The demo reel for my reality TV show (and how to turn a failure into a success)

For those of you who don’t remember, a film crew came for three days to make a demo reel for a reality show based on my family.

Here is the problem: we are too normal. I’m not kidding. That’s what the TV people ultimately concluded. But I take being too normal for reality TV as new-millennium Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

The other thing the TV people said was that listening to my coaching sessions was magical. Really. They said that. So I’m writing it for you again: magical. They filmed at our house for three days, which means they heard my side of a dozen calls, and in each case, they couldn’t believe how fast I could figure out the person’s problems and solve them. (And then, of course, I started doing that for the producer of the demo reel. That was a big hit.)

So there is probably not going to be a reality show based on my family. But the good news is that I’m going to focus on doing my own video podcast/reality show where I coach people. I am not totally sure how I’m going to execute that, so if you have ideas, please let me know.

And if you want to know how to specialize, this is the process. You think you’ll be great at one thing, but people tell you you’re great at something else, so do what people tell you you’re great at. Don’t fight it.

So somehow I’m going to be great at reality TV coaching. In the meantime, here is a peek into my too-normal-for-TV family.

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  1. Savvy Working Gal
    Savvy Working Gal says:

    This is a great idea. I’ve listened to two of your interviews – the one with Stever from the End of the Grind and the Yoga teacher. Both were so insightful. I learned so much about my own life. I think this will be a big hit.

  2. Albert The Student Loan CPA
    Albert The Student Loan CPA says:

    “And if you want to know how to specialize, this is the process. You think you’ll be great at one thing, but people tell you you’re great at something else, so do what people tell you you’re great at. Don’t fight it.”

    Words to live by. Thank you Penelope.

  3. Bob Fenton
    Bob Fenton says:

    Well….. yes your crazy… but there is something I love about it. I’ve been following you and the family for years and I’m not sure seeing all of you has added to the experience, but 90% of the time… your blog do it for me..

  4. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Maybe you could offer people a discount coaching session if they would allow you to record it and play it. That way you’d get more people to come live to your podcast. But maybe people would pay to ask their question on your show anyway, so that wouldn’t be an issue.

  5. Enikő
    Enikő says:

    good to hear about those podcast. I am already dying for them. And, hearing your voice is really enchanting. But I hope that it will be some youtube video instead, because seeing your eyes make it more compelling.

  6. katie
    katie says:

    there’s a great serbian satirical comedy from last year, “death of a man in the balkans”, which only uses one webcam shot throughout the whole film. a lonely composer turns on the web cam before committing suicide and then all his neighbors, the police, etc spend the day in front of the web cam not knowing they are being filmed, until the end, when they realize the web cam is on and feel like they have to justify their actions/statements throughout the day.

    all this to say that you don’t need editing/broll etc to have a really engaging video, just a webcam shot and the people in your life wandering in and out of the frame. that’s my helpful tip because i want this comment to be useful to you, but really i think you should just do video without thinking too much about it because you’re hilarious.

  7. Paul Hassing
    Paul Hassing says:

    Hi, P. What fun! It was so ace to see all the characters moving off the page! Your to-camera expository pieces were great. And it was so satisfying to see that Matthew is as fascinating on screen as off. I think he could totally end up with a series of his own. Many thanks for sharing. Kind regards, P. :)

  8. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    Dear P.

    I’m probably the only person who’s going to say this, but I think the TV reality show of your family would not end up a constructive experience for everyone in your family.

    I guess I’m old fashion, but I still think privacy allows a certain amount of person freedom and expression. There’s just too much judgment going on in this country and too much fear of anything different. You would have been a sideshow living in a public fish bowl. And your awareness of being recorded would subtly alter your decisions.

    I think you don’t agree with me about this, but I’m in the theatrical film business and I know what I’m talking about. I work with professional actors and amateur performers. I watch them before and after the cameras start rolling. I see shifts in behavior and I see compensations for that, many of which are subconscious.

    That’s why reality shows are not real unless the subjects being recorded are not aware of that.

    I remember your blog when you wrote that a film crew helps you to define your “story.” This statement begs the question: Is the story really you?


  9. Dave H.
    Dave H. says:

    Just started to read you! Wow! Do radio or TV. Can’t wait to get more! Thanks — and it fun too.

  10. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    This video is completely charming and the producers are missing a great opportunity by not airing it. If nothing else they could get more viewers who normally wouldn’t watch a reality show–like me. I watched this to the end and was not tempted to click-off as I normally am for these types of alternative lifestyle videos. Oh well, maybe you need your own “life on the farm” cable channel. (You are very telegenic also.)

