Actress Leah Remini, known best for her role in the sitcom “King of Queens,” is entering the reality show gauntlet starting this summer. It raises the question of what it takes for a family to survive that kind of “reality.”
The new TV show called “Leah Remini: It’s All Relative” premiering on the TLC cable network in July, is intended as a romp through her “hilarious” family members’ daily lives. Ms. Remini, her husband Angelo, her mother and staff are all billed as part of the cast with her daughter reportedly still on the fence about joining, according to media reports.
While I think Remini is funny, I hope she and her family can retain their sense of humor through this experience which has strained a lot of family relations of those who trod the reality TV path before, thanks to opening themselves up to public opinion and the strain of living in a fishbowl.
All of America is going to join the Remini family as voting members of an unseen tribunal that could potentially be waiting to see them at their worst, read into what they say, and often laughing at and not with them.
I often think that families of the already famous have a better shot at survival than regular folks like me because they have already had to develop a thick skin and cope with the press.
My family wouldn’t make it a day in the reality world.
We would have trouble coping with the invasiveness, the misunderstandings of our personalities, and not to mention all the helpful advice slamming them from know-nothing bloggers like me.
While I’m not going to delve too deeply or seriously into the mechanics of this kind of television, it’s worth taking a quick look at some of the shows out there, including the casualties, and survivors.
First on the list of those I feel for is "Toddler’s & Tiaras" star Alana Thompson, also known as pint-size beauty queen Honey Boo-Boo, with her own show also on the TLC network. I once wrote about how much I liked the Little Miss Sunshine of reality TV for her, well, reality.
However, reading the Chicago Sun-Times account of the child’s appearance last week on “The Tonight Show,” which described her as “a tiny, dimpled monster,” I am sad, but unsurprised.
My lack of shock in this instance comes from the short mental check list I have developed for success or failure in the family reality show world. It includes:
1. Have a big family with extended clan for backup and to use as a foil.
Right off the bat it seems to me that in order to really survive “reality” TV it helps to be a big family like the Duggars on TLC’s “19 Kids & Counting,” or the Robertsons on A&E network’s “Duck Dynasty.”
It seems that bigger families are microcosms, little worlds unto themselves to which members can retreat. To use a Duck Dynasty analogy, it’s harder for media and the public to hit a whole spread of moving targets.
Although the exception to this rule is “Jon & Kate Plus 8” (originally on TLC) now “Kate Plus 8” (now on the Discovery Health Channel) and the ongoing misery over everything from their bitter divorce to how they raising their kids. Which leads me to my second point;
2. Have parents who have managed to maintain a relationship through thick and thin before TV came along.
It seems that while the TV camera is said to add 10 pounds to one’s appearance, it adds a ton of excess weight to a relationship.
The Gosslin’s have shown that in a family of any size, the parents’ relationship has to be one of the most stable rocks in the family foundation, or the audience will feast on the hot mess the “reality” family quickly becomes.
I think the fact that the heads of the Robertson family Kay and Phil, admit to having had marital issues earlier in their lives and are now a battle tested unit is an edge that is getting that family through all kinds of bombardment over their beliefs.
Which conveniently leads to my third point about what a family needs in order to cope with being this kind of “real” and that’s faith.
3. Have faith, in the heads of the household, each other, and perhaps a higher power than cable networks, fan mail, or ratings.
Faith-based lifestyles, no matter what the religion, give families somewhere to roll eyes to for help. It seems from the marriage bond to siblings sticking together, the reality TV success formula needs multiple shots of ties that bind.
For instance, you don’t have to share their religious views to recognize and respect the fact that both the Duggars and the Robertons have strong faith connections, which in many ways help to unify their families.
Remini famously and publicly split from the Church of Scientology in 2013 after 30 years of commitment to it. While Remini’s family and friends stuck by her through her denouncement of her church, I wonder if that unifying experience alone will be enough to keep them calm under the lights and with cameras rolling.
Of course there are anomalies to any system, in this case the ever-expanding world of reality television, and families like the Osbournes and Kardashians are both examples of how the family unit can have sometimes repeated failures, yet still thrive under the klieg lights.
Kelly and Sharon Osbourne now have successful careers in television outside of the reality realm, and the Kardashian’s – love them or loathe them – are a pop-culture empire, with all the good and bad that comes with that title.
This list is of course far from being scientific, just like reality TV is far from being reality. But it offers a few reminders for off-screen families too. Put family first, nurture vital relationships, and remain faithful, and you can weather whatever reality throws at you (even though for most of us our reality is much less glamorous than what’s seen on TV).
Most bad situations are survivable if we remember to take the occasional break from the drama for a word from our family sponsors: love, laughter, and forgiveness.