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Reality TV: The casting process

Kai Ryssdal Feb 28, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: The season 14 roster for “Dancing With the Stars” was announced today. Donald Driver, the wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers is gonna be on, along with tennis great Martina Navratilova and singer Gladys Knight — among others. A pretty star-studded hodgepodge of a cast, if you can call it that. In fact, they do — because figuring out who’s gonna actually get on reality TV is a little bit art and a little bit science — a little bit of luck, too, probably.

Robyn Kass is the CEO of Kassting Inc. It’s a reality TV casting agency here in Los Angeles. Hey Robyn.

Robyn Kass: Hi, how are you?

Ryssdal: I’m all right, thanks. So when the producers call you — say, for “Dancing with the Stars” or “Big Brother” or whatever it is, without naming any client names — how do you do what you do? What’s the first thing you do?

Kass: Each of the shows obviously have really different casting processes. If you’re talking about a big competition show, like “Big Brother;” or a big dating show, like “The Bachelor,” the process is about three to four months. I usually have a staff of anywhere between six and ten people.

Ryssdal: Wow.

Kass: We usually go to ten to 15 different cities around the country. We can get anywhere between a couple hundred applicants and 10,000 applicants, depending on the show and what season it is.

Ryssdal: It strikes me, though, that it’s a bit of a conundrum, right? Because you want people who are going to be “real” even though it’s not really real, and we all know that.

Kass: Right.

Ryssdal: But it’s also people who by definition want to be on TV and expose themselves.

Kass: The best people for reality TV are the people who probably would never apply on their own. Maybe we’ll show up at a local gun show, or we’ll show up at an arts and crafts fair to try to find different types of people who wouldn’t normally stand in line and apply themselves.

Ryssdal: I imagine that in the early days of this genre of television, it was: let’s put this on the air and see what happens. Now, though, it’s explicitly about ratings and money and all of that. And I imagine you and the producers have a conversation about what you’re looking for to maximize the oomph that you’re going to get.

Kass: Any cast that I put together, it’s probably a group of people who wouldn’t normally hang out with each other outside of this television show. So, you want people who represent different areas; you want people who have different thoughts; you want people who would probably conflict in anything that’s sort of a hot topic. Those are the best people to put together in a cast.

Ryssdal: Yeah. I was watching TV the other night and I saw an ad for what I think was “Survivor’s” 20th season? Now, that’s not years, but does it amaze you that this kind of television is sticking around?

Kass: Yeah, it’s amazing. I think back then if you said to me, “Robyn, celebrities are going to start doing reality TV,” I would probably tell you you’re crazy.

Ryssdal: Think about that, right? You’ve got NFL players on “Dancing with the Stars” for cryin’ out loud.

Kass: I know. I don’t even know when that twist happened, but it works. And I watch almost all of it, too.

Ryssdal: Robyn Kass. She does reality show casting with her company Kassting, Inc. here in Los Angeles. Robyn, thanks a lot.

Kass: Thank you, have a good day.

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