The eternal question when watching any kind of reality show is whether or not it’s actually “real.” Most of the time, the answer is a resounding, “Nope!” By and large, most reality shows are shot and then “written” in the editing bay as producers attempt to create a story out of raw footage. Whether or not the story reflects what actually happened during filming or the personalities of those involved depends on producers, and oftentimes, it’s misleading.
However, A&E has distinguished itself as a network that puts out a higher standard of reality documentaries covering everything from mental illness to addiction to true crime. That’s not to say they don’t have their fair share of sensationalized, silly fun, but it’s tempered with shows that tackle hard-hitting subjects and relevant social issues.
The question still remains, “What’s real?” Are the people on Hoarders really living in such packed dwellings or are the conditions inflated by a production team? Does Billy the Exterminator go out on actual calls or is there a terrified production team planting exotic animals in houses before he gets there?
We’ve compiled a list of some of A&E’s most popular reality shows and researched to give you a better idea of which ones are what they seem and which ones are more fiction than fact.
Here are 7 Fakest A&E Reality Shows (And 8 That Are Totally Real).
15. DUCK DYNASTY – FAKE
Arguably A&E’s biggest hit, this show following around the duck calling Robertson clan from Louisiana became a massive pop culture phenomenon. At the height of its popularity, Duck Dynasty averaged nine million viewers per episode so, despite a scandal involving Phil Robertson’s use of a homophobic slur during an interview with GQ in 2013, the show didn’t go off the air until 2017.
None of that means Duck Dynasty was an accurate portrayal of the Robertsons’ lifestyle — far from it, in fact.
While the show made them out to be backwoods hayseeds, the Robertsons are incredibly media savvy.
They embellished their personalities and worked with producers in creating faux plotlines for the show knowing audiences would respond to a more stereotypical version of themselves. The results were positive and the family’s made a veritable fortune off of merchandising.
14. INTERVENTION – REAL
A&E’s enduring documentary series about addiction and those afflicted is renowned for its unflinching look at the lives of its subjects. Tackling everything from alcoholism to the opioid crisis to eating disorders, Intervention follows people whose friends and families have submitted requests for their help in getting someone into treatment for whatever affliction they may have. And, for the most part, what you see is what you get.
The interventions are absolutely real and run by actual addiction counselors.
Scenes where substances use illegal substances are not staged. Crews accompany subjects to deals if it’s deemed safe enough and are often outfitted with security in order to do so. The treatment offered is real and currently, 70-75% of addicts who appeared on the show are still sober. The participants receive no money for their appearances, only the treatment promised early on.
13. STORAGE WARS – FAKE
Watching an episode of this show, you can’t help but catch the contagious anticipation as teams of buyers bid against each other on abandoned storage units and the possible treasures they could hold. This show and its many iterations continues to be a power player on A&E’s reality roster eight years after its premiere in 2010. After two seasons, it became the network’s highest rated reality show and ran second only The Jersey Shore in overall cable nonfiction ratings.
However, the luster dulled in 2012 when buyer Dave Hester claimed A&E producers had staged storage units to include valuable items and funneled money to certain teams to manipulate the competition. Instead of denying they’d done so, A&E pointed out that the Federal Law Hester claimed they’d violated didn’t actually apply to Storage Wars because the program isn’t a game show. TL;DR: they stage storage units and help certain teams win.
12. BILLY THE EXTERMINATOR – REAL
This show is a great example of just how far gross critters and a sparkling personality can take a man in this life. Billy Bretherton stared in seven seasons of Billy the Exterminator as cameras followed around his company, Vexcon Animal and Pest Control, responding to calls in and around Benton, Louisiana.
Billy’s hilarious personality paired with his goth-rocker style made for top-notch reality programming.
The fact that the star is actually a successful exterminator adds an essential truth to the show and makes it even more watchable.
After leaving the Air Force, Bretherton opened Vexcon in 1996 and was named president of the Northwest Louisiana Pest Control Association in 1997. This was nearly ten years before the was featured on Discovery’s Dirty Jobs. Billy’s an expert in a weird, often very gross field, and that made for great television.
