Book: Reality Boulevard by Melissa Jo Peltiercategories: Book, Reality TV, Satire, Television, Celebrity, Fame, Humor, Los Angeles, Hollywood
Melissa Jo Peltierabout this book: "Ken steepled his fingers and gazed thoughtfully up at the ceiling. "Dwarves have done very well for us in primetime ... "
" ... of course you can never go wrong with pimps, sluts, hoes and bitches. " He winked at Kevin. "We don't mean that in any kind of racist or sexist context, of course.
"Anyway, our best night of the week is our Sunday primetime lineup. We call it - for lack of a better term - our 'freaks and losers' block. "
The above conversation, which takes place in my novel "Reality Boulevard" between two 20-something cable network executives and the book's main character, veteran award-wining producer Marty Maltzman, reads like satire, doesn't it?
The irony is, these statements are word for word transcriptions of meetings I've found myself in as a longtime producer of non-fiction television. I mean it. Those meetings really happened.
If I were to recount what was really said in some other meetings I've attended, it wouldn't even read as satire. You'd think it was over-exaggerated fantasy or a bad Saturday Night Live sketch. I couldn't include those in the book without being accused of jumping the shark (a television-inspired term!)
One day a few years ago, I was sitting in one of those hellacious meetings, listening to some young, inexperienced executives recounting the kind of flavor-of-the-month reality shows they were seeking that day, and I felt like I'd died inside. I thought I was going to be ill. I listened to them talk without conscience or any kind of awareness of the fact that these shows they were touting would be influencing the minds of millions of people. I said to myself, "How did I get here?"
I started out in television and film wanting to tell important stories; wanting to change the world for the better through this incredibly powerful medium. I was young and naive, but early in my career, I actually had that chance, producing, directing and writing powerful prime time documentaries like "Scared Silent" and "Break the Silence" (about child abuse.) As the years went on, I wrote and produced wonderful historical documentaries for A&E and History in their early years. I felt good about myself and my work, I was learning, growing, meeting fascinating people, traveling to great locations. I was able to use my talents and skills for good. I had so much fun in my work, I formed a company with two partners I respected and we set out to do more projects that we cared about.
But the climate in television was already changing. Little by little, the stories I wanted to tell - important stories, entertaining stories, fascinating stories, stories with messages - were deemed not commercial enough, the characters "not larger than life." I realized, if television had been like this when I first got into it, I might have become a used car salesman instead. It's a far more honest profession. I believe most reality TV is not only mindless and useless, it's actually negative and dangerous. It promotes dangerous negative stereotypes, particularly of women and racial minorities. It ratchets up the pressure on girls whose body images are already terrible, given the media onslaught of size zero movie stars they are forced to compare themselves to. It teaches people that the end justifies the means - that backstabbing and lying are justifiable life strategies. And worst of all, it gives an up and coming generation a wrong impression of what's important in life - that the only thing you need to be in life is famous. Famous for nothing is fine, famous for something bad is just as acceptable. But if you're not famous, you're nothing.
There was a line in the recent Meryl Streep movie, "Irony Lady," where Streep as Margaret Thatcher says, "Today, all anybody wants is to 'be someone.' In my day, we wanted to 'do something'."
This was the inspiration behind "Reality Boulevard".
But beyond the serious stuff, I wanted to convey some of the absurdity of the Hollywood culture, and some of the fun, colorful characters I've met along the way during my 20 plus years in the business. I actually fell in love with my characters, particularly the producer Marty Maltzman, who is actually modeled on my own television mentor, and Marty's fictional friend and mentor, Jerry Stone, who is a combination of old school Hollywood gentleman I've had the pleasure and honor to know over the years.
I want my readers to have fun, to laugh, to gasp, to enjoy the ride into an unknown world they thought they already knew.
I do hope they come off of that ride looking at reality television and the media a little bit more critically, but most of all, I just hope they have a hell of a good time!
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Video 1: Reality Boulevard - writer Melissa Jo Peltier reads an excerpt
Video 2: Best-selling writer Melissa Jo Peltier takes us on a tour of the locations in her wickedly funny new novel Reality Boulevard
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