MTV 'Obama Town Hall' Casting Call Controversy – The Full Scoop
Back Stage recently posted a casting notice calling for audience members representing "diverse interests and political views" for an upcoming town hall meeting featuring President Barack Obama on Oct. 14 in Washington, DC, presented by MTV, BET, and CMT.
Unexpectedly, the casting call attracted a lot of attention, with Back Stage being linked to from the front page of the DrudgeReport.com and mentioned in articles from the likes of ABCNews.com, Politico.com, USAToday.com, National Review Online, and dozens of other sites. It even became the focus of a segment on a Fox News show this morning.
While the coverage is interesting for stirring debate about how audiences can be gathered for political events, some of the reports mangled essential facts. For instance, Back Stage is not a "talent agency" or a "casting agency"; we're a weekly newspaper and daily online resource for actors, models, and all types of performers including comedians, singers, dancers, etc. – and "real" people too (we run a lot of casting notices calling for real people for reality-based projects). We don't actually cast any of these projects ourselves; we report on casting opportunities for our readers.
And the casting call in question wasn't an advertisement from the White House, it was a Back Stage casting notice providing our readers with an overview of how to apply to be a participant in the televised town hall.
We publish upwards of 20,000 casting notices every year, but I don’t recall any of our articles ever receiving this much individual media attention. So I was stunned when we started to see a huge surge in traffic because of all the sites writing about this casting call. When the "Obama Town Hall" info first crossed my desk, I thought it was a unique opportunity. It seemed like a clever way to engage young people in politics, and an interesting way for people of all types to get seen on a major cable TV network. But I certainly didn’t think it was controversial, and would never have expected the attention it’s now receiving.
I should note that although Back Stage reports on all sorts of casting and performance opportunities – the full gamut of the entertainment industry, from theater, film, TV, commercials, infomercials, music videos, comedy clubs, and PSAs to reality TV series, game shows, talk shows, talent shows, photo shoots, etc. – we rarely report on casting calls for audience members, political or apolitical.
This is because being an audience member doesn’t usually involve real "casting." It’s filling a seat; it’s about being entertained instead of being on-air talent. But the "Obama Town Hall" casting call seemed like more than just a standard call for audience members – it’s a chance to possibly interact with the President on MTV. The audience for "A Conversation with President Obama" will certainly not be made up entirely of Back Stage readers, but we wanted to make sure that our readers were made aware of this rare opportunity.
Kelly McAndrew, a spokeswoman for Viacom (which owns MTV), said:
"We’re just trying to get the broadest, most diverse audience possible. We want to have divergent points of view – we’re not looking for a single-view audience.
"We’re going to have a very diverse looking audience. We want gender diversity, we want ethnicity diversity, we want religious diversity, we want political view diversity. We want diversity of all kinds."
I think it’s very cool that MTV opened up this opportunity to the general public via their casting call, instead of quietly selecting participants behind closed doors. It’d be great to see more stuff like this from politicians of all stripes. Back Stage is happy to publish casting notices for political commercials and media events for any respectable political party.
Here’s the full Back Stage casting notice (see the original below, or click here for the final/updated version):
PRESIDENT OBAMA TOWN HALL, DC
MTV, BET, and CMT (prods.) are casting the audience for A Conversation with President Obama, a town hall meeting with President Obama. Shooting Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. in Washington, DC.
Seeking—Audience Members: males and females, 18+.
To apply, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Town Hall" in the subject line. To ensure that the audience represents diverse interests and political views, include your name, phone number, hometown, school attending, your job and what issues, if any, you are interested in or passionate about. Also, provide a recent photo and short description of your political views. Submission deadline is Oct. 14. No pay.
This casting notice was written by a Back Stage Casting Department editor, using our traditional three-paragraph article-style format to summarize the casting details that were available to us at the time of publication. This casting notice is an article, not an advertisement. It was not paid for or reviewed by MTV, BET, CMT, or the White House. It's simply a professional write-up of the casting information we had available, and it may be updated later if more relevant details emerge. Founded in 1960, Back Stage is the leading source of casting news in the U.S.
See below for a video of Fox News commentators talking today about the "Obama Town Hall" casting notice controversy, plus a partial list of related articles.
Mediaite: Megyn Kelly And Panel Go After Obama 'Casting Call,' Back Stage Editor Sets Record Straight (Unlike many of the other media outlets, Mediaite actually did real research and checked in with us when writing their story.)
CNN: Obama town hall gets Hollywood treatment (CNN's savvy Political Ticker reporters also did their due diligence).
The Washington Post: Five rejected applications to Obama's MTV town hall (A humorous, presumably imagined list of applicants.)
Read our Blog Stage coverage about the controversy surrounding a recent Republican campaign ad, in which the talent agents put out a casting call seeking actors with a "hicky" look to play West Virginians.
– Luke Crowe, National Casting Editor, Back Stage.
– With additional reporting by Daniel Lehman.
Screenshots showing the original announcement by MTV.