Originally posted Wednesday, August 29 by RODNEY HOemail@example.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Mona Scott Young, creator of the VH1 "Love and Hip Hop" franchise, is well aware that many fans and foes alike think her TV series is fictionalized.
So insert the irony: she has just released a book of actual fiction cheekily titled "Blurred Lines," co-written with Courtney Parker. (You can buy it here on Amazon.)
“This book is more a result of the constant thinking that I’m making up the stories on the reality shows,” Young said in an interview to promote the book. “This was an opportunity for us to come up with something we felt was juicier than real life.”
The reality of her TV series is that it involves actual people playing versions of themselves placed in situations that are at times, super contrived. This is not an original formula. It’s also used on reality shows over the years ranging from “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica” and “The Osbournes” to “Jersey Shore” and “The Hills” to “Duck Dynasty” and “Chrisley Knows Best.”
Some of “Love and Hip Hop,” be it Hollywood, New York, Atlanta or Miami, involves real behavior that cannot be made up e.g. drug arrests, prison sentences, divorces, pregnancies, a release of actual hip-hop songs.
Other times, the people on the show (to stay on the show) set up scenarios (either in cahoots with the producers or not) that they hope ensure more air time. This could mean setting up meetings where a fight is almost inevitable (and burly security guards are ready to step in before any weaves are actually pulled). This could mean a sex tape might somehow “leak” to the public. Or a relationship that seemed secure is suddenly on the rocks.
“We take their real lives and put it into a production construct,” Young said. “We want to give it a soap opera feel, the ability to blend those production elements with real-life situations. That makes the show unique. That has people tuning in week in, week out. When people say it’s fake, it doesn’t bug me.”
In the end, whatever is “fake” doesn’t matter in a world where facts aren’t always facts. It’s all about entertainment and getting buzz on social media so more eyeballs watch the episodes. And sometimes, the question of whether something is true or not is part of that buzz.
The haters can rightfully complain that many of the plot lines are super stereotypical of the hip-hop “lifestyle”: male producers sleeping with their female clients, strippers trying to become hip-hop stars, rappers getting women pregnant, et. al.
But the “Love and Hip Hop” franchise pulls in ratings because Young fundamentally knows her audience.
They want some ratchet behavior. They want outrageous clothing and potty-mouthed arguments. They want the occasional “Springer” moment to chortle over.
She is like the Wizard of Oz, with a bit of cinematic flair on top of it. (For instance, you know something important is about the happen when a character enters the room in super slow-mo.)
Young said publishing companies have frequently asked her to do an inspirational book or a tell-all book about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the “Love and Hip Hop” franchise. The latter, she noted, “will never happen.”
But a fun fictional book? Why not?
"It's this layered story," she said. "It's all these little stories. I think it will lend itself well to a scripted series."
She also noted that no one character in the book is based on any single "Love and Hip Hop" cast member, that it's an amalgam of all sorts of people. That is also part of the reason she called the novel "Blurred Lines."
As for the franchise’s durability, she is both amazed and grateful just the same.
“I certainly never expected it to take hold the way it has,” she said. “It has the ability to reinvigorate itself every season with every city. We all knew that we had a world that people were curious about.”
Young said “there’s always something else in this world unlike any other. There’s this sense that anything goes. You can never predict or anticipate it. It continuously generates great content.”
The first "Love and Hip Hop" debuted in 2011 when social media was just grabbing hold of the world. And she said the ridiculous feuds her cast members have on Instagram and Twitter only prove that what she shows on TV isn't that out of this world.
Her most successful cast member to date is Cardi B, who was a regular on "Love and Hip Hop: New York" from 2015 and 2017 and made an immediate impression. She signed a record deal with Atlantic in 2017 and quickly became one of the hottest hip-hop stars on earth. (Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in April.)
“I certainly wasn’t responsible for Cardi’s success,” Young said, “but I’m very happy to have played a part in it. This was someone who always had the talent, always had the drive and the kind of focus of what she wanted to do. She was very single-minded about her music... She understood the benefit of this platform. She used it to jump-start her passion in music.”
For Young, Cardi B is a “case study” of how to leverage “Love and Hip Hop”’ for her own gain. “I love everything she’s doing now,” she said. The whole idea of the show is to be a “means to an end,” not the end itself.
Indeed, others have been able to build businesses off the show. In "Atlanta," for instance, K Michelle's R&B career took off as well while Rasheeda Buckner has grown her retail presence.
This past season of "Love and Hip Hop Atlanta" saw ratings fall by about 25 percent year over year in overnight ratings with the departure of Joseline Hernandez. Young admits that cast member churn sometimes impacts viewer interest though she said the overall ratings drop for "Atlanta" (counting on-demand and other options) wasn't as severe as the overnight count.
"I don't think anyone ever discounted Joseline's star power," Young said. "Like I've said over and over, she belongs on television. I'm glad she's found another opportunity." [WE-TV is rumored to have picked Hernandez up for her own show.]
Young also doesn’t mind the gossip sites that follow her shows religiously and often report news that may or may not be true. “I love their passion for the franchise,” she said. “It keeps us on the forefront. I don’t react negatively to anything said. Sometimes it’s very funny when the information isn’t accurate. I know the real info eventually comes out.”