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Scott D. Pierce: Why your TV critic said yes when Hulu called about its ‘Real Housewives of SLC’ documentary

Some parts of the film are“over the top,” but it explains well the federal charges against Jen Shah.

Jen Shah, a cast member from the reality TV series "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" looks on while being driven from the federal courthouse Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Two members of "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City" reality television show appeared in court for the first time Tuesday after being arrested on federal fraud charges alleging they cheated hundreds of people nationwide over a 10-year period in a telemarketing scheme. Shah, 47, of Park City, Utah, and Stuart Smith, 43, of Lehi, Utah, were arrested in Utah on charges including conspiracy that were unsealed in New York City, authorities announced.(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Two of my colleagues here at The Salt Lake Tribune spent more than a year working on a “Frontline” documentary about police shootings in Utah. They’re featured prominently in “Shots Fired,” an excellent hourlong report that debuted in November.

Then there’s my, slightly less prestigious, moment of recent fame.

I spent two to three hours being interviewed for the ABC News/Hulu documentary “The Housewife & the Shah Shocker.” And now I appear briefly in the new hourlong report about “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” cast member Jen Shah.

I said yes when the producers asked me — but not without some trepidation. I write about TV; I don’t feel overly comfortable appearing on it. And, while ABC News was behind this program, the subject matter worried me. I know what I said, but I didn’t know who else would appear and what directions “The Housewife & the Shah Shocker” — which is currently streaming on Hulu — would take.

Clearly Shah — who is facing federal fraud and money laundering charges — would be the focus. But I was caught off guard and concerned when I was asked if the charges might push Shah to harm herself. I sputtered and said I was certainly not qualified to answer that question. Later, I thought I should have objected to it being asked. Fortunately, nothing in that vein is included in the program.

The first half is, at times, a bit over the top. A “superfan” of the “Real Housewives” appears in it a lot and he gushes. A lot. And there are plenty of people who have plenty of negative things to say about Jen Shah — not surprisingly.

The second half takes a more serious tone, and does a good job of explaining the federal fraud and money laundering charges against Shah. My only real criticism is that a better job could have been done to make it clear that fraud victims interviewed were not part of the case against Shah.

Why do it?

A couple of months ago, I spent a good bit of time one day on the phone talking — on background —with ABC News producers about “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” and Jen Shah. I was happy to help, and I said yes when I was asked to do an on-camera interview.

I’ve asked so much of so many TV productions over the past three decades — for interviews, advance copies of shows, information — that I feel like I owe it to producers to help them when they ask. Even if it means going on camera.

I don’t always say yes; sometimes the timing doesn’t work out. And I just cannot bring myself to support some programs. I turned down requests from “The O’Reilly Factor” to talk about the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in 2002, 15 years before Bill O’Reilly was ousted in disgrace. (I have, however, appeared on at least one other Fox News show that I can remember.)

The ‘Real Housewives’ guy

I am not embarrassed to be the guy who, along with breaking news and other topics, covers “RHOSLC” for The Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve written about goofier things since I started covering TV in 1990. I know it’s not Big Serious News, though the show has touched on serious issues like racism and homophobia. And, of course, crime.

There’s a place for entertainment (and, hopefully, entertaining) coverage. I make no apologies for having some fun with it while trying to do a legitimate job.

It’s news. And it’s an assignment.

But I would point out that writing about “RHOSLC” is not an endorsement of the show or any of its cast members. Why do I do it? It’s my job.

Why does The Tribune offer continuing coverage of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City”? Because it’s news. It’s a nationally telecast TV show about Utahns that’s filmed in Utah. It provides insight into some aspects of Utah culture. And because people are interested.

There are, of course, negative comments on the stories about the Housewives and about me for writing about them. Which is fine. You’re not required to like any of us.

Before there were “Housewives” in Salt Lake City, I had watched only a handful of the hundreds of episodes produced in other cities. Not for fun, but to write about them, I assure you.

Which is why I had to laugh when one reader emailed me repeatedly, accusing me of being “on the take” from Bravo. Threatening to report me to some unspecified authorities for breaching journalistic ethics by accepting bribes.

I can assure you that’s not the case. The Tribune would fire me if it was.

And if I was getting payola, don’t you think I could afford glasses that don’t slide down my nose while I’m being interviewed on camera?

While Tribune reporters Jessica Miller and Paighten Harkins distinguished themselves in their work on the “Frontline” report, I’m relieved I got away with — other than the glasses gaffe — not looking particularly stupid in “The Housewife & the Shah Shocker.”

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