Battle-scarred reality vet finds safe haven here

Emmy-winning producer Joan O’Connor is suffering culture shock.

Recently returned here after spending two decades toiling in the Los Angeles reality TV trenches, she says, “The difference between LA and Chicago is the people are more friendly. Actors here are so grateful. They thank me after the audition. You don’t get that graciousness in L.A.”

After a successful career working her way up from an entry level job doing research on “Rescue 911” starring William Shatner, O’Connor produced all genres of reality TV, including crime shows and soap documentaries.

Among her many credits, she was a supervising producer of TLC’s daytime hit “A Baby Story,” an editorial producer for the highly-rated dating show “Joe Millionaire,” and the co-executive producer of “Starting Over,” for which she earned a Daytime Emmy.

“For Joe Millionaire, they would bring all the material back to the post house. I worked with the editors to create the story. That show was definitely created in the edit bay. As with a lot of reality TV, they go out and shoot, getting what they can without any real plan. Then we ?fix it in post,’ as the famous saying goes.

“A Baby Story” was the first series to portray women during labor and delivery. “Casting was difficult because no one believed we would shoot it with taste and respect,” O’Connor said.

“We were literally running down the street after pregnant women to see if they’d be on the show. And we earned their trust. No one ever ordered us out of the delivery room.”

But the tug of her hometown was strong. “I’ve always had this push and pull with wanting to be back here. I love Chicago and my family is here.”

The biggest plus? Her brother David O’Connor, who runs a top casting agency in town, had long been whispering in her ear, hoping she would join forces with him.

“I was wrapping up a job as an executive producer for a TLC show called Overdesigned. David emailed me asking ?Would you like to come and work with me?’ I said ?I’ll give you an answer in two days.’ Then I called him and said ?I’m in.’ I think he was shocked and didn’t believe it until I was really here. I wrapped up my show and hit the road.”

So what now? There are always a lot of plates in the air at local powerhouse O’Connor Casting. They’ve cast almost 8,000 commercials, corporate, voiceovers and print projects.

They have won a shelf of Gold Hugos, Addys, Ad Age and other awards for spots the company has cast.

O’Connor admits she is learning the system here, working nonstop since she returned to Chicago. “I was just thrown into the fire. I held auditions for a Budweiser commercial. I ran it by myself. I’ve helped cast 60 and 30 second spots for Central Baptist Hospital and Liberty Medical.

“I know my skills will transfer. In reality TV, casting is crucial, if you don’t have a good cast, you don’t have a good show, no matter what,” she says.

“When you get out of the reality TV world, everyone you know says ?You’re so lucky to have escaped with your life.’ It’s a 24-hour 7-day a week job.”

Send headshots and love letters to Joan O’Connor O’Connor Casting is at 1017 W. Washington; phone, 312/226-9112. See