Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Reality show on Las Vegas government could spotlight local problems

Too much reality? How much of Stavros Anthony and the rest of the Las Vegas City Council are viewers prepared to watch?
Photo: Steve Marcus

Dozens of reality TV shows have been filmed in Las Vegas, and over the years I’ve gotten to know a few of the people involved in various productions.

The truth is, reality is often pretty boring, so shows are scripted and scenarios are contrived to create the kind of drama that makes for good TV. The one exception that comes to mind is Cops, the depressing show about police and the people they arrest. Scripting might not work there, because so few on the show appear capable of reading.

But I digress.

The point is, “reality” shows don’t draw viewers without drama.

Las Vegas Councilman Bob Coffin made that point well last Wednesday, when he argued and voted against a proposal to film a reality TV show based on the City Council and various city departments. Obviously, some council members couldn’t wait to get their mugs on TV, pronouncing the show a beacon that would demonstrate the wondrous nature of Las Vegas to the rest of the world.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Councilmen Stavros Anthony, Ricki Barlow and Steve Ross voted “yes.” Council members Bob Beers and Lois Tarkanian joined Coffin in voting “no.”

When Coffin expressed worries that the show wouldn’t be produced with the same ethical considerations as, say, a professional news outlet, the show’s representative answered that with all the “millions” being put into its production, why-oh-why would they ever jeopardize its future by doing something so unethical that the city might disapprove? They want the show to continue; they don’t want the city to kill it.

Actually, that argument could be turned upside down: With millions on the line, won’t the show’s producers do everything possible to keep it going?

What if behind-the-scenes conversations are taped and broadcast that embarrass city staff or elected officials? What if beat reporters who cover the city for traditional media outlets demand the same access to those backroom talks that the TV cameras get? Doesn’t it stand to reason that, contract or not, the producers might sue if the city decides it doesn’t like what’s being produced and wants production to stop?

As expected, council members who like the idea spoke of the need for transparency in government, while boasting the show would demonstrate to everyone what a “world class” place Las Vegas really is.

As the show’s representative noted, Las Vegas is not the Strip, and he wants to make that clear. So it’s not going to be about the neon and glitter and excess most locals avoid south of Sahara Avenue. This show is going to be about “Las Vegas.”

And what does that entail? Issues as mundane but important as money for and more scrutiny over police, a large homeless population, very little urban space reserved for usable parks, thousands of acres of walled fiefdoms known as “gated communities” on the city’s outskirts and gangs. The city doesn’t regulate schools, so maybe it won’t touch on our bottom-dwelling educational system.

What will happen when the police and fire departments get into heated battles against the city over union contracts? What about the off-color jokes told behind the scenes, or the deals hammered out before decisions are made? I wonder how many times the show will feature shots of the Glitter Gulch or Olympic Garden strip clubs.

The recession is receding and we’re on the way back, but to be “real” about Las Vegas, you know in your heart we have some maturing to do before calling ourselves “world class.”

If there’s a silver lining from the production of this show, it may be that a worldwide demonstration of the city’s needs will force elected leaders to recognize them, too.

Joe Shoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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