Money Lessons Learned From Reality TV

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When professional wedding planner Sandy Malone signed on to star in a TLC reality television show called "Wedding Island" filming in Puerto Rico, she was surprised by the number of hours it took to complete a single episode.

"No one tells you that starring in a reality TV show is like taking on another job," Malone told MainStreet. "The show added 40 hours to my work week. As a wedding planner who owns my business, I am already working 60 hours a week."

Malone secured the deal with 495 Productions from a demo that featured her planning a Russian wedding, a gay military police wedding and even a Wiccan wedding that involved casting a circle and calling in the elements.

But Malone isn't complaining about having been a reality TV star; the visibility has raised her business profile and increased interest in her company, Weddings in Vieques.

"Our website crashed after the first episode aired, because so many people visited," she said. "We got 50 hits a second after the first two episodes. We expanded the server space the second week so our website wouldn't crash from the hits."

"Wedding Island" was a non-scripted show that aired in the U.S. last summer, but it didn't involve the fighting that so many other reality TV shows thrive on, such as when Ramona Singer lobbed a glass of wine at Kristin Taekman on Bravo's "Real Housewives of New York."

"I put my foot down the first two weeks of filming," Malone said. "We were filming real clients that had paid me to plan their wedding in Vieques, so I told the production company that we didn't want to be played with in the manner of instigating trouble."

If there was one thing Malone could change about her experience, it would be to ask the network to pay her employees.

Also See: Home & Garden TV to Auction Its First Condos in Los Angeles

"There's a lot of costs involved," said Malone. "I should have asked the network to pay my staff for the hours they were interviewed, but talent managers and agents can only tell you so much."

When she watches episodes of other reality shows, such as "House Hunters," Malone finds them fascinating.

"It's not how real estate deals go down in the real world," Malone said. "People on reality TV shows are not actually house hunting in real time. They bought their homes six to eight months ago or the houses have already been renovated, and that's why you see so many still photographs because they don't have video footage of fixing the house."

In July, HGTV is launching a new home renovation show called "Flipping the Block," in which four teams of people will transform condos that will then be auctioned live.

"This is the most authentic competition HGTV has ever produced, because the contestants are actually living in the condos they are renovating for seven weeks in an effort to get them ready for auction," said Loren Ruch, vice president of programming, partnerships and special projects with HGTV.

Airing in July, "Flipping the Block" will be hosted by contractor Josh Temple from "House Crashers" who will also mentor the renovators.

"The question is how scripted is it and how real are the scenarios," asked Malone. "Do they really live in the condos and go through the whole renovating experience or do they go home after the cameras leave? There's no law that says that television networks have to tell you the truth as to whether or not something is real."

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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