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.

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer.

One of the great stock scenes of 20th-century child-rearing—a cliché since, let's say, the first season of American Bandstand—sees Mom lecturing Junior that it's a nice summer day outside and that it's such a shame he's indoors watching television. But these are different times, and a new breed of American mother walks among us, sometimes even upright. She is the Reality-Television Stage Mom, and some nice summer day very soon, I imagine she'll be able to drop off Junior at a place very much like the New York Reality TV School so that he can go indoors and prepare to be watched on television. Imagine the parting scene at curbsides: her firm phrases of encouragement, the moist peck planted on the center of the lad's tender forehead, the final words warmly hectoring Junior to bear in mind all that he'd learned in those many hours of studying Puck on the third season of The Real World, frame by gnarly frame.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

The NYRTVS is the brainchild of Robert Galinsky, a 43-year-old acting coach and improv comedian. Of his two IMDb acting credits, the more amusing to read is "Fanatic Hassidic Jew" in something called Brooklyn Babylon (2001). Galinsky claims to have coached 50 Cent for a recent audition. I must talk about this with Fiddy.

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According to the crude text on the NYRTVS Web site, the school's mission is to pioneer "the development of reality TV training in order for professionals and beginners to take their place as exciting, confident and vibrant real people/entertainers on any reality TV show." It seems gratuitous to follow that quote with a "sic," so I will merely add that the school boasts of having "worked with personalities" who have debased themselves on shows including The Bachelor, Big Brother, and The Apprentice. Last Saturday in Manhattan, about 20 aspiring followers in those footsteps—real people and some entertainers, too—participated in Galinsky's one-day intensive course. It cost $139, with a $20 discount for early registration. It amounted to a three-hour lesson in cultivating narcissism—being one's self as noisily as possible. It was not quite as imbecilic as I'd hoped.

We entered a room at a Chelsea theater workshop, murmured among ourselves over up-tempo pop songs, and, just after noon, formed a circle. Two cameramen circled the circle, encouraging our camera consciousness and stroking our vanity, and the Panopticon element was heightened by the presence of a handful of journalists, including a woman from Swedish radio with a microphone in her hand and pants low on her hips. We met Galinsky and the other instructors, Robert Russell and Jorge Bendersky. Russell works on the casting side of the business and has spent the past 27 years helping to assemble all the game shows, reality programs, and dating trash that you love to hate yourself for watching. His head was shaved bare, and his chin was sternly goateed. "I feed off personality for a living," Russell said. "I'm like a vulture that way." He said this at the end of day, I should note, during a well-padded Q-and-A session that Galinsky insisted on calling a "press conference."

Jorge, meanwhile, is a standout contestant on the current season of Groomer Has It, which airs on Animal Planet and is to poodle-appropriate barber scissors as Project Runway is to pinking shears. His T-shirt boasted that he hearted Argentina, and his accent matched. "I'm like the love child of Fran Drescher and Ricky Ricardo," Jorge passionately lisped, continuing, "I was born without an indoor voice." Later, in a private conversation, he would underline the importance of developing quality sound bites.