War Widows and The Wrong Way to Add Diversity to Reality Television

It’s not often that the folks at Big Hollywood and I agree, but we’re in the same place on the casting for a new reality show. The backstory: CBS is putting together a new dating show, apparently based on an Israeli format, called 3. According to the casting call, the show is “about finding love; it’s about meeting amazing people who could be a good fit in real life; it’s about having a good time and making a connection. It’s not about fancy dates and roses. It is not about ‘TV'” — so, standard TV pitch. But apparently, CBS wanted to cast a wider net in order to catch people than the standard famemongers who wash up on The Bachelor and its infinite spinoffs. So the network started reaching out to widows who had lost their husbands in Iraq and Afghanistan, often contacting them through their blogs.

As Jaci Greggs reports, the production company behind the show hit up women who aren’t widows. Or who are widows, but are in new relationships. Or who have absolutely no such interest in putting their personal lives on-screen. And sometimes, even after they asked not to be contacted, the production company kept coming.

I am absolutely on board with the idea that pop culture in general is more interesting when it features different kinds of people and different kinds of stories. But when networks try to go into communities they haven’t traditionally show much interest in—and with the exception of Army Wives and Are You There, Chelsea?, military wives and widows fall into that category—it’s a good idea to be sensitive and on the watch for new dynamics, like, for example, the fact that military widows may feel an obligation to be seen to be true to their late husbands. The best way in might not have been to ask women if they wanted to participate, but to ask them into initial meetings, get a feel for their reaction to the idea of the show and their concerns, and then ask a few women for referrals. Of course, that would take time, energy, and a commitment to listen, none of which are Hollywood’s strong suits. But it also might have an increased possibility of success.