Melissa Jo Peltier

Author of fiction and nonfiction; film and television producer/writer/director

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The Meeting Was Real. It Absolutely Was Real.

February 14, 2013

Tags: Reality TV, pitch meeting, television, Hollywood, novel, inspiration, satire

The following conversation, which takes place in my novel REALITY BOULEVARD between two 20-something cable network executives and the book's main character, veteran award-wining producer Marty Maltzman, reads like satire:
"Ken steepled his fingers and gazed thoughtfully up at the ceiling. 'Dwarves have done very well for us in primetime ... of course you can never go wrong with pimps, sluts, hoes and bitches.' He winked at Kevin. 'We don't mean that in any kind of racist or sexist context, of course...Anyway, our best night of the week is our Sunday primetime lineup. We call it - for lack of a better term - our 'freaks and losers' block.' "

The irony is, these statements are word-for-word recountings of meetings I've found myself in as a longtime producer of non-fiction television. I mean it. Those meetings really happened.

If I were to recount what was really said in some of the pitch and network development meetings I've attended, it wouldn't even read as satire. You'd think it was over-exaggerated fantasy or a really terrible Saturday Night Live sketch. I couldn't include those in the book without being accused of jumping the shark (a television-inspired term!)

One day a few years ago, I was sitting in one of those hellacious meetings, listening to some young, inexperienced executives recounting the kind of flavor-of-the-month reality shows they were seeking that day, and I felt like I'd died inside. I thought I was going to be ill. I listened to them talk without conscience or any kind of awareness of the fact that these shows they were touting would be influencing the minds of millions of people. I said to myself, "How did I get here?"

I started out in television and film wanting to tell important stories; wanting to change the world for the better through this incredibly powerful medium. Sure, I was young and naive, but early in my career, I actually had the chance to do those projects, producing, directing and writing powerful prime time documentaries with the legendary Arnold Shapiro, like "Scared Silent" and "Break the Silence" (about child abuse) among others. As the years went on, I wrote and produced wonderful historical documentaries for A&E and History in their early years. I felt good about myself and my work, I was learning new things every day (making documentaries and non-fiction TV is like taking a college course on every new subject), growing, meeting fascinating people, traveling to exciting (and some not so exciting) locations. I was able to use my talents and skills for good. I got to dress up in sparkly things and go to awards ceremonies where I was a nominee and in several cases, the winner. I had so much fun in my work, I formed a company with two partners I respected and we set out to do even more projects that we cared about.

That was in 1996, but the climate in television was already quietly changing all around us. Little by little, the stories we wanted to tell - important stories, entertaining stories, fascinating stories, stories with messages - were deemed not commercial enough, the characters "not larger than life." I realized, if television had been like this when I first got into it, I might have become a used car salesman instead. It's a far more honest profession. I believe most reality TV is not only mindless and useless, it's actually negative and dangerous. It promotes dangerous negative stereotypes, particularly of women and racial minorities. It ratchets up the pressure on girls whose body images are already terrible, given the media onslaught of size zero movie stars they are forced to compare themselves to. It teaches people that the end justifies the means - that backstabbing and lying are justifiable life strategies. And worst of all, it gives an up and coming generation a wrong impression of what's important in life - that the only thing you need to be in life is famous. Famous for nothing is fine, famous for something bad is just as acceptable. But if you're not famous, you're nothing.

There was a line in the recent Meryl Streep movie, "Irony Lady," where Streep as Margaret Thatcher says, "Today, all anybody wants is to 'be someone.' In my day, we wanted to 'do something'."

This was the inspiration behind REALITY BOULEVARD.

But beyond the serious stuff, I wanted to convey some of the absurdity of the Hollywood culture, and some of the fun, colorful characters I've met along the way during my 25 plus years in the business. I actually fell in love with my characters, particularly the producer Marty Maltzman, who is actually modeled on my real-life television mentor, the great Arnold Shapiro (Oscar-winning "Scared Straight", "Rescue 911", "Big Brother" - among many many others, including 16 Emmy award-winning films, series, specials and documentaries), and Marty's fictional friend and mentor, Jerry Stone, who is a combination of old school Hollywood gentleman I've had the pleasure and honor to know and work for over the years.

