Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Hollywood Reporter's Reality TV Roundtable

The Hollywood Reporter recently gathered Leah Remini, RuPaul, Kris Jenner, SallyAnn Salsano, and W. Kamau Bell for a Reality TV roundtable interview. Here are some of the highlights:

Why do you think your respective shows are striking a chord, and what does their success say about our culture today?

LEAH REMINI (Scientology and the Aftermath, A&E) The Church of Scientology has been in the news, but more so for fodder and a headline. What we are trying to do is show that this is a real thing that's tearing families apart. People really had no idea. It was like, "Oh, this is that crazy thing where Tom Cruise is jumping on a couch and everybody believes in aliens?" I think that worked for a very long time to sell headlines. But we're showing how a person actually can get there, and that's what's resonating. Also, we're standing up to a bully and, in a culture where people are feeling apathetic, we're representing a group of courageous people who are saying, "No, I'm going to do something about it."

W. KAMAU BELL (United Shades of America, CNN) My show is about me traveling around the country and talking to people who you wouldn't expect me to talk to or who you don't think I should talk to. And right now, the country feels hectic and divided — it's splitting apart at the seams. People who like the show like to see somebody actually going into those seams to see what's going on. That, and [my show] follows [Anthony] Bourdain. (Laughs.)

RUPAUL (RuPaul's Drag Race, VH1) The subtext [for Drag Race] really is the tenacity of the human spirit. These are little boys who are ostracized from society and from their families a lot of times — boys playing with girls' things, it's an act of treason in a male-dominated culture — and here they are blooming and thriving, and it's interesting to watch someone reveal their struggles.

KRIS JENNER (Keeping Up With the Kardashians, E!) I think the reason we became something of a phenomenon is because there are so many of us. Everybody can relate to somebody in my family, whether you're 7 or you're 107. And people just got emotionally attached and invested in seeing this family evolve: They're getting married, getting divorced, having babies.

SALLYANN SALSANO (Martha & Snoop's Potluck Dinner Party, VH1) I'm proud of where our show is right now in that it's two different people — an older white woman with a white-collar lifestyle [Martha Stewart] and one of the best rappers in the world [Snoop Dogg] — uniting over food and hanging out with friends. I think it says that we're going in the right direction.

When was the last time you were genuinely nervous to tell a story?
BELL The whole idea is that I'm getting outside of my comfort zone. Every time we tell a story, whether it's going to Appalachia and talking to poor white people there or going to Dearborn [Michigan] to talk to Muslims about the election or going to the South Side of Chicago to talk to gang members, every single show, before we start to film, I'm like, (sigh) "All right, here we go." But without that feeling, I'd be like, "This probably isn't worth doing."

REMINI I feel scared every time I sit down with somebody, even though I was in the Church of Scientology for 35 years. I was raised in it.

Scared of what exactly?

REMINI I'm scared to hear what they're going to tell me.

SALSANO Like, it's worse than you think?


Are you also scared of the repercussions of exposing the church?

REMINI Oh, no, no, no. Don't misunderstand me. People who know me know that I have a very big mouth, and I have been that way since I was a kid. I would go up against men and go, "What, what are you going to do?" They were like, "I'd knock you out in two seconds." I'm all, "Try it, try it!" But I never want to give the organization of Scientology the idea that anybody is scared of them. We are not. And the more they react in the way that they do, it makes me think we're doing the right thing.

JENNER It's a very brave thing to do.

REMINI But it's not me, that's the thing. I wish I could say, "Look how brave I am." I'm telling their stories. When we leave, they go back to their regular lives, and they are the ones the church goes after. When we air a show, I go, "Just know, within minutes your daughter is going to be saying horrific things about you on the church hate website." Literally every single person who has done a story about Scientology has a hate website on them.

SallyAnn, are the Jersey Shore kids still calling you? Do you still feel protective of people you've worked with?

SALSANO I do, and sometimes I feel guilty if I don't talk to them enough.

REMINI You feel responsible.

SALSANO Yeah, and it's impossible because I do about 10 shows a year, so you have 10 different casts, and you do like to stay in touch with them. My rule is, "Here is my address, here's my home phone number and here's my cell. Literally hit me up at any time."

Do they?

SALSANO Oh, yeah. They call you for advice. Someone could have gotten a DUI, someone could be in a bad situation with a boyfriend, I've gotten the call from jail. And I feel responsible. That's what our job is. If I'm saying, "Trust me with your life," then when those cameras [stop rolling], I am still a part of their life.

Ru, you once said you made a pact with yourself at 15: "If I was going to live this life, I'm only going to do it on my terms and I'm only going to do it if I'm putting my middle finger up at society the whole time." Is your middle finger still up?

RUPAUL Yeah because this is all a hoax. When I was a little boy, I wanted to fit in and I could never, but I thought, "You know what, I'm smart enough to figure this out. Let me see what my entry will be." And I figured it out. I said, "Oh, this is all a joke, it's all an illusion, it's all made up." I was surprised that other people weren't going, "You know, this is all made up, right?" And I was looking for my tribe of people to do that. You know where I found that tribe?


RUPAUL On PBS' Monty Python's Flying Circus. I thought, "They exist; my people are out there!" (Laughter.) Because it was so irreverent, they made fun of everything and, if I really thought about it, before that it was Bugs Bunny, who was just heckling everything. He's like, "Don't take life too seriously." So I still feel that way, and I have to remind myself every day.

Read the full interview at The Hollywood Reporter.

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