11. SHIPPING WARS – FAKE
This show about long-haul truckers combines the bidding element of Storage Wars with the frantic pace of The Amazing Race. Shipping Wars documents the lives of “independent carriers” – people who transport items that bigger companies can’t, or won’t.
Transporters bid for jobs then attempt to complete them in the time allotted and without spending more on incidentals than they initially bid. While this does happen, everything’s more planned out than the show would have us believe.
The voiceover at the top of the show clearly states that the auctions we see are “special” and for “select” transporters only.
This explains why, on a website like uShip, which is essentially E-Bay in this context, we never see any other bidders besides the cast of the show. The jobs are prearranged, and while the money that exchanges hands is real, much of the show is staged to get to that point.
10. PARKING WARS – REAL
Sometimes an idea is so simple, it doesn’t need the kind of “help” usually offered by production in order to ramp up the dramatic stakes of a reality show. Parking Wars is one such phenomenon. Cameras follow city parking attendants first in Philadelphia, then Detroit, as they go about their daily routines fining citizens for parking violations. If you’ve walked out to find yourself getting a ticket you can’t afford and don’t think you deserve, you’ve felt the high-octane rage featured on this show.
Producers don’t need to do too much to enhance these conflicts for entertainment value.
The parking enforcement officers are real and so are the tickets they issue. Also real? The panic and anxiety officers feel as they attempt to write the ticket and skedaddle before the vehicle owner sees them.
9. FLIPPING VEGAS – FAKE
This show about house flipping guru Scott Yancey and his wife, Amie, an interior designer, ran for five seasons on A&E between 2011 and 2014. During that time, audiences supposedly got an inside look into the Yancey’s work buying and restoring unwanted properties.
The main source of conflict on the show was Scott Yancey objecting to his wife’s design ideas on the grounds that they were too expensive and wouldn’t result in a higher profit.
The couple often seemed to be at each other’s throats, when, in reality, each episode condensed a staggering 120-140 hours of footage into a single, 43 minute unit. According to Scott, producers considered the moments the couple was at their most stressed to be the most entertaining, so that’s what got placed front and center. Like so many reality stars, the couple’s personality is far more balanced than what we see on TV.
8. HOARDERS – REAL
In 2009, A&E introduced the mainstream to compulsive hoarding disorder, a mental illness that causes those afflicted to literally hoard possessions to such an extent that their homes and sometimes lives are endangered.
Like Intervention, families and friends of someone suffering from this illness submit requests to have their loved ones appear on the show. They then receive counseling and help dispersing a hoard or else face the consequences..
Also like Intervention, what you see is what you get. No hoard is staged, no one is paid to appear on the show and the treatment offered at the end of the episode is real. The consequences for not dealing with the hoard are also real — the show only picks submissions that involve hoarders who are facing some kind of imminent crisis like eviction that require them to clean everything in a matter of days.
7. DOG THE BOUNTY HUNTER – REAL
Another jewel in A&E’s reality crown was Dog the Bounty Hunter. Rivaling Duck Dynasty in mainstream popularity, the show profiled Duane “Dog” Chapman as he runs down criminals who’ve broken the terms of their bail agreements with the help of a bail bondsmen and members of his family who run the business with him. The show survived on the family’s charisma and drama, which, by and large, was genuine.
The criminals he chases have all violated actual bail agreements, and the well-documented strife within the Chapman clan is also genuine. In 2011, Dog’s sons, Lee and Duane, left the business and the show and formed their own company, Bounty Hunter Tactical Supply Company. Anyone who thought the separation and drama was manufactured for entertainment purposes was wrong.
6. NEIGHBORS WITH BENEFITS – FAKE
This short-lived show set just outside Cincinnati, Ohio followed around three actual couples in open relationships all of whom supposedly lived in the same neighborhood in Hamilton Township. The series attempted to showcase a “swingers” lifestyle in a more realistic light, focusing on the emotional and logistical difficulties in maintaining their lifestyle while also trying to fulfill family, work, and marital duties.
