Robert’s ultimate goal was to turn George into a reality-TV star. His models were John Walsh, who began hosting ‘America’s Most Wanted’ after his 6-year-old son was abducted and killed, and the Kardashians, whose fame was launched by Kim’s leaked sex tape. “I learn a lot from watching ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians,’” Robert told me. “Like, use the [expletive] you’ve got.” One idea was for George to be the focus of a ‘Candid Camera’-style program. One episode, for example, might feature a professor teaching a class about self-defense, and at the end of the episode it would be revealed—surprise!—that George was one of the students.
Aside from the generally appalling concept, the bigger flaw in Zimmerman’s thinking is the pathetic notion — somehow still perpetuated in pop culture — that going on reality TV can fix a bad image problem.
That concept has been repeatedly proven wrong — and yet many deluded folks still think having a camera crew follow you around 24/7 is the best way to get back on America’s good graces. You know: That the American public would love you if they just knew “the real you”!
This is so naive. For starters, reality TV is edited for maximum entertainment and absurdity value. This summer, embattled couple LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian made the attempt with “LeAnn & Eddie.” The VH1 series attempted to show that despite leaving their spouses for each other in a messy affair, they were just an everyday cute couple! It backfired on many levels: they came off as insufferably smug and unlikable, and producers mined their juiciest soundbites as they discussed their joint adulterous past.
Sometimes the show backfires for other reasons: Mike Tyson tried to show viewers his sensitive side with Animal Planet’s “Taking on Tyson,” about his beloved pigeon racing hobby. Almost immediately, PETA condemned the show, calling it animal cruelty.
Even worse: What if no one cares? Michael Vick debuted “The Michael Vick Project” on BET to show how much he changed after 18 months in prison for participating in a dog-fighting ring. While he talked openly about the controversy and described sincerely how he regretted everything, the little-watched show still didn’t make much of an impact. See also: original White House crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi, whose life-shattering notoriety wasn’t even enough to get “The Real Housewives of D.C.” renewed beyond one season.
While Robert Zimmerman makes it clear in the GQ story that he’s dazzled by opportunities TV could provide, it’s incredibly tough to alter people’s ideas of how they view someone, especially for someone like his brother George. And ultimately, reality TV just provides more content to enforce viewers’ already-negative opinions.