It should come as a shock to nobody that all the reality shows we watch on the boob tube aren’t entirely realistic. And that would be putting it mildly. The bullshit is so staged it can almost be laughable at times.
Like just for example…a fellow Grand Juror once alleged that he worked on “Ice Road Truckers,” and actually witnessed a totally fake truck accident that had been staged by the producers for effect. The show was becoming something of a sleeping pill and in the absence of any drama, the network had to do something to liven it up.
All of which brings to mind my experience with “TAXICAB CONFESSIONS,” yet another dog and pony show produced for the entertainment of the totally naive.
Back when I was a cab driver and salesman and “hack” journalist for the leading industry rag, a prospective advertiser called the office one day. But it wasn’t the usual ball joint and grease pit operation that wanted to advertise. It was HBO!
Round 1 of TAXICAB CONFESSIONS had been a huge success and the network needed to audition new drivers for the next edition. Fair enough! I was actually excited about booking an ad with a TV network, and decided to try out for the show. Here’s how their bullshit worked:
First, applicants called the number in the ad and were given a time and place to interview for the job. The instant I walked into the office, a secretary handed me a contract to sign. Suspicious individual that I am, I thought it was a little early for contracts. I hadn’t even said a word and already they wanted me to sign something?
I don’t know how many drivers actually read that document before signing. But I know I did. And what that contract said was (paraphrased):
“We’re going to tape your interview…and we reserve the right to use this tape however we see fit IN PERPETUITY in exchange for which we will compensate you NOTHING!”
As a once-upon-a-time pre-law student, it didn’t take me long to decipher the legalese — or to register my discontent thereafter. But the girl insisted “if you don’t sign the paper, you can’t audition.”
And schmuck that I am…I signed figuring if my interview ever aired — and it was that entertaining — I’d be discovered and paid for whatever lay in the future. The first one would clearly be a freebie. There was no way to avoid it.
So I did the interview and was then called back. For part 2 of the audition, the producers wanted to watch me drive around in a cab! Fair enough, I thought. Tell me where to meet you and I’ll drive your cab around for an hour or two on my day off.
But oh no! They actually wanted all the auditioners to supply their own cab — and stop working and earning during a shift we were paying for (cabs are leased for a period of time) — so they could check us out. This I thought was totally bush league! They already had a hit show and (I assume) a budget..and I saw no reason for me to lose money so I could audition a second time.
And that wasn’t my only objection (besides the contract hustle). In addition, when I asked for a copy of the audition tape — which I felt I’d aced and could use to promote myself — they denied my request.
And worse, through the auditioning process, I’d become aware that the driver was not free to roam late-night New York to find eligible freaks for the show. Rather, the producers would follow the cab in a van and tell the driver who to pick up — and each and every word to say to the passenger via a hidden earpiece supplied for the driver.
At the time, I was writing wild slice-of-life articles for the industry paper and op-eds for The New York Times, Daily News, and New York Newdsay. I was the face of the throwback born-in-the USA wise-crackin’ cabby. And I figured that I knew how to find the freaks and elicit their stories much more effectively than the producers did. And so…in typical $ Bill style, I told the girl on the other end of the phone to go fuck herself. And that was that.
But my boy Mikey was cagier than I. He’d already heard that a lot of drivers were quitting behind having to supply their own cabs for the audition. And instead of joining the boycott, he avoided HBO’s calls until the network realized they had to go out and lease or buy a cab — or they wouldn’t have any drivers to abuse! So Mikey waited and got the gig! And here was the financial deal once he made the audition:
For 12 hours, the drivers would work the city — with the van right behind — and the earpiece in place. They would be compensated $125 by HBO and keep all the fares, which obviously would be far fewer than on a normal shift unburdened by all the production stoppages. But still a pretty good deal!
If the producers liked what the fare had to say and wanted to use the tape for the show, they would jump out of the van with a contract…inform the rider what he was part of…and offer him $800 to sign the release for use on the show. And if the driver happened up on a winner HBO wanted to use, he would get an additional $400!
Now here’s where karma and sweet revenge met in a most satisfying moment. Mikey picked up a fare who was actually a cab driver we both knew. And Alex was the ultimate entertainer, so much so that the producers jumped out in jubilation to sign him up. But imagine their embarrassment when they discovered that their ultimate passenger was in fact a cabby they had jerked around hard in the audition process for the first round of the show — and then rejected.
Yup! Alex put on a show for what he must have known was the TAXICAB CONFESSION vehicle, and then issued a battery of conditions under which he would sign, one of which involved him editing his own tape.
The producers and Alex went back and forth for weeks — all while Mikey stewed because his $400 payment — and appearance on the show — depended on Alex signing. And finally? Alex never signed and Mikey never got his four hundred bucks!
I thought it was hilarious. I knew Alex was completely jerking the producers off— just like they’d done to him — and was never gonna sign the contract. He just wanted to give them a little payback.
Anyway…this is kind of a stupid story, but at least an entertaining one which indicates in no uncertain terms that reality television isn’t exactly real. It’s just heavily staged to try and make it look that way. And as far as whores go? I’ve dealt with a lot of ’em in my lifetime…but never any more egregious than the schmucks who ran TAXICAB CONFESSIONS.
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