There’s something about the idea of peeking into someone else’s daily life that appeals to the average American, as evidenced by the astounding number of reality television shows that proliferate the airwaves. Even networks like The History Channel and The Learning Channel have shifted their focus from legitimate, educational programming in favor of cheaply produced reality shows with mass appeal. While there is speculation about the level of scripting and prompting on most reality shows, these 10 have faced real allegations of being fabricated on some level, much to the dismay of their devoted viewers.
- Storage Wars – A&E’s Storage Wars features groups of people attempting to outbid one another for the right to open a sealed storage locker in hopes of discovering items of serious value. A lawsuit against the show’s creators and staff brought by former star Dave Hester alleges that the units are salted before taping to up the drama factor, leaving plenty of viewers with a bad taste in their mouth.
- Breaking Amish – Ostensibly following the lives of young Amish and Mennonite adults as they explore the world outside of their insular communities for the first time, TLC’s Breaking Amish garnered major praise and a strong fan base. Before the finale of the first season, however, several reports came to light alleging that the stars were lying about their backgrounds, casting doubt on the entire show.
- Real Husbands of Hollywood – Unlike the other shows on this list, BET’s Real Husbands of Hollywood is a deliberately scripted send-up of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise and VH1’s Basketball Wives.
- House Hunters – One of the cornerstones of the do-it-yourself enthusiasts’ network, HGTV’s programming House Hunters follows families as they attempt to find and purchase a new home. Despite the absence of marital tensions, catfights and backstabbing in the House Hunters model, producers are still accused of releasing a fabricated show by former participants.
- The Hills – A spin-off of MTV’s wildly popular Laguna Beach, The Hills featured a group of pretty young things as they made their way in Los Angeles after graduating from high school. Though the gutsy last scene alluded to the idea that everything in the show had been planned, announcements by cast members that most of the drama was manufactured confirmed the lack of “reality” on set.
- Cash Cab – The premise of Cash Cab features a group of unsuspecting taxi customers who are picked up in the Cash Cab and promised the chance to make big bucks by answering trivia questions. While the results of the game show are not fixed, the set up and selection process is far less random than the show itself depicts.
- The X Factor – Among reality shows, talent competitions still reign as king. That’s why it came as a bit of a shock to devoted viewers when a 2011 episode of the Simon Cowell-helmed The X Factor featured a prominent flub pointing to lip-synching. A statement released by a representative did admit that all ensemble performance vocals are canned, leaving many viewers suspicious about the competition itself.
- Property Brothers – Hosted by a charismatic Canadian brother duo, Property Brothers has faced a barrage of allegations. From their background as actors to the predictability of each episode and the fact that Drew Scott may not even be a licensed realtor, even fans of the show tend to be skeptical about its level of “reality.”
- Extreme Couponing – Coupon bloggers have been openly discussing their reservations about the way that couponing is depicted on TLC’s show Extreme Couponing, noting the frequent misuse and even outright fraud committed by some participants. Statements from some retailers featured on the show admitting their participation in scripted taping should have put the final nail in the show’s proverbial coffin, but it’s still going strong.
- Toddlers & Tiaras – The antics of moms and the pint-sized stars on TLC’s runaway hit Toddlers & Tiaras have generated quite a buzz for the show. Maxine Tinnel, a woman who claimed to have staged a handful of pageants for the show, revealed that the formula for taping is to “find the crazy families first, then find a pageant near them.” The staged tapings are closed to spectators aside from family, friends and invited guests, and Tinnel insists that there’s far less drama in real pageants than depicted on the show.
In the world of reality television, viewers are forced to either suspend their disbelief for the duration of the show or accept that what they’re watching may very well be scripted. The low cost of producing a reality show versus a fully-scripted feature series leaves television execs springing for the reality fare over higher-quality programming, which means that viewers’ choices are fairly limited.