Radio ringers blur what's 'real'

In the popular TV sitcom "Frasier," celebrity voices pop up as callers to Dr. Frasier Crane's radio program. Some of the fun can be trying to identify them before the credits reveal their identities.

That's pure fiction.

But this week, the New York Post revealed another blurring of the line between "reality" programming and entertainment.

Talk-radio stations are being offered colorful "professional callers" to enliven their shows. The characters available include "a trailer-park girl, a Chinese delivery guy, a 7-11 guy, people who do accents," the Post article says.

The callers are rarely identified as actors.

"We're proud that we see a need and are able to staff up and provide for it," says a spokesman for United Stations, which offers the service. "There's nothing malicious about this. It's true comedic entertainment - not like a doctor recommending a treatment or something." About a dozen stations apparently have signed up.

Spokespeople for several radio stations were appalled. Said one to the Post: "If radio starts hiring fake callers to spice up their shows, why not start making up news stories on slow news days?"

As our cover story this week points out, "reality shows" are really just another form of entertainment programming, vying with comedies and dramas for viewers. One executive says they'd be better off being called "nonscripted" shows, recognizing that the artificial situations are hardly "real."

That's fine, as long as a line can continue to be drawn between showing "real events" and "nonscripted" entertainment. That line seems to keep getting fuzzier.

Write to entertainment@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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