Why Discovery's Live Border Show Is A Terrible Idea

It’s almost as if we haven’t learned our lesson.  So-called “reality TV” isn’t real. In fact, it’s the opposite in almost every way.

I should know. I’ve produced reality TV.

Here’s how it works. The network green-lights an idea and hopes it will be a hit. A hit is only defined by one thing: audience size. So they want dramatic, salacious, shocking, edgy reality. Anything less, and you won’t get an order for another season.

So the producers are told to “gin things up,” and if they know what’s good for them, they will. They’ll find characters who are unhinged. They’ll find locations that are dangerous. They’ll encourage their subjects to be as outrageous and controversial as possible. It’s the name of the game.

We know what happens next. Donald Trump was the host of NBC’s “The Apprentice.” Show producers now publicly admit that they crafted his image. Even as his casinos were on the verge of bankruptcy, and his helicopter was about to be repossessed, NBC producers promoted images of Trump’s wealth and success.



For 14 years, Trump the Reality Star was piped into the living rooms of unsuspecting Americans. No wonder they now think he’s a “winner” and a “great businessman” despite all the failures, bankruptcies, and lawsuits that have been filed (and won) against him.

Reality TV is intoxicating because it uses the power of TV to create an alternative reality.

So, let’s now go to Discovery’s poorly thought-through "Border Live” show. Discovery executives said that "Border Live" will not be a "political” show, but of course it will be.

The host, Lilia Luciano, will report live from a different location along the border each week.

"There's so much conversation about what happens, but it's rare to be able to immerse yourself for a lengthy period of time there,” said Luciano in an interview with CNN.

Back when I produced a show called “The Border Battle” for CNN, we spent weeks shooting on both sides of the border. We interviewed landowners who complained that border crossers were traversing their land. We went to factories in Nogales, Mexico,  and saw working conditions. We patrolled with the Border Patrol, and with landowners on horseback.

We spent weeks there recording interviews with politicians and local officials. Then we produced a documentary, with care to present many sides of the complex border issue.

The problem with “Border Live is that it has no such goals or objectives. Live TV is inherently not journalism — it can’t be. They’re not reporting; they’re observing. And in order for the show to be dramatic, they’ll place their camera in locations where “action” might occur, ear border “hot spots” with particularly inflammatory locals.

And then, of course, there’s the coaching. Does the Border Patrol want to be seen on TV doing nothing? Do they want to be shown live watching monitors with no attempts to cross the border? Of course not. So everyone has an incentive to facilitate drama for the cameras.

Just as Donald J. Trump learned that his finger wag and “You’re fired!” chant made good television, the Discovery “Live” team only has one option: create dramatic “see it live” TV, or find themselves without a series pickup.

The show is produced by New York-based Lucky 8, ”a full-service unscripted production company.” Now, I don’t know them, and I’m sure it isn’t their intention to inflame the border issue, but they are producers of reality TV. Their production resume includes “Vinny & Ma Eat America” for the Cooking Channel, “3 Scientists Walk Into a Bar” for the Weather Channel, and  “60 Days In” for A&E, a show where volunteers enter one of our nation’s most dangerous corrections facilities as undercover “inmates.”  

The line between fact and fiction has been blurred quite a bit already, but with President Trump sending armed military to the border to supposedly protect us from migrants,  Discovery is at risk of fostering Trump’s fear-mongering rhetoric almost without intending to.

In reporting about the Discovery series, CNN said: "The ‘live" aspect of "Border Live" is something channels are trying more often these days: a live hook that's meant to help get potential viewers to tune in.”  

What they mean, of course, is that something unexpected might happen. There might be a riot, a fight, or an argument. Live means “unfiltered,” and that could be dramatic, even deadly. It feels strongly like the Roman Coliseum, with all of its bloodlust performed for the hungry masses.

So, back to the border — and the film we made. You can watch it in its entirety here:

Oh, by the way: That film was produced 20 years ago. Has much changed? You decide for yourself.

4 comments about "Why Discovery's Live Border Show Is A Terrible Idea".
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  1. Christina Ricucci from Millenia 3 Communications, November 5, 2018 at 5:25 p.m.

