The Biz: Casting cashes in on reality TVshows

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As the number of reality TV shows mushrooms, talent-casting services are looking to cash in on the demand for real people. With at least a dozen new reality TV shows in the works, like "Starting Over" and "Opposites Attract," the demand for "real people" has spawned a cottage industry for listing services and Web sites targeting average Joes with dreams of instant fame.

A quick Web search yielded at least a dozen free sites, including realityauditions.com, realitytvlistings.com and auditionfinder.com. Every 15 minutes of fame lavished upon virtual unknowns feeds the interest of wannabes hoping to be the next Trista Rehn or Clay Aiken, and many are willing to fork over as little as $12 and as much as $1,000 to post resumes and pictures digitally, despite the slim odds of scoring an appearance on these shows from such paid listings.

Star Caster Network is the latest of these digital talent-listing services to tap the reality TV bandwagon as a way to populate its database. The 16-year-old company provides Hollywood and Madison Avenue casting reps with a digital talent roster of some 27,000 actors called Star Caster Pro. On Aug. 1, the company launches a database of unrepresented talent under the Star Caster Go moniker. Star Caster has opened offices in Chicago, Houston and Dallas, and has revenue of less than $1 million, said CEO Sylvio Pennucci. He also hopes to provide the service to advertising agencies.

everyday people

Already in the past two months, the company has signed up 2,000 members, with a quarter of them drawn by the reality TV bug, although the long-term aim is to cast members for modeling and extra work as "day players," as well as reality TV.

"Everyday real people like you work in reality TV, commercials, films and modeling," reads the headline of a quarter-page ad the company recently ran in the Chicago Tribune to sell its $99 subscription. The ad includes testimonials from unnamed casting executives for NBC, Fox, E! Entertainment and Sony. But how likely is it that a member will get cast? Apparently, not very.

"One person in casting has heard of them-but hasn't used them," says an NBC spokeswoman. Representatives from other TV studios, such as cable channel E! and Sony, also said they had not yet heard of the company. As for the Fox testimonial in Star Caster's ad, "The fact that they won't mention any shows is pretty telling," says a Fox spokesman.

slim chances

Pennucci wasn't surprised that senior studio casting directors weren't aware of his company because he typically works with third-party casting directors hired by the studios. Star Caster is new to reality TV, and he "certainly wouldn't bank our company's future on reality TV as a significant revenue model. "

NBC has used Star Caster Go for its "Little Black Book" and "Second Chance" shows through former "Real World" cast member and now casting agent Jason Cornwall, Pennucci says. Cornwall did not return calls.

David O'Connor, president-casting director, O'Connor Casting Co., was also listed in a Star Caster testimonial. He has helped find talent for reality shows including "Cupid," "Survivor" and a pilot for a show called "Lap Dance." However, none of those casts came from listing services or databases. He wagers the chances of getting hired from listings as "better than getting struck by lightning," but still slim.

Most companies hawking marketing services to wannabe actors use classified ads and open-casting events, Star Caster included. But with growing demand for extras and reality TV participants, the company is using trial and error to find its best medium for reaching "real people." It now is preparing to test 30-second and 15-second TV ads to run on cable.

contributing: wayne friedman

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