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'Real Families' and real answers

BYU-produced 'reality' TV show blends families, scholarly insights

A family-oriented reality television show developed by Brigham Young University and broadcast by KBYU-TV and BYU TV — what sounds like a contradiction is actually far from the combative, confrontational style of many so-called "reality shows" and the oft-portrayed dysfunctional family.

Instead, "Real Families, Real Answers" shows families dealing with issues such as strengthening marriages, dealing with family finances, managing emotions and avoiding and overcoming pornography as well as interjecting scholarly commentary.

Currently showing on KBYU-TV ad BYU TV, "Real Families, Real Answers" is a 13-episode reality TV series without the conflict commonly associated with so-called reality shows focusing on dysfunctional families.  It blends video segments from real family interactions with commentary from scholarly experts.
Currently showing on KBYU-TV ad BYU TV, "Real Families, Real Answers" is a 13-episode reality TV series without the conflict commonly associated with so-called reality shows focusing on dysfunctional families. It blends video segments from real family interactions with commentary from scholarly experts. Photo: Photo by David E. Neyman, Redrock Filmworks

"This is the real deal," said series director Blair Treu, adding, "We're celebrating the things that families are doing right, accepting the fact that they're not perfect and there are things they could do better."

Brother Treu, an award-winning film and television director, and Stephen F. Duncan, a professor in BYU's School of Family Life and who served as the series' director of content development, both underscore the intent and direction of the program — showing real-life situations and successes.

"We were looking for positive, proactive families, not dysfunctional families for entertainment value,' " said Brother Treu.

A dinnertime conversation involving the Parson family in their San Antonio, Texas, home is recorded by RJ Hill
and series director Blair Treu for one of the 13 episodes of the "Real Families, Real Answers" television series.
A dinnertime conversation involving the Parson family in their San Antonio, Texas, home is recorded by RJ Hill and series director Blair Treu for one of the 13 episodes of the "Real Families, Real Answers" television series.

While reality TV shows often highlight edginess, "this is entirely outside that," Brother Duncan said. "It shows fairly well functioning families working on principles that any family can do."

In preparation for the series' production, a Web site in 2006 invited interested families to review projected topics and volunteer to be filmed as potential case studies. Brother Treu said he spent three months calling interested families and winnowing the massive list to the three dozen families involved in the series.

In a nine-month span last year, he and a small production crew bounced from Alaska to Florida and from Texas to New York, spending between a day and a half to three days with each family.

RJ Hill, left, videotapes the Chase family as they shop at the Army Commissary on the Fort Hood Army post in Fort Hood, Texas. The production crew spent between a day and a half to three days with each of the families in the series.
RJ Hill, left, videotapes the Chase family as they shop at the Army Commissary on the Fort Hood Army post in Fort Hood, Texas. The production crew spent between a day and a half to three days with each of the families in the series.

"I was proud how the families opened their doors to us, how they opened their hearts to us," he said, "and then to see them in their weaknesses as well as their strengths."

Besides their location, the families represent a diverse cross-section of family size, composition, faith, ethnicity and socioeconomic levels.

The series started airing in late September, with the 13 episodes set to run through the end of this year — the series runs Sunday evenings on KBYU and Tuesday nights on BYU TV, with both already starting to rebroadcast episodes at different available time slots. Narrated by Jane Clayson Johnson, the series is a production of KBYU-TV and BYU's School of Family Life, Division of Continuing Education and Center for Teaching and Learning.

The Allison Newell family from Provo, Utah, gets cued up for a video segment.
The Allison Newell family from Provo, Utah, gets cued up for a video segment.

Each 26-minute episode begins with video clips of family interactions from two to seven families — real-life experiences, not acted-out simulation — underscoring the highlighted theme, and then cuts to support from academic experiences, usually a pair from BYU and another from universities such as Temple, Minnesota, UCLA, Missouri, Auburn and others.

The result is a well-paced blend of poignant, real family experiences that can draw the viewer in and create emotional involvement coupled with science-based support. "It's not just somebody's ideas," Brother Duncan said. "This is education — based on leading-edge scholarship."

He added: "This is to help families identify where they're doing well and where they would like to be stronger. And for them to have hope that they can make changes to have the kind of family life they want to have and to enjoy doing it within the walls of their own home."

The "Real Families, Real Answers" series also encourages viewers to visit an associated Web site (realfamiliesrealanswers.org), where additional tips, ideas and support materials for each episode are presented by BYU's School of Family Life and College of Family, Home and Social Sciences.

Besides being designed to be rebroadcast over a period of at least a decade, the series has many additional projected uses — it will be released on DVD next year, be made available to public television stations next spring, be provided as broadcast support for college classes, be translated in additional languages, serve as the basis for an online course with BYU's School of Family Living and be available for enrichment courses.

"We have had a tremendous positive response to the series from viewers around the country who have not only found the programs engaging and helpful, but who are anxious to share 'Real Families, Real Answers' with their family and friends, either through a rebroadcast or on DVD," said Diena Simmons, KBYU-TV interim station manager. "In fact, the most frequent question we receive about the series is, 'where can I get a copy?' "

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