What I learned at reality-TV school.

What you're watching.
June 27 2008 12:11 PM

The Apprentice

My day at reality-TV school.

(Continued from Page 1)

And the pupils? We were mostly in our 30s and 40s—struggling actors, aspiring reality-show hosts, and not a few of those women who, having correctly been told all their lives that they're pretty, take that praise as a license to spend perfectly good money on mediocre head shots. There was a woman who introduced herself as a recovering alcoholic, and we applauded her years of sobriety. Then she explained that she suffers from alcohol-related brain damage, and we didn't know what to say. She, of course, showed a lot of potential. There was a performer named Queen Esther, but she bailed early, not long after the introductory stretching exercise—an acting-class staple—and the enforced three-minute dance party to which it inexorably led. In parting, Queen Esther explained that she just won a singing contest and was headed uptown to perform at Jazzmobile's Summerfest. We wished her "good luck" when we should have said, "Break a leg." If Galinsky noticed this faux pas, he let it pass, preferring to note that Her Majesty had, in heralding this appearance, increased her "IMI"—i.e., her "Individual Marketing Index."

Galinsky is fond of acronyms and such. For instance, our only handout listed his "8 Commandments" of reality TV—"with an all new 9th Bonus Commandment!"—and its fifth item was, "Thou Shall Groom Hairy 'PITTS,' " which stands for "personal issues to tease." The commandment went on: "As a reality star I will always groom my PITTS and allow them to be accessible—they are relationship, family, work related." What he's struggling to say here is that in an audition tape and on a reality show itself, it's crucial to develop themes that audiences can hold onto. Like much of Galinsky's advice, this would seem obvious to any reality-TV glutton who exhibits the slightest traces of thoughtfulness. The brilliance of Galinksy's business plan is that only a few people have been able to watch that much television without losing their minds, and most of them are too busy writing for Television Without Pity to start up a competing class. He's alone in giving reality-TV wannabes the "emotional preparation" to be themselves.

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After cruising hastily through the Commandments ("2. Thou Shall Never Say 'I AM AN ACTOR' ... [E]verything I do must be candid, genuine and not an act"), we participated in an exercise called On the Grill With Phil. Phil—a Galinsky associate wearing plaid pants, a trim mustache, and a cartoonishly abrasive personality—recited text from actual want ads and Craigslist postings announcing reality-show auditions, and we jumped before a camera to blare out our qualifications for the respective shows. One of only two married students, I stepped forward in response to a call for ABC's Wife Swap; being self-conscious in the wrong way, I was lousy. The strongest real person there was a male extrovert from the outer boroughs, a guy boasting an easygoing smarminess and a résumé featuring an appearance on NBC's Deal or No Deal and a related Web series. During a break, he told me, sotto voce, that he's an actor and feels himself most comfortable with "sitcoms, commercials, hosting, and reality." He wore a horribly flamboyant jacket modeled on Old Glory, a garment that simultaneously desecrated the flag and defiled the retina. The casting expert complimented him highly on its assertiveness.

The afternoon began winding down with a "networking" mixer. It might have been easier to network had the food consisted of hors d'oeuvres, say, as opposed to Greek salad, but we managed. A fellow student shared that she and her husband co-own a film-production company, and that she was developing a movie about reality TV, and that the casting guy had been particularly inspiring in his blunt viciousness. The brain-damaged lady, sprightly still, distributed her press kit. Galinksy, in closing, said he hoped that he'd given us some tools with which we could express our core selves with "confidence and purity": "That's pretty much a good recipe for life." Indeed, the New York Reality TV School encourages its students to ask, "Who am I?"—but if you've enrolled, you already know the answer: I'm a star.

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