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Going from the real world to ‘The Real World’

They didn't just pull Snooki off the street, casting reality TV takes some legwork

While watching reality television, you might think, “Who even are these people?” and “How did they get on television?” It’s always a weird story. This summer, I worked for a reality TV casting company and got an insider’s seat on how the process works.

Miriam Geiger/ Editorial Artist

One of the first things you learn is that it’s a very long process. You won’t necessarily see the results of your hard work for another few years. It starts with development, which essentially means brainstorming ideas for new shows. Once there’s a solid format, the search for characters begins. Finally, the show and the characters are pitched to a network with the hope that it will make it on air. The company I worked for is The Middleman. They create concepts for new shows and pitch them to networks or, alternately, the networks will come to them with their show and ask the company to cast it. Occasionally, the company also casts commercials, when the office fills up with heaps of actors piling in for a two-second audition.

The most important part of the job is the hours upon hours of research. There are actors’ databases to cast some things, like the commercial, but in reality television, you’re looking for regular people. And how do we find these people? Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. Yeah, really. Hours are spent scouring the web, hoping to find as much information as possible. You’re basically a certified stalker. But you’re not looking for just anyone — they have to fit the part. They have to look “attractive” and have a great personality. That can be hard when you’re searching for people who work with scrap metal for a living, but the most important thing is to make the overall cast interesting, even if that means finding someone who’s a bit less exciting and building a more appealing cast around them (think L.C. from “Laguna Beach”). Every detail matters, including age and where the person is from. After doing very thorough research, every bit of information found — every name, every link, every note — goes into an enormous Google doc, which later becomes your encyclopedia.

After compiling an extensive list of potential candidates, it’s time to get personal. You’ll get some great human resources experience by calling hundreds of people and giving them your spiel. Most are confused. And who wouldn’t be when the first words to come out of your mouth are “Hi, my name is so-and-so and I work for a casting company and we’re looking for people to be on our show, would you be interested?” At first it’s a daunting task, but eventually, you learn to tailor your speech and voila! You’d be surprised how many people jump at the chance to be on TV. If the phone call goes well, you set up a Skype session, where the subject is asked a slew of questions. Later, clips from the interview are edited down to make the person look and sound “TV ready.”

Skyping is one of my favorite parts of the job because you begin to see the culmination of your hard work. For one assignment, I spent weeks researching women who sell sex toys for a living — some of those women are downright hilarious. Two of my finds were some of the best personalities we had: One was a bubbly woman inspired to sell sex toys after reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” and Googling “little silver balls in Fifty Shades.” Her interview was … out there. The other woman was abrasive … uh, I mean honest … about how she’s the best in the business and how all her boyfriend’s friends are jealous because of how hot she is. She wasn’t holding anything back. In fact, most of the women were very open: From ex-teachers to stay-at-home moms, I learned more than my fair share about the cut-throat sex-toy-selling competition. And kudos to them — these vixens are making six figures a year.

The big caveat with the process is that even after pitching everything you have to networks, the people still might drop out. Such is the nature of reality casting. And hey, it’s not the most glamorous job, but being able to say you helped cast a television show is pretty cool — even if it’s “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”