The Boob Tube 

Directing reality

At 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 20, about 75 people are standing at the intersection of Railroad Street and Central Avenue in downtown Whitefish, beneath a racing banner with “Start” written across it.

This intersection, with a terrific view of Big Mountain in the background, is the starting point of a new reality show, “Bullrun,” being produced for Spike TV.

The show is based on an annual event, started in 2003, in which mostly rich and sometimes famous drivers set off on a cross-country race/party. Racers are given a new destination at the beginning of each day.

Spike’s version of the race is supposed to include racers of mixed economic backgrounds, and no celebrities, in 12 cars, racing from Whitefish to the Mexican border. Each day the car that comes in last gets disqualified. The winner gets $200,000.

About a dozen video cameras are scattered around the north side of the intersection Friday morning, including one connected to a large boom planted in the middle of Central Avenue. There are about as many “Bullrun” crew members as there are people in the crowd.

Shortly after 8:30 a.m. the show’s assistant director, Phil Rich, begins positioning the crowd. Cameramen train their lenses on groups that Rich assembles, and the groups are encouraged to holler as loud as they can, as if something were actually happening.

Rich asks them not to look at the camera and tells them, “The more excited you are, the more likely you’ll be on television.”

Soon, the “Bullrun” host, former professional football player and wrestler Bill Goldberg, arrives for the opening scene.

Rich asks the audience to be quiet, but to “pantomime excitement” as the boom-mounted camera sweeps clockwise from a view of Big Mountain past a crowd that mimes shouting, to where Goldberg sits in a semi. Goldberg climbs out and begins walking straight at the camera, which pulls away as he reads from a teleprompter screen mounted over its lens. This is repeated six times.

“Wasn’t that exciting?” Rich asks the audience after the first take. “Now you see how you make television shows.”

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