I genuinely want my readers to have fun, to laugh, to gasp, to enjoy the ride into an unknown world they thought they already knew.

I do hope they come off of that ride looking at reality television and the media in general a little bit more critically, but most of all, I just hope they have a hell of a good time!


Comments

  1. February 14, 2013 1:29 PM EST
    Well said, Melissa! I could have written this, because...been there, done that. Couldn't agree me with everything written here. The business has changed so much since the early '80s when I first moved to LA and joined its ranks, that it now disgusts me. That being said, like you, I still have lofty aspirations to actually make a difference in this sad world. By the way, my corporate DBA sums up my philosophy, it should be Cinema Profound, or television profound...

    An aside, I see you have just established your blog. My recommendation is that you move it to Word Press. It's a highly respected platform for a reason. Just saying.

    Love and peace, friend!
    - Sidney Peck/Cinema Profound
  2. February 14, 2013 1:30 PM EST
    P.S.: At least make it possible for people to subscribe to your blog via email or RSS feed. Love ya!
    - Sidney Peck/Cinema Profound
  3. February 14, 2013 11:19 PM EST
    Thanks Sidney; I like having a site that supports the Author's Guild, though Word Press is certainly a more versatile platform as well as more accessible. If I do much more blogging I'll look into it. I appreciate your advice.
    - Melissa Peltier
  4. February 16, 2013 5:21 PM EST
    I will certainly look forward to getting a copy of your book -- either through the library or, if I can afford it, from a book store. As a late-comer to "reality-TV," I agree that so much of it is played for the drama and that often the values that come through are not the ones that make for ethical living. I enjoy the ones I can learn from -- the Dog Whisperer taught me so much about the animal/human two-way communication bond; the many cooking competitions are ones that seem to be less doctored than most. But I really can't stand the ones that seem to promote backstabbing and lack compassion. I hope the book opens a lot of eyes to the "reality" of reality TV.
    - Jackie Cassada
  5. February 16, 2013 8:01 PM EST
    I hear you, Jackie. We who made The Dog Whisperer were always proud that yes, it was really real, and yes, in our opinions it helped people (and dogs.) There are definitely a few reality shows that are on the side of the light - "Scared Straight, Another Story" for instance; "Intervention" & "Hoarders" mean well and overall help people tremendously. There are others (the cooking shows are great I suppose, but personally I don't get cooking shows on the air. I mean, without taste-o-vision, what am I personally getting out of them except a few cooking tips? I'm not a foodie, though, so maybe that's why I'm clueless about their appeal.) I didn't write the book to "condemn" reality TV or its watchers. It's a book about people, first and foremost, and about the compromising of dreams and about discovering real values. But I do feel strongly that many in our industry willfully ignore the incredible power to shape behavior that the medium really possesses. TV can and does shape behavior and attitudes, particularly in young people. I've seen it, and studies prove it. It's a power that I believe is abused daily.
    - Melissa Jo Peltier

Published Works

Reality Boulevard
"...a book in the tradition of great Hollywood novels, from Carroll and Garrett Graham’s Queer People (1930) to Michael Tolkin’s The Player (1988), and reads like Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 Network screenplay retooled for the 21st century" - Ken Salikoff, Kirkus Indie Magazine
Fiction
"In this smart, funny, insightful novel, reality TV becomes all too real...Peltier examines the Hollywood world of writers, producers, rich kids, actors, wannabes and con men with a keen and often compassionate eye. " - Kirkus Reviews
"Once I started reading "Reality Boulevard," I could not stop...this is the best satirical look behind-the-scenes of "reality television" ever written." - Arnold Shapiro, Oscar & Emmy-winning Producer of Scared Straight; Rescue 911; Big Brother
“[Millan] arrives amid canine chaos and leaves behind peace.” —Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker
Non-Fiction (Co-Author)
“As complete a tome on the subject as one could want…If the answer you’re looking for in this guide cannot be found, the question is not worth asking...this is an impressive piece of work.” - Bookviews, June 2011