Reality TV Producers are interested in working with you. Should your department be interested in working with them? Alaska is a REALLY INTERESTING location for producers of Reality Television programs. In 1976, science fiction writer Kate Wilhelm wrote a short story titled: Ladies and Gentlemen, This is Your Crisis. The story was about a television show in which contestants attempt to make their way to a checkpoint after being dropped off in the Alaskan wilderness, while being filmed and broadcast around the clock through an entire weekend. 32 years later Reality TV is a . . . . reality. North Pole, Alaska: “Move that Bus!’’ Deadliest Catch, in the Bering Sea … And, Near Tok, the finish line for The Amazing Race 1. However, this season’s Bear Feeding Frenzy doesn’t go over quite as well. Bear attack video raises some hackles By CRAIG MEDRED / Anchorage Daily News ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Put a TV soap star in a plastic box in the bear pen at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, tie a dummy alongside, turn loose the bears, roll video and what do you get? A whole lotta controversy. A storm of it has been building since a program called "Bear Feeding Frenzy" first appeared on the Discovery Channel. State wildlife biologists call the self-proclaimed "documentary" misleading and worse. The bear authority who worked with the filmmakers says he got snookered. And some average citizens - taken in by the show's appearance of having been filmed in the wild - are outraged that television producers would be teaching grizzlies to attack lifelike dummies, tear into tents and break into SUVs. Reality TV is "the liveliest genre on the set right now. It has engaged hotbutton cultural issues—class, sex, race— that respectable television... rarely touches.“ -- VH1 executive vice president Michael Hirchorn. Reality TV shows come in many categories. A few include: Professional Activities. Special Living Environment Fear-centric Sports Renovation Special living environment Instant celebrity Hidden camera Reality TV or Documentary? Documentaries present actual incidents and statements which can be tested against reality. They offer a representation of reality and use narrative techniques more often associated with fictional forms. Reality television presents purportedly unscripted dramatic or humorous situations, documents actual events, and usually features ordinary people instead of professional actors. Documentaries and nonfiction programming such as news and sports are usually not classified as reality shows. The Alaska Department of Corrections: Our Experience with Reality TV and Lessons Learned DOC chose to participate because we anticipate: Positive media for our institutions and corrections professionals. A way to open the inside of facilities to the public, recognizing the department works for the public. Interest in Alaska among potential visitors (tourism). A potential to boost recruitment. The Department has worked with three production companies to date. Our experience has been largely positive. The Department has worked with: ‘Lockup’ on MSNBC (44blue) filmed at Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward. ‘Inside’ on Court TV (44blue), also filmed at Spring Creek ‘Lockdown’ on National Geographic (Wide Eyed Productions) at Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center in Bethel. ‘Hard Time’ on Discovery (Towers Productions) also at Spring Creek. ‘Lockdown’ Alaska Bush Troopers premiered on Sunday, Jan. 11. The department is viewing the program as a success. Along with DOC, State Troopers and VPSOs were positively portrayed. “Our prisons director once said he supported anything that showed the public and our state legislators what it's really like inside our prisons for staff and inmates - because so much of the public's perception is based on what they see in pop culture. “We've not always been completely happy with every one of these reality programs and how they depicted us, but if they portray most things accurately then we generally consider them a success.” -- Keith Acree, Public Affairs Director, NC Dept. of Correction “South Dakota is approached to do these shows frequently, but we've never approved a request to do so. “The main reason is the commitment of staff time. Being a small state and small prison system, we don't have staff that can spend the entire duration of one of the shoots with the camera crew. I've seen a lot of proposals and don't remember a single one that was less than ten days of shooting.” Michael Winder, South Dakota Department of Corrections, Communications and Information Manager Reality TV production companies are frequent callers. DOC chose not to work with: The Steve Wilkos Show. The producers wanted Steve and the mother of a murdered infant to confront the inmate convicted of the crime, now housed at our contract facility in Arizona. We said before any decision was made the producers must have written permission from the inmate. There was no follow-up. The Oprah Winfrey Show. Producers wanted to place a Sociology Professor in a DOC prison posing as an inmate and film his interactions over a set time period. The department declined. We were also contacted by: A British production company which began its conversation with: ‘We’re a production company based in London. Do you have any serial killers we can talk to?’ The answer was ‘No.’ Langley Productions: “You’ve seen ’em do the crime, now see ’em get the time. From John Langley, producer of the groundbreaking Cops …” The show is Jail. We agreed to any of our facilities but Spring Creek, but they wanted a max facility, so no agreement was made. Optimum Productions wanted to contact Manfried West, an lifesentence inmate at Spring Creek convicted of killing Joe Vogler. The purpose of their show, for the Discovery Channel, was too vague. And, I get a number of calls from producers anxious to arrange an interview with inmate Robert Hansen, the infamous ‘butcher baker.’ “Arkansas was the first state to have its entire prison system declared unconstitutional and the only one to have "Brubaker" draped all over it and to be labeled in court as a "dark and evil world." If I let one of those shows in, I could count on at least a 15 minute rehash of the sins of the past. And there probably wouldn't be a single second spent on our full accreditation or the Golden Eagle Award or any of the gazillion other ways we are miles away from what we used to be.” Dina Tyler, Arkansas Department of Corrections “In my view all they end up doing is perpetuate stereotypes about the scary, dangerous, world of corrections, and all of this is done for purposes of entertainment. A television crew who comes in for those purposes has absolutely no commitment to you, your prison or your agency and will present whatever their view of world happens to be to sell the program to A and E or whomever. I would much rather spend my time with the local media. In my view we are obligated to the citizens/taxpayers of our states and not the television viewers of America.” Brian A. Garnett, Director of External Affairs, Connecticut Department of Correction What happens when you decide to go forward. Your job as a PIO: Step 1. Arrange a meeting (teleconference is fine) between the commissioner and the head of the production company. Make sure everyone is on the same page – particularly when it comes to access and who has on-site authority. Step 2. Set a schedule. Start date, how long, how many in the crew (usually 4). Step 3: Make sure everyone at the film site is on board. It will be important to identify a liaison … staff who will escort the film crew and who has on the spot decision making ability. My experience: crews are professional and respect limits. They will ask for exceptions … sometimes it makes sense to agree, other times it will not. Filming ‘Lockup’ at Spring Creek Correctional Center. The production company is 44blue. The film crew interviews Spring Creek Superintendent Turnbull in the control room. The crew follows a correctional officer as he checks on a prisoner. At the Training Academy. Lessons learned: Some Reality TV ‘fatigue’ set in at Spring Creek after two shows were filmed in two years. On-duty time must be dedicated for staff to accompany film crews. The field producer will ‘push’ a little. Be prepared to compromise or say ‘no.’ Check with ethics supervisor before you let the film crew buy you lunch. Victim notification: This must be addressed. In one show filmed at Spring Creek, a child-killer was interviewed and bragged about how well he was doing. The program aired just before Christmas, and it didn’t go well with the victim’s family. We consider who film crews can interview with this in mind. Crews are generally conscientious and sensitive to your requests. That said, you do not have editorial control over the final product. “We allowed a group of comedians access to one of our facilities this past fall. They were there for about a week, interviewing offenders and staff, taping skits and auditioning offenders for a talent show. This culminated in four one hour shows at the facility, which in my judgment, were wildly successful. The group is currently marketing this effort to HBO, Showtime, etc. for development as a reality-type show.” Douglas S. Garrison Chief Communications Officer Office of the Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction In conclusion: With proper planning and oversight, reality TV can be a positive and effective way to get your department’s message to a wide public audience. There are pitfalls – mainly because you have no control over the final product. Good advance planning, open communication and strong oversight will be important.