Published June 21, 2011
As reality television continues to lose credibility, the newest buzzed about trend in television is the “docu-series.”
A slew of high-profile stars like Shania Twain, the Judds and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York probably wouldn’t want to have their names associated with the seemingly dirty “reality television” world, and yet they’ve all signed up to expose the drama of their personal lives in carefully coined “docu” shows.
In a conference call promoting their OWN “docu-series” called “The Judds” earlier this year, Wynonna Judd made it clear this was certainly no reality show, and admitted that she had even gotten into an argument with someone who dared use the term.
"It's unscripted. My understanding of reality TV is that it's not, indeed, reality. It is often scripted," Wynonna said. "They're following us around and they get what they get and then edit it. When I hear the word 'reality' I think of a train wreck, not that we haven't had our own at certain times during the tour. So when the reality show word comes up with people you can see their wheels turning like 'this is going to be a train wreck' and it's like, 'No it's not, it's going to be a celebration.”
Even those who previously dabbled in hit reality shows have now moved on to the “docu” label.
Reality queen Paris Hilton, who starred in “The Simple Life” and “My New BFF” now has her own docu-series on the Oxygen network entitled “The World According to Paris.” And Jessica Simpson, who became an on-screen sensation when she allowed cameras in to capture married life with Nick Lachey in MTV’s “Newlyweds,” returned to the small screen two years ago with the VHI “documentary” series “The Price of Beauty.”
But is this Tinseltown trend a mere marketing ploy for celebrities to justify having cameras follow them around and not feel like they’re selling out?
“The phrase docu-series has been used increasingly over the past couple of years. Sometimes it refers to reality shows that are a little more substantive, and take a little more of a classic documentary stance in that they follow a person’s life in a slightly less exploitative way,” Jennifer Ponzer, founder of Women In Media & News (WIMN) and author of “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV” told FOX411’s Pop Tarts.
“But most reality shows on most networks that have started to use the phrase ‘docu series’ are just as exploitative and manipulated behind-the-scenes as other reality series. They are just trying to add credibility.”
Moreover, L.A-based pop culture expert and reality television producer, Mikey Glazer, said there is only one real distinction.
“The only difference between the title ‘docu-series’ and ‘reality’ is the (fame level) of the subject. When you're Shania Twain, Toni Braxton, Paris or Paula Abdul, you get away with cloaking it in the more tolerable, less fame-pandering vocabulary of ‘docu-series,’” Glazer explained. “If you're a table tossing housewife in New Jersey or a basketball wife or a violent daughter of a mob boss, you're linguistically relegated to the trough of the morons on ‘reality shows.’
Moreover, it seems that the “documentary” term also has the potential to make audiences feel better about their programming choices, and perhaps even feel like they are being “educated” rather than indulging in a guilty pleasure.
That’s not to say that “docu-series” are not without their problems, however. Mainly, experts are questioning whether the show’s main subject has just a little too much control over the final cut.
“The inherent problem with the docu-series approach is that the celebs at the center tend to be in the prime of their careers, and thus more protective and controlling of the stars’ public image – there’s an undeniable sense that we’re only seeing carefully chosen moments rather than genuinely revealing scenarios,” said pop culture expert, Scott Huver. “Paris Hilton’s show seemed like a calculated attempt to re-brand her as a more mature personality, while Twain’s traded on elements of her personal history to perpetuate her current career comeback. The result is something that might appeal to a star’s dedicated fans, but not to a broader audience.”
The networks we reached out to did not respond to a request for further comment.
Still, according to Glazer, the trend of “docu-series” sweeping networks is not one that will last long.
“'Docu-Series’ is a euphemism, it will die out,” Glazer added. “Reality is the real genre.”