    Regarding hair: I thought pony tails were on trend now.

  11. Katie
    Katie says:

    Reality TV shows are so 2012. Podcast/ vlog / coaching show, yes! As an on-trend / ahead of the trend person (LOVE the bit about the hair!), of COURSE you’re going more innovative. That being said, this video is delightful. And, if Pioneer Woman’s cooking show works; then certainly P Trunk’s Coaching show is going to be a BIG hit. Best of Luck, a starstruck admirer.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for the encouragement. I do think that online video is more interesting, in terms of innovation, than TV. So, I guess I’m back to being an innovator, huh? One thing that really makes me think a lot about online video is Jenna Marbles. She is the third most popular person on YouTube. And she’s doing something so different than TV would ever do.


      • Raymond Duke
        Raymond Duke says:

        I read an article about how Jenna is probably making $300k a year..

        One thing you could do is use Google Hangouts for video chatting with clients. You can set them up to stream live to YouTube while you are chatting, and then they will be saved there afterwards.

        One guy that does this is Grant Cardone:

        More possibilities for doing something like this open up with Google Glass.

  12. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I wondered when you were going to mention the reality show again. The blurb had me laughing (at the ‘on trend for Belmont’ spot) and it was fun to see you in your everyday environment.
    I don’t subscribe to many podcasts, two, in fact that I really truly love and make time for every week. Yours would be #3. I hope that happens.
    Sarah M

  13. Mary Kathryn
    Mary Kathryn says:

    Bwaha! that was fun! Your husband is hysterical. I am so JUST like your neighbor, but you would be fun to have next door. Life would never be boring, just being your neighbor :) Are they seriously not doing a show on y’all? B/c I think it would fly.

  14. techkim
    techkim says:

    Oh that was great. Funny your voice wasn’t what I thought it would sound like.

    Your boys names are great how did you pick them?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I picked the names because their last name is my ex husband’s name — Rodriguez. So I wanted my kids to have hebrew first names so Jewish people could identify them as Jewish.

      It is unclear to me if this is a good idea. The kids’ names are very difficult for people to pronounce.


  15. Anoel
    Anoel says:

    Hee that video was wonderful and charming and funny! Haha the Belmont line was great. I loved getting to see a glimpse of your life.

    I love the coaching idea! Magical sounds right to me. I love the format of This Week in Startups, maybe something like that would work? Doesn’t have to be so high tech but it’s something I would love to see.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You’re right about the high-techness. It’s not necessary, but I confess that I love all the gorgeous shots of the farm in this video. You can’t get that on an iPhone. But then again, it took a crew of a gazillion people to have that kind of camera in a corn field…


      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I’d like to point out that even though the beautiful shots of the farm are sweet they are very…um…tv.

        There’s something really enticing about instagram. That is, the fact that the pictures are very real, not pro, and you get a real glimpse (in a sense) of people’s lives. Especially the celebrities (even if they have someone really good frame their iphone photos).

        I bet your self-made videos will be amazing with the help of Melissa for stylizing them and then you can call them “artisanal” and people will look at the lack of high-techness in a different light and love it.

  16. lynne whiteside
    lynne whiteside says:

    It was great to finally hear your voice and see you in your home.
    Online coaching seems right up your alley.
    I got into my consulting business when a friend said to me ‘you’d be good at that, I know it!’ that’s all it took, a genuine feeling that I could do something that I wasn’t even aware I could do. wow.

    all the luck in the world to you and your family.

  17. Heather McCurdy
    Heather McCurdy says:

    “I don’t think I have a different world view. I think I have the right one.”

    Penelope, for god’s sakes, you need to start selling your one liners on the blog as Tshirts or bumper stickers, they are amazing.

    The advice that you need to do what people think you are good at rather than what you think you are good at is such a sweet spot. It’s true and yet sometimes you have to follow your own passion or in other words, your job vs your hobby.

  18. Michael Aumock
    Michael Aumock says:

    Here is an idea from afar… (Asia)

    Instead of focusing on your family, the show could focus on the people you are coaching… take the emphasis of your family and spread it around. Even if you do it with a combination of webcam and video, you can actually use your clients (who aren’t that different from the rest of us, most of the time) to demonstrate HOW they make changes in their life.
    Giving your audience a chance to see real examples would be a tremendous advantage, and damn interesting…On top of the fact that your delightful and slightly warped sense of humor can be sprinkled liberally through each episode. You could even intersperse some locals (NOT to poke fun, but to show that some problems and solutions are universal) juxtaposed to the high-power, big city types.
    “Coach Trunk”
    “Pig Pen-elope” (‘because of the pigs you write about”)
    “My Business Coach is a Farm Girl”
    “City Coach, Country Coach”

    Love your stuff…keep it up, regardless.
    Your voice pierces the increasingly weighty veil of mediocrity that covers all things digital.

