Kelsey Porter: Casting Reality TV

A former Texas cheerleader goes from supporting stars on the field to helping reality shows find theirs.


NBC's Hollywood Game NightNBC’s Hollywood Game NightKelsey Porter has a degree in government from the University of Texas, Austin, but it was her college connections, not her credentials, that helped her break into casting. A former UT cheerleader, Porter spotted a Craigslist ad from MTV looking for people who had some serious Austin social connections.

Porter was hired as a casting recruiter for Next, an MTV dating show, and spent the following months rooting out sexy singles for the series. She parlayed her experiences into casting work on the VH1 reality competition, Tool Academy, and NBC’s Momma Boys. Since moving to Los Angeles with her husband, Friday Night Lights and Hart of Dixie star Scott Porter, Kelsey has done casting duties on about 25 reality shows including The Biggest Loser, King of the Nerds, Bear Grylls’ Get Out Alive, and the upcoming ABC talent competition series, You’re Booked. She is currently casting for NBC’s Hollywood Game Night.

Get In Media: What’s the process of casting a reality show?

Kelsey Porter: We’re given guidelines from the network on kind of what they’re looking for and then we are in charge of finding those people. Whereas in scripted casting, you have people clamoring to come see you and then you sit in a room all day and watch them read lines, in reality casting we go out and find these people. Even though a lot of people say, “Oh, they want such fake people on reality,” we don’t. We look for the most real and honest people and people that are undiscovered.

It gets a little trying. Right now I’m working on The Taste. [Editor’s note: Porter’s work on The Taste ended between the time of this interview and publication.] We’re looking for everything from home cooks to executive chefs. I’m going to Nashville in two weeks to do all the casting down there and I have talked to every restaurant about their executive chef. We have talked to all the newspapers to get the word out. A lot of it is just spreading the word that this opportunity is out there, and then I’m Googling “best chefs in Nashville” and chefs with interesting stories and finding newspaper articles that are written about chefs and then contacting the chefs to see if they want to interview. It’s a lot of legwork on our part. Once we start interviewing, that’s a whole other story because it’s deciding if the person has what it takes to be on television, if they have the personality, if they have the story, if they have the drive. From interviewing, we put together cuts of whom we love and we pitch those to the production company and the network. It’s a lot of work.

GIM: What specifically are you looking for in reality show candidates?

KP: It honestly depends on the show, but we want somebody who’s going to be authentic and honest. We want somebody, of course, that has a personality. It’s never a specific type of personality, but we want somebody that is comfortable in their own skin. … It’s honestly like putting together a puzzle because you have to think [about] how this person is going to react with this person. Is this person going to get along with this person? It’s like putting a puzzle together of people’s personalities and that’s probably the hardest part.

GIM: Is it true that casting producers will intentionally cast people that they know will argue?

KP: Not necessarily, but you don’t want all of the same personality. You don’t want all Type A personalities on a show. Everyone has a certain role that they have to play just like in a scripted show; it’s just done a little differently in reality. We want one of a Type A personality and a Type B personality and a Type C. We want one of each and then we want it all to mesh well together. Is everybody going to get along? Probably not, because we’re throwing different personalities in there. If we wanted everybody to get along, we’d probably throw in the same personalities and that’s not fun.

GIM: For a major show, how many candidates are you sifting through?

KP: It ranges. Biggest Loser is thousands upon thousands upon thousands. The Taste right now, we’ve got 1,000 easily on our website. We have people submit to us, but so many of the people we find, we actually find them. It’s a weird balance. I’d say about half of the cast comes from people seeking us out and then half comes from us finding them. …

GIM: What is the most surprising find that you’ve tracked down in your career?

KP: One of the shows I was working on needed inspirational women. I found a former prisoner of war who had survived. … It was just this amazing, inspirational story. To me, finding that story for the network, that’s why I love my job, because it’s such a fulfillment experience like, “I found that story. That girl is mine.” I sought her out. I tracked her down. We do a little bit of stalking in my business. Facebook and Twitter are really helpful for us. I Googled “prisoner of war women.” I don’t know why I Googled that, but I did and found this fantastic story of this woman and actually tracked her down on Twitter. I tweeted at her, she tweeted me back, and the next thing you know, she was coming in for an interview.

GIM: How long does a typical job last for casting producers?

KP: Usually about eight weeks, sometimes a little shorter, sometimes a little longer, but normal is about eight weeks. It’s a lot to cram into eight weeks.

GIM: Are you working insane hours in eight weeks? That seems like such a short amount of time to be digging up people from across the country.

KP: Yeah. We work a lot and even when we’re not working, we’re working. I’ll go to dinner and be like, “Oh my god, this food is amazing. I need to talk to your executive chef or I need to talk to your sous chef, I have this great show.” We literally work all the time. All the time, and also we travel a lot. We’re about to start doing our tour for The Taste and we’re going to Nashville and Chicago and New York. We’re going to be on the road for weeks at a time, working seven days a week when we’re on the road, so yeah, our hours get really long. It gets really stressful, but if you love what you do then it’s OK. When we’re on the road, we’re usually interviewing and the interviewing is my personal favorite thing about our job. It’s fun for me.

GIM: Would it be easy for you to transition over to casting scripted shows? Is it the same skillset for reality versus scripted?

KP: It’s not easy to jump between the two. Honestly, scripted casting doesn’t interest me that much. I like meeting real people and hearing their stories and learning about their history and their personality. All I do all day is just meet people and learn about their lives and that’s really what interests me about my job.

GIM: What’s the most rewarding moment from your job?

KP: I think working on The Revolution, which is the ABC daytime talk show that I worked on. It was a weight loss show and to me, that show was so rewarding because we were helping people change their lives. There was one woman in particular, Mercedes Ramirez [Johnson], and she had such a heart-warming, just an amazing story. She had survived a plane crash at 21 where she lost both of her parents. She was one of the only survivors and she had gone through all these trials and tribulations to learn how to walk again. Then she actually had twins that were terminal, so she dedicated her life to helping her twins, so she had gained weight. What woman wouldn’t gain weight in those situations? This woman’s story is the most amazing story and she lost, I think, 60 pounds on the show. The smile on her face when she walked out on her reveal was the most rewarding moment for me. She’s an amazing woman.

GIM: What do you recommend for somebody who wants to move into casting?

KP: I think the biggest thing for casting is knowing a lot of people. I know that sounds a little strange, but when I go from job to job, they’ll be like, “We’re looking for musical acts.” And I’ll be like, “I know like 12 of them off the top of my head that I can reach out to.” Casting recruiter is the bottom of the bottom and it’s a hard job. That’s literally where we put you in the trenches and you’re going to the malls and approaching people and saying, “Do you want to be on a weight-loss show?” or “Do you want to be on these shows?” and get the experience. As long as you work hard, there’s always going to be a job in casting for you. This really is an area that rewards hard work.

GIM: Where can people find out about casting recruiter jobs?

KP: There are a lot of places that you can find out about casting recruiter jobs. They’ll post on Craigslist. If anybody’s interested in getting into [casting], they can e-mail me or contact me. I’m always happy to help anybody who’s interested in the casting world.

Kelsey Porter can be reached at or on Twitter @KiwiPorter.

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