Augmented Reality: The Television Mind of Mona Scott-Young

On a recent breezy afternoon in Manhattan, in a post-production studio
in midtown, the television executive Mona Scott-Young was reviewing the
promotional reel for a new reality show that she would soon be pitching
to networks. At the center of the series is a flamboyant fashion
designer who lives in Texas with a large, eccentric family. The designer
had been approached by other producers but sought out Scott-Young
because of her past work. Scott-Young is best known for her wildly
popular “Love & Hip Hop” reality-show franchise, which details the
melodramatic love lives of women and men in hip-hop in New York,
Hollywood, and Atlanta. The first season of “Love & Hip Hop,” set in New
York, premièred on VH1, in 2011, and the show and its spinoffs’ new
episodes attract about three million viewers a week, and are several of
the most-watched prime-time programs. As soon the season of one show
ends, the new season of another begins.

Bawdy and hilarious, “Love & Hip Hop” episodes create social-media
storms on the nights they air, as viewers parse the outrageous doings
and sayings of the series’ most memorable characters. Memes have been
made of the Puerto Rican ex-stripper and aspiring singer Joseline
Hernandez leaping over tables to fight her lover’s longtime girlfriend,
in the Atlanta series; of the ageless and meddlesome video model and
sometime entrepreneur Karlie Redd inexplicably fainting during what she
thinks is a marriage proposal from her boyfriend, though he is actually
dumping her, in the Atlanta series; and of the
washed-up singer Ray J, in Hollywood, pushing his girlfriend into a pool
during an argument over his infidelity (the couple married soon after).
The thrill of watching lies in the pleasure of laughing both at and with
the characters, who are in on the joke, consciously performing for our
entertainment. Scott-Young chooses provocative personalities, and, as
one of her producers told me, is able to build storylines based on “why
they tick.” During last year’s Presidential election, Barack Obama
compared the race to “some ‘Love & Hip Hop’ stuff.”

Scott-Young’s shows, in which female protagonists regularly break into
physical altercations and deceive one another, have drawn controversy
for what her critics describe as negative portrayals of black people.
According to some, Scott-Young is responsible for the dominance of
“ratchet” television—shows like “The Real Housewives” franchise, which

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