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The LAist Interview: Morgan Fahey

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Reality TV has been such a popular discussion topic of late on LAist comment boards, and in the culture at-large, that it behooved us, as typical jaded Angelenos, to get the straight dope on the "reality" of un-scripted television.

Therefore, Morgan Fahey, a reality-TV insider, is the subject of today's LAist Interview.

We've posed 20 Questions to this behind-the-scenes professional who’s partially responsible for selecting fresh, mostly young faces to star in reality shows. You know, those kids (and sometimes grown-ups) who are eager to perform a variety of tasks on broadcast television for your enjoyment, their benefit, your prurient curiosities, their exploitation, whatever—you decide.

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01. Age and Occupation.

30, Casting producer for reality television

02. How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and in which neighborhood do you reside?

7 ½ years, Los Feliz

03. Where are you from?

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The Midwest — Minnesota and Chicago (Rogers Park/ Edgewater)

04. You’ve auditioned tens of thousands of candidates for the "Real World," ESPN’s "Dream Job," and many other reality television shows. What skills are most needed to interview hordes of t.v. hopefuls, select a mere handful of them, and how do you remember all of these people?

Hmm, let’s take the last part first. I DON’T remember all those people, I only remember the ones who progress past the initial round, and really, for the most part, only the ones who get to an on-camera interview (which is usually the 3rd round- 2nd round is a long written application). However, occasionally there is someone who, while inappropriate for whatever show I’m casting, is so odd/ magnetic /attractive /insane /funny /angry /crazy that I remember them anyway. This takes up valuable brain space that could be better used on recalling the names of people I met in my real life at a party last weekend (don’t take it personally—I’ll remember liking you, and that you just got back from Topeka, just…not so much your name), or what the hell Pericles, Prince of Tyre was actually about (was there a shipwreck?).

As for the skills needed, I think that curiosity is key. If you aren't genuinely interested in all kinds of people, their stories, and what the hell is going on in the country at large, you might be able to find hot people for "Elimidate," but you'll never be able to do a good job casting shows that are primarily personality or skill/knowledge- based. You should also be able to separate the need to be, on occasion, equal parts guidance counselor and therapist during the interview process and the harsh reality of having to be something akin to a bitchy prom queen when it comes time to make cuts. On shows that require certain skills, it's a harsh truth that sometimes people who have great personalities lack those skills, and vice versa. Oh, and you should REALLY like to travel.

05. What kind of desperate stunts have you witnessed people attempt in hopes of being seen on national television?

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Oh, usually they just camp out in freezing cold or broiling hot or otherwise inclement weather. We had a guy try out for "Dream Job" who was going to panhandle for gas money home to Chicago (from Raleigh) because he'd spent his last dime to get there. We had a kid rent a Uhaul (it's a vehicle one can rent as an under-25) to drive from Portland, OR to Columbia, MO. I'm sure people have done wackier things for, say, "Survivor."

06. What do you have to say to cultural critics who accuse reality television of pointing us towards the death of civilization?

Well, they're not wrong. But they're not entirely correct. Frankly, a lot of the genre is just the Coliseum brand of entertainment: "Here's your trident, here's your net, have fun with the hungry lion." However, I think that the "Amazing Race," which, in the aggregate tends to reward good behavior (thanking one's cabbie, speaking foreign languages, communicating well with/ being considerate of a partner, thinking on one's feet, being curious about and not hostile to people and/or cultures that are Other Than American), is an unmitigatedly good thing. I also like shows like "Dream Job," "America's Next Top Model," "Making the Band," "the Apprentice," etc. because, interpersonal dramas aside, they encourage people to strive for dreams that they may have decided were out of reach for one reason or another.

Furthermore, all of these shows have in common with the "Real World" the thing that is reality television's single greatest redeeming feature: these shows allow people who live in completely homogenous communities the opportunity to feel that they "know" someone who is different from themselves. I would have thought this was BS before I went on "Real World" casting calls around the country and had countless kids come up to me (with manifest sincerity, not just cast-me angling) to thank me for the show because it had taught them that their parents/ grandparents/ friends/ communities were wrong and that gay/ black/ Jewish/ Asian/ poor/ rural/ urban/ what-have-you people are, well, people.

This sounds trite, I'm sure, but it's easy to forget, living in a multi-culti metropolis, that looking at people as individuals, not categories, is the first step to overcoming prejudice (and before you point the Irony Finger at me, no, I really DON'T try to cast "types"). Reality show viewers may quite deservedly deplore any given cast member, but for the most part, by the end of a season, they will like or hate him/her for him/herself, not for whatever category s/he may be seen to represent (and this is not, of course, to argue that this slight mental adjustment is anything but a beginning, or that the truly hateful can be so easily swayed). None of which excuses a great many of the shows that get on the air, because, well, just 'cause P.T. Barnum was right doesn't mean we can't all try to be better than that.

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07. What's your preferred mode of transportation?

Preferred? Or usual? I live in LA, I drive. I'd prefer to be Superman and fly. Barring that, I'd prefer to drive a better car on emptier streets.

08. How often do you ride the subway or light rail?

Whenever I'm in NYC or Portland, OR. At least a couple of times per trip to Chicago.

09. What are some of your favorite movies and t.v. shows that take place in LA?

LA Confidential/ Devil in a Blue Dress/ The Long Goodbye/ Chinatown/ Mulholland Drive.

"Angel"/ "The OC"/ "Six Feet Under."

I don't usually think of myself as being QUITE so fond of noir.

10. Best LA-themed books?

I'm nowhere near a comprehensive survey. I'm inclined to call it a tossup between Chandler and Weetzie Bat for now.

11. What's the best place to walk in LA?

For exercise, Griffith Park. For shopping, I'm actually going with Pasadena, unless that's off-limits for being not-LA.

12. If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?

The 1920's. No smog, unlimited potential, fabulous clothes.

13. What is the "center" of LA to you?

My neighborhood. Mostly because so many of my friends are in it.

14. If you were forced to live in a neighboring county, which would it be? Ventura County is a wussy answer.

If I get a subsidy, Orange, because as much as most of the rest of it scares me, Laguna Beach is preposterously pleasant.

15. If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA,
where/which would you choose?

There's this amazing mansion with spectacular grounds behind an orange tree-lined pink wall up in the Los Feliz hills. I'm not usually one for overly large houses, but it really has a Secret Garden kind of magical appeal.

16. What is the city's greatest secret?

It may be to the 21st century, in terms of its demographics, urban planning or lack thereof, and general place in/effect on the culture, what NYC was to the 20th.

17. Drinking, driving. They mix poorly, and yet they're inexorably
linked. How do you handle this conflict?

Um. Probably with a certain degree of self-delusion.

18. What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?

I'm currently in the mood to agree with them, depending on the basis of their arguments. I'm always willing to piss off both camps and declare Chicago to be the Greatest American City. Go Daley (Jr.).

19. Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the menace of hurricanes and long winters?

No, I because love storms and would actually love to see a hurricane from an internal non-trailer-park position, and I grew up in Minnesota; long winters do not scare me. Winters also don't destroy your property (unless the pipes burst) or kill tens, hundreds, or thousands of people.

The only natural events I find scarier than earthquakes are a) volcanoes and b) tsunamis.

20. Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?

The Berkshires.