Here's some shocking news — "reality" shows aren't really real.
I'm stunned. Aren't you?
Sarcasm aside (for a moment), Drew Carey and Brett Butler were certainly unpleasantly surprised by what happened when they served as celebrity judges for the new edition of NBC's "Last Comic Standing," which premieres tonight at 7 p.m. on Ch. 5.
And neither Carey nor Butler made any secret of their unhappiness. Carey called the show "crooked and dishonest" in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.
And Butler posted a statement on her Web site disavowing the results of the show — "We had NOTHING to do with them."
Bob Read and Ross Mark scout talent for "Last Comic Standing."
Well, maybe not "nothing." As we see in the four hours (really!) of the show that airs tonight and Wednesday, comedy talent scouts Bob Read and Ross Mark (who book comedians for "The Tonight Show") went to auditions at various sites around the country and sent a group of comics on to the next round in Las Vegas. There, the judging was "a combination of the celebrity talent scouts that were there in consultation with the producers," said an NBC spokeswoman.
Apparently, however, nobody told the celebrities that their input wasn't what would decide the competition. At least according to Read.
"We love Drew Carey and we consider him a friend of ours and a colleague," Read said, trying to make nice in a rather contentious situation. "I think what happened (was) nobody told Drew or Brett exactly what the situation was. . . . I would be upset too if nobody told me what my job was and then they start rolling the cameras. You can't blame them."
Executive producer Peter Engel has apologized to the celebrities in the wake of Carey and Butler's rather public disavowal of the show. "Peter, I think, was professional and a good man and he stood up and said, 'Hey, I screwed up. I didn't tell them what to do there,' " Read said.
Which is all very nice, except that it doesn't address the issue at hand. Talent of any kind, let alone comedy talent, is subjective — but, rather obviously, Butler and Carey don't think the 10 finalists on "Last Comic Standing" are the 10 best comedians.
And other questions have been raised about the legitimacy of the competition. Another of the executive producers, Barry Katz, represents two of the 10 finalists, although NBC insists he recused himself from making any decisions about their participation. And it at least appears at times in the first four hours that comics who have a past relationship with Marks and Read have a leg up when it comes to advancing in the competition.
"Yes, we did represent some of the people in the past, but we also quit that job — being managers," Read said. "And there was also no rule against people that we may have worked with before or booked on any kind of shows or anything like that."
And they were both adamant that they judged the competition on talent alone.
"I think it really was a level playing field because some of the people that we knew . . . like a total, professional comic who's been on 'The Tonight Show' before, and she came in and she was just horrible," Read said. "And there was no way that I could pick her over another comic . . . who I'd never seen before, who came in and was just original and funny."
And, eventually, the winner will be chosen by viewers who phone in their votes.
"It is a contest . . . and America votes. I mean, America voted the winner (last season)," Ross said.
Which, once again, isn't really the question at hand. America can only vote for the finalists who are selected by the talent scouts and the producers . . . in consultation with the celebrities, maybe.
Of course, viewers always have to keep in mind that reality shows aren't documentaries. It should be no surprise that results are manipulated — in one way or another — by shows' producers. They cast the shows, they set up the situations, they edit the footage to tell the stories and (in some cases) influence the voting.
Just look at NBC's hit series "The Apprentice," on which the question of fairness never really arose. The producers selected the contestants and decided the results each week — in consultation, of course, with Donald Trump and his staff.
Didn't seem to bother the tens of millions of viewers who tuned in every week.
If you watch "Last Comic Standing," just figure you'll see see standup comedians perform, and don't worry too much about the competition and the fairness issue. This is, after all, reality TV, not reality.