Master of Reality

by Daniel Manu April 29, 2008
The Jonathan Murray Interview

TWoP: Is getting the casting right 90 percent of what makes an unscripted show successful or not?

JM: On a show like The Real World, the kids move into the house and then you step back and shoot what happens. And if you don't have a game to rely on, your cast is going to give you your story and they're going to give you the rooting interest. So to me, it all begins with the cast. If you don't have a good cast and a good concept, you don't have a show.

TWoP: When you see an audition tape from a Puck, a Tonya, a Trishelle, or any of the other memorable Real World personalities, is it immediately obvious that this person is going to be compelling to watch each week?

JM: It's not always that clear. We're pretty good at assessing if someone has charisma; if they're the kind of person that, when you're switching channels, makes you want to stop because there's something about them -- either their look or the way they express themselves. But ultimately, you don't know when those seven people move in together how they're going to affect each other. That's part of the excitement of the show: You're not necessarily sure Puck is going to be Puck when he shows up.

TWoP: Do you worry that because of the ubiquity of reality TV, the people you're casting may be too familiar with the conventions of the genre to be truly "real" on camera?

JM: That's definitely something you have to look out for during the casting process. And that's why our casting process is three months long [and] each person undergoes at least three or four interviews. We call a lot of their friends, and some of their enemies, to try to really get a real sense of who they are, so we know if they're giving us performance or if they're just being who they are. People use to say to me, "Oh that Puck, he just gave a performance." Well, if you knew Puck you'd know that wasn't a performance, that's just who he is.

TWoP: Was setting the current season of The Real World in Hollywood an acknowledgment of the conventional wisdom that many of the people who get on reality TV really just want to get into show business?

JM: Yes. We decided in a sense to give in to the fact that there are a lot of people interested in the entertainment business. In that very first season of The Real World, most of those cast members were in New York to pursue something in entertainment, so with Hollywood, we decided to go back to our roots.

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