Very interesting. I noticed in the articles from the Brattleboro Reformer this week that apparently there was unrest between the journalists from the area and the production staff from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The Editorial from today's Brattleboro Reformer was very interesting. I'm going to cut and paste it here, because I don't know how long it will remain on the Reformer's webite.
Friday, September 14
Reality TV is an oxymoron. The supposedly spontaneous events one sees on such programs are carefully stage-managed, edited and manipulated for maximum dramatic impact.
The presence of a television camera seems to make people do just about anything. And the presence of so-called TV stars is supposed to make everything stop to accommodate them.
That's why the experience of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" has left a bad taste in our mouths. While we are happy that the Vitale family of Athens has a new home, and that a modicum of money was injected into the area economy, we were not pleased with the bullying tactics of ABC and Endemol USA, the producers of the program.
The program was happy to have the Reformer run out to Athens on Sept. 5 to take pictures of the Vitales and their old home. The next day, we were informed that the Vitales were no longer available to speak to us. None of the principals from the program deigned to speak to us, and there were enough security people around to enforce their wishes.
While Athens is only 20 miles from Brattleboro, we were told that the town was one of the most remote locations they had ever filmed on. As best as we can tell, remote means no cell phone service and no Sears stores.
The armada of trucks and support staff for the program descended upon the West River Valley. The last time something comparable happened was when the eminently forgettable Chevy Chase film, "Funny Farm," was shot in the Townshend area in late 1980s and the filmmaker's artificial snow killed all the trees on the Townshend common.
No trees were apparently harmed in the Extreme Makeover shoot, but the producers' egos might have been. Perhaps the story by reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman, which we published on Sept. 7, did the trick. It brought up the first question on everyone's mind -- what's going to happen to the Vitales' property tax bill?
Considering that we were told on Wednesday by Kevin Birchmore of the McKernon Group, the architects of the Vitales' new home, that it cost about $750,000 to build, the family is now the proud owner on one of the five most expensive properties in Athens.
Apparently, the Reformer was supposed to provide fawning coverage of the show. But the questions we raised were legitimate, and again, the Vitales were prohibited from talking about any of the specifics of the contract they signed to get the house.
Perhaps the show's producers took exception to the letter we ran in Wednesday's Letter Box, from George Kaye, one of the performers at a benefit concert for the Vitales in Bellows Falls on Monday. Kaye had the audacity to point out that Disney Corp., owners of ABC, and Endemol USA, creators of reality shows such as "Fear Factor" and "Big Brother," aren't exactly hurting for money. He raised the important question that while there was a huge outpouring of volunteers and donations to build the Vitales' new home, all that volunteer work was being done for the benefit of a multibillion dollar media corporation.
Kaye challenged the show's stars to match the money raised by the benefit show, dollar for dollar. We hope they do, since without the efforts of volunteers willing to work for free to build their houses, "Extreme Makeover" couldn't erect a house in seven days.
In any event, at Wednesday's big unveiling, we learned that the security crew had orders to bar Weiss-Tisman from the site. The reporter we did have present was herded into a designated "media area" far away from the action. We were expected to ooh and ahh and cheer with the rest of the crowd.
Sorry, Disney. We don't play that game.
As a newspaper, we wanted to report not on your stars, but on the family who was the beneficiary of the new house. We raised legitimate questions about the gift and the financial burdens it might bring. We wanted to report on the spectacle of seeing fish-out-of-water types from Hollywood adapt to a place with dirt roads, a place that is generally unimpressed with TV stars.
The world that our newspaper reports upon isn't scripted or stage-managed. We can't do a second take or adjust the lighting when a fire or accident happens or when a town board meets. We report on the good and the bad, the real and the phony. We ask questions and expect answers and defer to no one.