Bending reality television

By Sarah Dorchak

Who says your future career has to be tied to your degree? Not Shannon Nering. Like most graduates, Nering’s career as a reality TV producer and an author has little-to-nothing to do with her original degree.

“I started off in political science, but I was always interested in almost every subject,” Nering remarked. “I wasn’t a total geek or anything, but I really did love my classes.”

After graduating in 1991, Nering started working in Edmonton. “I had worked at the Alberta legislature for a summer and decided, ‘Oh, my gosh, this world is not for me. From there, I went to SAIT and took a broadcasting communications diploma.”

Jumping from politics to broadcasting may seem a bit of a leap for those of us still stuck on our first degrees, but Nering discovered that it was a new passion of hers. “I had always thought I would become a reporter on the front lines in conflict-ridden zones, doing serious news. But when I got into television, I was always pushed towards ‘fluffier’ material. In other words, I was the lifestyle reporter.” However, this career choice only lasted for a few years before Nering grew bored with it.

“That is when I met someone who changed my life,” explains Nering. “She was a producer for [American news program] Inside Edition, and she was doing a story on us and the documentary. She and I became friends, and she kept recommending me for jobs after we had met in L.A. Eventually one of the producer jobs she recommended me for stuck [and] I ended up being a lifestyle producer in L.A.”

Nering adds that she started in this industry around 2000, just as reality TV was starting to gain momentum. “I went from a lifestyle show to a reality show because that’s where the jobs were. It was never what I had plans for, or had expected, but it’s been very interesting.”

Currently working as a producer for The Real Housewives of Vancouver, Nering thinks it’s about time that the extensive franchise came to Canada. “Because I’ve done a lot of shows in L.A. and my specialty is interviewing, it was a show I was very happy and excited to work on. It’s a real privilege for Vancouver to get it.”

Before this project, Nering taught at Vancouver Film School for three years and directed several episodes on different lifestyle-type TV series. In 2011, Nering published her first novel, Reality Jane. The novel follows Canadian journalist Jane Kaufman as she begins a career as a producer in L.A. There are obvious correlations between the novel and Nering’s own life and career, though she hardly calls it autobiographical.

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but at the same time this is a fictional account of the business. I can’t help but draw from my experience, as any writer would. In terms of being in situations that I felt were entirely surreal, I’d say that’s the similarity that Jane and I have . . . But there are bits and pieces of people that I’ve run into, and there are also embellishments.”

Nering adds that the novel helped her deal with the bizarre experiences she had when the reality TV industry was getting started.

“I guess ultimately what I did to deal with how surreal these experiences were was to write a fictional account of the experience. Writing is cathartic. I’ve worked on the book for the past seven to eight years, so the book has evolved and morphed and changed and flipped and flopped and it has become its own little entity.”

Nering’s career has had little to do with her political science degree, but she cites it as one of her best assets.

“It’s a great degree because it’s such a broad education– it gives you history, philosophy, economics, current affairs. In that sense it’s a true liberal arts background and I’ve always felt it was the perfect setup for becoming a reporter or a producer.”

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