for all of you. Just be the best actor you can be and try to develop some business sense. Work will follow. And if it doesn't, Jeff Probst looks like he's getting tired of watching people eat bugs. Maybe you could audition to be his replacement. Then you would know what it feels like to have neurotic actors point their fingers at you and sneer.

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