Blurring the Line Between Reality and Television

The internet has a way of connecting television audiences with their favorite shows like never before. A viewer can find bonus content that didn’t make it onto TV, discuss the happenings of a recent episode with fellow fans, and learn more about a show.

But the most striking connection between television and the internet is the fan’s ability to communicate and interact with the people they see on TV.

Stars such as Hayden Panettiere, of “Heroes” fame, and Zach Braff of “Scrubs,” are easy to find on MySpace. Braff alone has over 300,000 MySpace friends. Although these actors, and many other stars, have likely never logged in to their MySpace profiles (having delegated a PR crony to manage it for them), it gives fans a feeling of interaction, and a forum for praise and criticism.

Panettiere provides exclusive content for her MySpace friends, updating her fans with what she’s “been up to” recently.

Fan interaction is a different beast, however, for reality TV stars. Suddenly, their fifteen minutes of fame lead to an often unwelcome invasion of their personal online lives. Without expensive public relations personnel to manage their web presence, participants on a reality TV show can suddenly find themselves feeling exposed.

A quick glance at message boards for various reality shows tells the story. Threads entitled “myspace?” are often a dime a dozen.

And someone always finds the MySpace pages.

CBS’s “Kid Nation” is a prime example. On the first of page of the show’s message board on the IMDb.com, there are four threads discussing MySpace profiles of the children on the show. Between those threads, links to the pages of nine different kids are provided.

Wisely, most of the kids, though not all of them, have set their profiles to “private,” meaning someone must be added by them as a MySpace friend before the content of their page can be viewed. Most of them also require that someone who tries to add them as a friend knows either their last name or personal e-mail address. The show’s cast listing on sites like IMDb renders that layer of protection useless, however.

While some of the kids might relish their newfound fame, others are likely to loathe it. Unfortunately for those kids, setting your profile as private only hides whatever is on your own profile, not what you’ve put on others.

Two of the kids posted their phone numbers as comments on the profile of one of the other kids from the show who left their profile as publicly viewable.

Whoops.

A plethora of friend requests and messages from people you’ve never met (and probably don’t want to meet) is an annoyance. Getting phone calls from those same people is a mistake you’ll only make once.

But it isn’t all bad for reality TV stars. Some have the forethought to create a second profile for their fans, barren of sensitive personal information, giving them the chance to interact on their terms with the people who enjoyed watching them on TV.

The fans love it too.