  19. Leah McClellan
    Leah McClellan says:

    Love it! “Cows! Cows!” lol

    Must say, that farmer is a pretty good-lookin’ farmer. Now I totally get the attraction between you two :) Love his last comment.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • rebecca@midcenturymodernremodel
      rebecca@midcenturymodernremodel says:

      And one more thing… listen to “Handel on the Law” KFI FM. His personality reminds me of you. He does the daily morning drive news and then Sat/Sun AM does “Marginal Legal Advice Where I Tell You You Have No Case.” He is an ex-lawyer and people call in with their bizarre problems and he a) makes fun of them in a funny way b) gives them marginal legal advice or c) tells them they have no case. It has been on for years and people love it. He is irreverent and probably ADD or Asp. He has made crap loads of money with his off the wall personality and expertise. You could do the same thing too on career advice. Home run. I love it.

  20. Raymond Duke
    Raymond Duke says:

    Oh my goodness. I loved this! (referring to the video).

    I didn’t see it as reality TV material though (not edgy enough). Maybe if there was an affair going on it would be.

    I think a better approach would be to film you helping people. Seeing how you mix your work and family lives would be interesting to viewers, too. The way I see it, filming the lives of the people you are helping would have to be included part of the process – people are going to want to see your magic from start to finish.

    It would be a Home Makeover reality show except it solves people’s problems instead of repaving their driveway. Which would mean there would be less manual labor, so that’s a plus.

  21. karen
    karen says:

    I loved your farm attire. I think you should do all your coaching sessions outdoors for the vlog (more visual that way) showcase the beauty of Wisconsin. I think your son should be playing cello at the beginning — he should perform the theme music for it.
    Strangely, you seemed more normal than I expected in this trailer. Reality television is about extremes. The best coaching sessions are the ones where people don’t get it and you get it too quickly. Look over your coaching sessions for the last few months. I’m sure there is a template to your wisdom, a template to the questions being asked.

    • Amy Jahnke
      Amy Jahnke says:

      Karen, as far as doing all of the work from outside – January in Wisconsin is brutal. She would be giving 25 second coaching sessions! :) Perhaps something set by the cozy fireplace?

  22. Crystal
    Crystal says:

    Yeah, waaay too normal for reality tv. I’d have still watched though, and been waiting all the while for you to drop tidbits of advice. So I love the idea of focusing on the coaching.

  23. sarah
    sarah says:

    I would start by making podcasts/movie with people you coach who you either make cry, or are “rude” to. Mostly because that is what sells on reality TV. You could sprinkle in some normal calls, but to get the interest you need to be you – semi scripted. :)

    I would post on YouTube and try to get commercials to generate money. After I had a following of people I would try to contract through Google Play and charge people $2 to watch per show, or $20 for the season.

    I would only show some small parts of you and Matthew because I think people will end up feeling sorry for him, and finding you rude. If you are rude to others for coaching purposes, then everyone laughs with you, and wants to keep watching.

    Maybe i’m the only one who feels for Matthew – I have a sister with asperburgers, and a son with autism.

    I would do it once a week – for 15 weeks and try to capture the other person after the phone call and their raw emotions. Then, in about 3 months do a follow up if your advice helped or not. I would also include your emotions after the other person’s reactions from the first initial call.

    I would try to integrate that coaching session with some how applying to other people – like your blog posts.

    Good luck. If you could get google play (or something) to contract you I think you would be the first person to privately do that.

  24. CL
    CL says:

    Yeah, quite a lot of that reel is your family being normal. That’s why the Jersey Shore focuses on the nights when they go wild, instead of the majority of nights when they’re normal, stay home, and drink. Really, this reel should’ve been cut down to 2-3 minutes with time for the cooking/prostitute discussion (it’s impossible for Penelope NOT to talk about oral sex) and the part where Y goes into the tree when they are fighting. Those parts are the essence of the dysfunction which keeps her blog audience (or at least part of it) coming back to this career blog and the homeschooling blog.

  25. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Cowsss? Tomatoesss?

    What an interesting speaking pattern. Most people say “cowz” and “tomatoez” (with a voiced “z” sound). Is that a New Jersey thing? You are Jersey, yeah?

    Also, because I’m an INTP, you know I’m good at brainstorming. Your blog needs to have the normal poetics of reality teevee. Think Ceasar Milan. You are the Ceasar Milan of career-grooming.

