The World of Reality TV
Issue: February 1, 2016

The World of Reality TV

Teams of contestants racing around the globe, treehouse owners with vistas of the stars, cooks competing to gain the approval of a caustic — if not outright demonic — celebrity chef, and a medium who juggles the after-life with suburban life. Reality TV programming spans these extremes and many others. But, like all shows, efficient workflows keep them grounded in the reality of delivery compelling content season after season.


With Season 15 currently airing, this hit Fox cooking competition proves that if you can’t stand the heat, you gotta get outta Hell’s Kitchen. Hosted by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, the show pits chefs against one other in teams and later individually as Ramsay tasks them with cooking challenges and dinner services. Participating chefs reside in a dormitory on-set for the duration of the show.  

Hell’s Kitchen migrated to HD acquisition only with this current season. “When I started we were shooting standard definition 4:3,” recalls post producer Rusty Austin, who joined the show in Season 2. “The following year we went to 16:9, but we remained SD until the end of Season 14.” 


The TLC series, Long Island Medium, not only follows Theresa Caputo as she meets clients and does readings, it also documents her sometimes zany suburban life in Hicksville, NY (a suburb on Long Island), with her husband and two children. The second part of Season 6 is airing now, and Season 7 is in production.

“The show has evolved as Theresa’s life has evolved,” explains Dominick Pupa, vice president of current series at Magilla Entertainment in New York City and executive producer of Long Island Medium. “Theresa is doing more readings out of the house now; she does only three or four readings a week at her place. Her son, LJ, is out of college and living in the city, and her daughter, Vic, is in college and lives at home.”


The astonishing arboreal structures showcased in Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters aren’t the treehouses of your childhood. They’re the treehouses of your dreams. The series, which is now airing part one of Season 4, launched in 2013 and features the work of Pete Nelson, world-renowned treehouse designer and builder.

As can be expected from a show that spends a lot of its time in the treetops, Treehouse Masters poses special production challenges. Shooters man Sony PMW-300 XDCAM HD cameras as the primary cameras; a complement of GoPro Hero cameras are used for wide coverage in the trees and mounted on helmets and rope pulleys to capture unique viewing angles. Canon 5D MK III cameras are deployed for beauty shots of the finished treehouse, its interior and spectacular vistas. HeliVideo Productions flies one of its Octocopter drones, outfitted with a Panasonic Lumix GH-4 mirrorless Ultra HD digital camera, for 60-frame, full HD shots of the completed structure.


One of the longest-running reality series, the Emmy Award-winning The Amazing Race, poses unique production and post production challenges with its globe-spanning scale. The competition features two-person teams racing around the world, finding clues and conquering physical and mental challenges in their quest to win a hefty grand prize. Season 28 premieres this month on CBS; two seasons are broadcast annually.

Post producer Kevin Mueller joined the show in Season 5. “Process-wise, the show has not changed dramatically,” he notes. “But we’ve seen the evolution of formats and technology. When I started we were shooting Beta SP. We moved to a digital format, then HD and are now dabbling in 4K acquisition.”

The show’s current complement of cameras includes Sony PDW-700 and 800 XDCAMs, which follow each team. “They’re rugged cameras; the crew likes them,” says Mueller. “We complement them with a Sony PMW-F55 to pick up B-roll and shoot host stand ups. We started to acquire B-roll in 4K, thinking about future archiving.”