With the highly anticipated Caitlyn Jenner’s show on E! airing this week, it occurred to me that the bigger issue than whether Jenner should have received the Arthur Ashe reward at the ESPY awards, is are there too many TV shows depicting transgender people?
Is it just too much at one time for an audience to absorb? Are we in the TG community attempting to force acceptance through highly scripted and well-staged reality shows that may or may not be representing the majority of the TG community? Will having so many transgender topic shows educate or turn off the very people they are attempting to appeal to, because it is too much, too soon?
I can attest that after working in the unscripted TV world for five years that what TV networks buy is entertainment. The sweet-spot age group they target is 25-40 years old, with television networks like MTV, focusing on an even younger demographic of 18-25 years old. Bravo and Lifetime’s audience is a bit older as they both have gone after the “soap opera” and the “romance novel” audience.
TV networks and the lucky production companies who produce these shows for the networks are not making shows to lose money. They are all looking for the next “fresh” topic. And many reality shows are based on scripted series like Transparent, of which Becoming Us has become the unscripted version of this show and can be found on ABC Family.
Besides Caitlyn Jenner’s show, I Am Cait on E!, there is I Am Jazz, about a teenage transgender girl and her family on TLC. Discovery Life has a show titled, New Girls on the Block which focuses on the lives of transgender women. Prime Instant (Amazon) has a show called, This is Me, an unscripted show about the transgender and non-conforming transgender communities.
There are (6) transgender community related shows on the air right now, and I suspect there will be more, as long as there is a market for viewers and advertisers see the opportunity to make money on this topic. This all seemed to happen overnight with turning point when Transparent won an Emmy and prior to that Orange is the New Black received high acclaim.
You can count on the fact that production companies, including Ryan Seacrest Productions, were salivating to get into the transgender market. Seacrest has two shows in this space as the producer of Becoming Us and I am Cait. Seacrest, who has said he wants to be the next Dick Clark, is certainly following in his foot-steps.
The point is that TV networks provide entertainment and no matter how noble the reason for doing a show is at the beginning, the show’s purpose, story lines and characters never remain “real.” This is because in order to keep an audience interested, you need to step up “what is at risk.” Bravo has accomplished this with its wildly successful Housewives shows. This franchise put Bravo on the map and though other networks have attempted to emulate Bravo, they can’t quite attain the “bravo-formula” for success.
When the fanfare settles in for the public in being exposed to the transgender community on TV, the characters on these shows will have become reality stars, eventually making a whole lot of money, while the rest of the transgender and cross-dressing communities will be still be fighting their own battle for acceptance and making a living.
Years ago, when I was casting for a show on cross-dressers, speaking at the Chi-chapter meeting, I was asked by someone about how could they make money if they came out on the show and revealed themselves. He was so concerned with losing his job and having no money to support his family and said, “If I come out and people know who I am, I will most likely lose my job. How am I going to make money, selling woman’s shoes?”
I told him that anyone who was on a reality TV show would make money, probably more money than you can imagine. He was doubtful, didn’t join in on the casting reel, and we have become friends. Yet, the fact is that everyone doing these shows is poised to make money and they will become “reality stars.” My hope is they remember where they came from and to give back to the community that made them famous.