    1) Introduction. “Meet So-and-so. So-and-so is a 24 year old New Yorker with a degree in underwater basketweaving. But he wants to be a tree surgeon…”
    2) Tension: You call them out on being lazy-asses, or whatever it is you do (I wouldn’t know, if I knew I probably wouldn’t be on your blog).
    3) They fight you on it. Tears of rage.
    4) They try your stuff and make it work for them. Tears of joy.
    5) Make documented progress. Or not, depending on how honest you’re being. Google “Storage Wars” and read about how the producers had to plant things in storage cells in order to make a better story. Much of reality teevee is faked, so decide how much fiction you’re willing to embrace.

    I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know, but we’re in brainstorming mode. FUN.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for your ideas, Andrea. I really appreciate everyone’s ideas. And of course, the Caesar Milan of career-grooming is hilarious.

      Also hilarious: yours is the quintessential INTP comment. Meandering, smart, insightful, full of big ideas, and then done.


      • Andrea
        Andrea says:

        Oh yeah, your Vlog is totally doable. HD cameras (and you would want HD) are like $50 these days. You could Vlog, they could Vlog. You could talk smack about each other! Talking smack to a camera about the people you interact with is the essence of reality shows. You: “I told So-and-So he needs to use his connections with his ex-girlfriend to land the job, but I don’t know if he has the cojones to go through with it. This is why he’s 28 and still tossing pizzas for 7.25/hour.” Him: “I can’t believe Penelope told me to talk to my ex-girlfriend again. She’s insane. Why did I do this again? That’s $250 I’ll never get back.”

        People love that! Because two things: shadenfreude and empathy. They like seeing people triumph, but only after getting abused a little bit. A little strife makes them identify with a side in the conflict, and get a jolt of accomplishment when that side “wins”. Or pathos, which can also be rewarding.

        (Believe me, the day I wake up to a PT post about how to systematically tackle INTP in the workplace I will feel like such a special girl.

        But we are only 1% of the population. The posts for ENFJ, INFP, EJWTFBBQ will probably come first.)

        • Marie
          Marie says:

          Ha. INTP high five, Andrea!

          I loved this look of you, Penny. I know it’s edited and such, but it made a great trailer. I don’t watch TV, but I’d want to watch you. A Vlog sounds like a great idea for you.

  26. mh
    mh says:

    Great skirt and boots, Penelope. I want to climb your tree and sit there until Y kicks me out. I live in the desert; I miss innocuous trees.

  27. Razwana
    Razwana says:

    Reality TV online – yes! The producers will take one look at these comments and then decide to make the show, right?

  28. Jenny Blake
    Jenny Blake says:

    Penelope, I loved this!! Had a huge smile on my face the whole time and didn’t want it to end!

    I also owe you an enormous thanks. I took your writing workshop in December and it turned everything around for me. I hear your voice in my head every day saying some variation of, “Your problems aren’t special. WRITE.” And so I do, thank you :)

    Can’t wait for the podcast series — it’s genius!

    Jenny, ENFJ

  29. Helene K
    Helene K says:

    I get it why this demo is too normal – it is.

    In a twitter or blog entry you wrote you had wine in the morning before the tv crew had even showed. Showing that and your angst would have been great.

    The comment about blow job and making food was great.

    You running and screaming after the Farmer should have been more emphasised.

    The rest, how the family works, the farm, aspergers etc. is just general quirks and goofiness that makes the family lovable and likeable.

    The demo should have showed more of the things that’s controversial to show in tv.

  30. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I think the show would have been great, and I am disappointed that there isn’t going to be a show.

    The show would have been great for the same reasons this blog is great, and this blog is great because it’s so much more than a career advice blog. Here we get to see:
    -A Career Coach who gives unconventional career advice
    -A woman, wife, and mother with Aspergers who is parenting a child with Aspergers
    -A Homeschooler and outspoken critic of Public Education
    -And so much more

    If this blog was just a career advice blog, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting to me and I would only occasionally read it.

    So I guess what I’m saying is-A career coaching video podcast sounds nice, but it doesn’t sound interesting because it doesn’t tell your entire story, so it’s probably not going to do for me what this blog does for me.

  31. Sara
    Sara says:

    As an example, this is an online reality TV show that I have been enjoying. It does not have the usual “crazy” you see in reality TV shows but is very interesting nonetheless – in fact it may be more interesting because it is not simply trying to create drama. It’s fun to watch people who are genuinely excited about something they do.

  32. Dan
    Dan says:

    Just do it. Start a skype call and record it. You don’t have to do anything fancy. We would download it or subscribe in a heartbeat.

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