Writer and comedian Mariah Smith is now the host of the 10-episode documentary podcast Spectacle.
Spectacle highlights the rise of reality tv and the ways it has changed over time. Every Wednesday, listeners can catch Mariah with a new episode of Spectacle. The Knockturnal spoke with Mariah about Spectacle and how it unpacks the hyper-real history of unscripted television.
The Knockturnal: What inspired you to create a podcast on reality tv and tracing it back to its inception?
Mariah Smith: I can’t take credit for coming up with the concept for Spectacle, but what interested me and inspired me throughout production was my deep fascination for TV in general. Growing up, my parents instilled in me and my sisters that you can learn from the media and encouraged us to watch TV. So, with reality TV, it’s like a time capsule of moments in time that really tell the story of key moments in American history.
The Knockturnal: How do you believe reality tv has changed pop culture over the years?
Mariah Smith: The biggest thing reality TV has changed pop culture over the years is our sense of celebrity. Gone are the days where scripted TV and film stars are the celebrities of choice, now people are simply famous for being famous or better yet, being themselves. Or, versions of themselves.
The Knockturnal: Throughout the years, viewers see political and social moments in reality tv become topics of conversations, daily. Do you think that reality tv has negatively or positively affected our society?
Mariah Smith: I think reality TV has affected our society both negatively and positively. While we’re exposed to more people and facets of life, we’ve also endured some of the consequences of watching reality TV figures becoming leaders of the free world. So, it is a double-edged sword, and aside from that glaring negative, there’s a lot of beauty in being able to peek into the lives of people unlike ourselves.
The Knockturnal: In your first episode, you say “ we are starting to see more diversity in television but we do not see a lot from the LGBTQ community.” What are some ways you believe television producers can be more inclusive?
Mariah Smith: Oh, TV producers can be so much more inclusive in so many ways. It’s like we’re chipping away at the diversity stone, but there are still so many untold stories. Aside from shows like Queer Eye, we really only get singular queer people on other reality shows. Just like we get the singular BIPOC cast member. We’ve got to do better.
The Knockturnal: What steps do you take when dissecting an American family or even a character in particular behavior, tone, feelings/emotions, etc?
Mariah Smith: We really look at the overarching things or impacts the show has had on culture. Take Lance Loud for instance, he was the first gay man to appear on American TV. And, with that, he brought so much more color to an otherwise mundane seeming show. There was his life in Manhattan, the place he escaped to to find himself, so we really look at how his behavior had a ripple effect on the entire family. His absence really impacted his mother and her actions towards the rest of the family. That’s not to say we aren’t looking at the other players as well, and the cause and effect they also have on their own lives and the lives of their family members.
The Knockturnal: In your opinion, why is it important to never forget television shows like the Cosby Show, The Brady Bunch, or a Different World when creating 21st-century shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians, Bad Girls Club, Real Housewives?
Mariah Smith: I think it’s important to never forget early sitcoms because they really were about the family structure and we see that a lot in reality TV. Especially in shows like Keeping Up, or The Osbournes.
The Knockturnal: Growing up, what was a pivotal moment for you in television history?
Mariah Smith: For me, the most pivotal moment in television history was the ending of Friends. I was so shocked at the connection I had to a TV show, and I was so young, it made me really appreciate how characters and stories can resonate with you.