Unfortunately, the show turned out to be full of manufactured drama between the couples and their prospective partners. Romantic scenes, as they often do on reality shows, felt awkward and forced. Fans caught on quickly to the staged nature of the show and it was canceled in its first season and only aired two episodes.
5. STEVEN SEAGAL: LAWMAN – REAL
As much as we hate to say it, this reality show following around a deputized Steven Seagal as he works with real law enforcement fighting crimes is depressingly genuine.
In the 1980s, Seagal visited the Jefferson Parrish sheriff’s department to train members in martial arts. At that point, he was made a “reserve deputy” by Sheriff Harry Lee. It’s in this capacity that he serves Jefferson Parrish and Maricopa County in Arizona.
The investigations, incidents, and arrests are real, even if they’re made ridiculous by virtue of Seagal’s presence.
Take the infamous raid in Arizona: using an actual tank, Seagal and 40 other deputies raided suspected probation violator, Jesus Llovera’s home and found over 100 roosters clearly bred for cockfighting. It was melodramatic, but not staged. A search warrant had already been issued and would’ve been carried out whether or not production wanted it to (albeit with less flare).
4. 8 MINUTES – FAKE
One of A&E’s most controversial and short-lived shows was 2010’s 8 Minutes. The show followed an ex-cop, Pastor Kevin Brown, as he attempted to help female night workers change their lives in under eight minutes. The series was canceled after only five episodes were aired, and A&E has no plans to air the remaining three that were produced.
While the women who appeared on 8 Minutes were actual night workers, the show promised aftercare and assistance in leaving their lifestyle, but it never delivered. Three women left their industry and income while waiting for benefits that would never appear. They also asked one woman’s husband to pose as her handler and failed to protect the privacy of women, one of whose faces was not blurred after she requested it be. Her handler fired her after the episode aired.
3. THE FIRST 48 – REAL
This true crime documentary series follows teams of detectives as they attempt to solve various homicides within the first 48 hours after they’ve taken place. The odds of finding the perpetrator rise exponentially after this time has passed, so the dramatic stakes are already high.
Everything about this show is authentic — the detectives are real, the crimes are real and the arrests, when made, are also real. The only real criticism the show’s received has to do with some of the overzealous actions taken by police officers for the sake of meeting the show’s deadline.
2. PARANORMAL STATE – SO FAKE
With paranormal “reality” shows, it’s not a question of if it’s faked so much as how it’s faked. Paranormal State follows the Pennsylvania State Paranormal Research Society, a student-led organization that seeks to document paranormal activity.
Producers on the show outline every episode and actively manufacture character subplots to enhance drama, but it doesn’t end there.
Actual “clients” who’ve engaged the team’s services have reported that much of the “activity” shown in episodes is faked by crewmembers and interviews are heavily edited to suit the storyline of a particular episode, not to represent what was actually said.
The show barely follows its own rules, claiming that Dead Time is at 3 AM, but actually shooting earlier in the evenings most of the time. It probably doesn’t come as a huge shock to many that this show is about three inches from pure fiction.
1. LEAH RIMINI: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE AFTERMATH – REAL
After penning an explosive memoir about her experiences growing up within and eventually leaving the Church of Scientology, Leah Remini developed a reality show profiling others who’d left the organization. The show profiles former Scientology members as well as former church officials and offers insight into the inner-workings of Scientology as well as what happens to people after they leave.
Unfortunately, none of this is staged.
After the first season of the show aired, Rimini received a massive influx of mail from former Scientologists begging for the opportunity to tell their stories. While she’d only planned on doing one season, the massive response inspired her to produce a second with no current plans to stop. Barring all of that, Scientology’s reaction to the very announcement of the show (a takedown of Remini and their insistence that she was kicked out) should be evidence enough that Remini’s laying down some truth. Oh, and the Emmy win doesn’t hurt, either.
What’s your favorite A&E reality show? Let us know in the comments.
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