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How low can they go? Reality TV to glorify even more, worse stage parents

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 (Lifetime)

Hollywood casting firm Doron Ofir Casting is looking for the next Kris Jenner or Tina Knowles to star in the forthcoming reality series “Momagers,” Fox411.com's Pop Tarts column has exclusively learned. 

The show is centered on mothers who think they have “been blessed with the most talented kid in the world. Music, sports, dancing or acting.”

“From your child's first steps and first words, you recognized their star potential. You know them better than anyone and no one will ever be more committed to their success than you,” reads the casting notice. “Are you putting your life on hold to get theirs on track? Are you juggling other clients while trying to keep your kid a priority? This brand new documentary series will get to know the true stories behind the future faces of entertainment, and the moms who will do whatever it takes to earn Top Billing for their kids.”

The new show follows reality series like “Dance Moms” and “Toddlers & Tiaras,” whose popularity is due in large part to pushy Hollywood stage parents whose sole goal in life is getting their kids into show business. 

“There are no less than four reality shows in development about stage moms. Two of them are being produced by stage moms themselves,” Anne Henry, co-founder of BizParentz, a non-profit corporation providing education and support to parents and children engaged in the entertainment industry. “We’re very disappointed in this trend as we believe that reality TV and professional acting are two separate industries and of course, we are offended by the behavior of extreme stage moms.”

"Maybe the end point would be ‘American Fetus'"

- Casting pro Alan Shankman

And while shocking episodes have already aired featuring a toddler dressed as a hooker on “Toddlers & Tiaras” and girls giving the illusion of toplessness on “Dance Moms,” the horrors of real-life Hollywood stage parents can be “less scripted” and more subtle, industry vets say.

“Parents pay pseudo ‘publicists’ to get their kids on red carpets just to have a picture taken. Parents come to L.A. and live off their kids’ income. Parents create ‘fan pages’ and other online identities for their child and are ‘okay’ with pedophiles who virtually follow them because they are ‘just fans’,” Henry continued. “Evil stage moms and dads tend to do most of their damage online these days.”

Henry said it has become commonplace for parents to create online profiles, social media accounts, YouTube channels and fan pages on their child’s behalf, and that can lead into a disturbing, unrelenting obsession with fame and fortune.

“People believe that it is actually possible to ‘build a fan base’ and ‘get discovered,’” she said. “This mentality breeds ugly stage mom behavior; because the parents believe they can control their child’s success if they are aggressive enough.”

Paul Petersen, a former actor who founded the non-profit organization A Minor Consideration to support child stars through legislation, family education, and personal intervention, said the reality television explosion has given parents a license to exploit their children.

“[That] stage parents are suddenly being promoted and are the recipients of some notoriety is bad enough. They are using tactics that are inexcusable,” he said, adding that he is deeply dismayed when parents dress their children and allow them to go for sexualized roles in the quest for success. “Parents who bend the rules make their children available for emotionally charged and sexually charged projects need to be held to account.”

Theatrical agent and co-founder of the online casting service GotCast.com, Alec Shankman, said he is frequently approached by parents seeking representation for a child that is only a few weeks old -- or not even born yet! Other industry insiders said parents change kids' names before they can even walk to be more “showbiz appropriate,” and while lining up for an audition, mothers are often painting their toddlers' faces with makeup and curling their hair so they can look “the prettiest.” 

Some casting agents are also unnerved by the idea that many parents home-school their young ones not for religious reasons, but to give them more time to audition and seek stardom.

Former casting director and acting coach Mirren Lee was appalled to learn that entire temporary accommodation apartment buildings in Burbank -- home to several studios including ABC, Disney and Warner Bros. -- are booked solid by parents during pilot season, with the pressure of kids to “make it” due to the financial investment being made “for them.” 

This kind of excessive pressure can have devastating consequence for both the children and parents involved.

“I’ve seen parents put so much pressure on their children that the kids develop major anxiety disorders and the parents are riddled with depression when the kids don't succeed to the level they desire. It can have severe implications on that child’s mental health in both their childhood years and their adult life,” explained Dr. Reef Karim, a leading Los Angeles-based psychiatrist.

Heather Broeker, Director of Marketing for ChildrenInFilm.com, a casting and information resource for young actors, said the organization has had to speak to parents crossing the line.

“It becomes shocking when they seem to put the desire for fame and fortune above that of the needs of their child," she said. "Parents who spent their life savings to give this industry a try, without first having done their homework, simply because a stranger told them ‘their kid should be on TV,’ often get wrapped in to the drama that causes them to act in a shocking manner."

So how low can shows about stage parents go?

“So long as they attract an audience, there is no end in sight," said Steve Hertz, President and Founder of If Management, Inc. "Perhaps we’ll see MTV ‘Real Cribs’ or “American Infant.’ Maybe the end point would be ‘American Fetus.’”

 

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