In 2009, MTV gave birth to a new genre of reality television in the U.S., exploring the lives of (very) young moms in "Teen Mom" and "16 and Pregnant."
Last month, FOX411’s Pop Tarts column learned that a “major network” was casting 30-something grandmas for a forthcoming reality show.
Now we have discovered VH1 is seeking pregnant women who have daughters who are also expecting -- at the same time.
“If this is your unique situation, VH1 and Ellen Rakieten Entertainment want to document your lives! This docu-series will follow the exciting and dramatic journey of a mother and daughter who are pregnant at the same time,” reads the casting notice. “We want to share the amazing, the challenging, the funny, and the complicated moments in both of your lives; from the pregnancy through childbirth and everything in between.”
So what's the deal with the ever-more-extreme pregnancy shows?
“TV producers look for ever-more salacious and twisted reality plot lines. Reality TV is cheap to make and producers battle to find the most bizarre plot line that appeals to devils of our nature. It would be nice to find something on TV that is uplifting and inspiring, not depraved and abusive,” said Dan Gainor, Vice President of the Business and Media Institute. “To the entertainment industry, there is no such thing as ‘too far,’ so making fun of young grandmothers and pregnant teens is par for the course.”
Dr. Jennifer Landa, M.D., author and Chief Medical Officer of BodyLogicMD is also disturbed by the trend, which she says exploits child-bearing.
“For most people, teen pregnancy is seen as a difficult event that causes a lot of upheaval in the child’s life that is having the child,” she said. “But the entertainment industry does what the public wants. As long as people want to watch teen pregnancies and what happens to teen moms, the entertainment industry is doing what’s right for business.”
“Teen Mom” has definitely delivered for MTV. The show became the network’s top new series when it bowed two years ago, and continues to wins its night in cable ratings with the 18-29 age group. So it comes as no surprise that other networks are jumping on the bandwagon and going for even more outrageous angles in an effort to up the ante.
“As reality TV producers continue to test their limits, we're definitely seeing some pretty wild and crazy casting calls coming through our system,” said Alec Shankman, co-founder of online casting service GotCast.com, which lists an array of forthcoming shows of this nature. “Talent is really responding well, though. In fact the casting we did last month for 30-something year old grandmothers proved to be one of our most active casting calls in a while!"
But Shankman said pregnancy-centered reality TV shows weren't conceived in the United States. The four-part TV series “Teenage Mams on TV” first aired on BBC Wales in January 2006, chronicling the lives of 10 teenage mothers and their families. This was followed by an array of related programs including “Underage and Pregnant,” “The Trouble With Girls” and “Pregnancy: My Big Decision.”
“Overseas reality TV producers in places like Europe have been able to push the envelope a bit further for years. Their American counterparts have gradually been able to get more and more edgy...and the result is playing out before us,” he said. “Americans tend to love outrageous television and many of these shows rate incredibly well.”
Others argue that the shows aren’t all about exploitation, and do offer some strong educational benefits.
“First and foremost, the show is meant to entertain, and they want ratings. But the girls do seem highly conscious about the fact that they have become role models, and the show does appear to take the issue of teen pregnancy seriously,” noted WetPaint.com television expert Kelly Woo regarding “Teen Mom.”
Landa agreed that there is a small educational upside to this type of programming, but only because it gives audiences the chance to “see how bad it really is for these young girls.”
“If we see all the negative and the drama and trauma that they experience, perhaps it is more fuel for positive messages like abstinence and at the very least, birth control,” she added. “Reality TV has gone too far with this theme, but everyone wants to watch it because it is out of the norm and usually has quite unfortunate consequences. I have a 10-year-old daughter and would hate for her to see the idea of teen pregnancy romanticized. Further, for her to think she could get on TV or be famous for getting pregnant would be a tragedy. Young girls need positive role models, which include girls who are making choices that do not cause them to become pregnant teens and teen moms.”
A rep for VH1 told us that the pregnant moms and daughters show is still in the early stages, and doesn't have an air date.