    Good article, and I watched the 42-min. video while eating my lunch. No, I don't see that much has changed in 20 years, at least not as a subject on which Americans are divided, albeit more shoved down our throats today. Of course this type of program is political. It will be for Discovery, just as it was for ABC's "Homeland Security USA" in 2009, which barely survived 13 weeks.

    Part of what makes the issue a hot button is that for most people, "immigration" and "illegal immigration" are one and the same thing. Today, the word "immigration" has become synonymous with drugs, criminals, murderers, caravans of the most evil and dangerous kinds of people. Personally, as a grandchild of Italian immigrants on both sides of my family, I find that insulting because the two terms are not the same thing.

    Thanks for the reminder of what reality TV is about. Our kids and grandkids are learning a manufactured "reality" via their TV and internet viewing, and they come away expecting their own real life to mimic it, which it never does. Pretty darn scary. And the 6,000+ verifiably untruthful or misleading statements delivered to us over 653 days from the President aren't helping our children learn how to distinguish fact from fiction. (Well, we are talking about reality TV, aren't we?)

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 6, 2018 at 12:11 a.m.

    Thank you. I watched the entire production and you are correct. Nothing changed. All of those billions of dollars spent in the past 20 years down the drain. You have pointed out both sides' problems and it needs to be solved with both considerations. You have even given some hints at some solutions better than what has not been done for those billions of dollars.

  3. Ken Kurtz from creative license, November 8, 2018 at 3:15 p.m.

    As long as Trump is President, that is a terrible idea for a show. With Trump actually enforcing our immigration laws now, people will soon enough realize that criminal attempts to enter this country illegally are a fool's game. Bottom line, it won't be "Trump separating children from parents" it will be criminal parents making conscious decisions that THEY KNOW will result in separation from their children. More so than ever (it's partially true now as our laws have been on the books long enough, if not enforced), separation will be ENTIRELY ON THE CRIMINAL PARENTS. Legal immigration into the United States is a wonderful thing... with over 1,000,000 entering legally annually. Those that go the criminal route make legal immigration that much more difficult for the law-abiding millions of future citizens of this great country of ours. And the left wants to continue to paint these scofflaws as "put-upon heroes."

    If the left continues with such tomfoolery, there will be ZERO CONTENT for Discovery's Live Border show, especially when Trump is in his fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth years as President. The message will be perfectly clear by then, the repercussions of entering illegally CRYSTAL CLEAR, and the understanding that America is a country that enforces its laws so that law abiding citizens get the leg-up (not scofflaws) will be unequivocal regardless of how far south one goes.

    At least until a Democrat gets in as President again (if ever), and we go back to "loosey-goosey, hey we love our scofflaws, could care less about rule of law" lefty leadership.

  4. Ken Kurtz from creative license, November 8, 2018 at 3:39 p.m.

    As for this...

    For 14 years, Trump the Reality Star was piped into the living rooms of unsuspecting Americans. No wonder they now think he’s a “winner” and a “great businessman” despite all the failures, bankruptcies, and lawsuits that have been filed (and won) against him.

    ... I would say that it doesn't surprise me that a guy that thinks an 800 point drop of the DJIA is a catastrophic "failure" (as opposed to the real-life buy opportunity that it is) also thinks that Trump is somehow a "loser."

    Bankruptcy laws were put in place to help winners stay winners, and avoid "losership." While Trump declared "bankruptcy" on certain factions of his business empire to strategic gain, other of his many businesses WERE CONCURRENTLY THRIVING, and continuing to mint profits. Against all odds he defeated sixteen other candidates in the Republican primary (isn't the "winner" the one that winds up "not defeated?") and then against all odds he won the Presidency as a multi-billionaire. In what parallel universe would "" around "WINNER" and "GREAT BUSINESSMAN" be required? I think those assessements, absent the "air quotes" are DEAD ON ACCURATE. But then, I'm a middle of the road Independent...

    Granted, the ridiculousness of the left has helped Trump at every turn, but isn't utilization of oppositional ridiculousness a clear sign of a winner? With the opposition LOSING?

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