On an unseasonably warm winter evening at the Gilbert House, a cozy 18th-century home turned event space in historic Roswell, Pete Garcia works on a seating chart. A dozen dinner guests are expected in an hour, and some aren’t exactly best friends. Also, the gathering will be televised. “I’ll have my senior cameraman aimed at where we might see some conflict or some words exchanged,” says Garcia, who is in his late 30s and sports a man bun. “Or even”—because you never know—“a quick exit.” Mark Scheibal, a bearded man in his 50s sitting beside Garcia, laughs and adds, “Eyelines are very strategic.”
Garcia and Scheibal are coexecutive producers of the Lifetime network reality show Little Women: Atlanta, now in its third season, which is about the lives of seven Atlanta-based women with dwarfism. Among them: feisty twins, Andrea and Amanda; “Ms. Juicy,” a contributor to the nationally syndicated Rickey Smiley Morning Show; and Tanya, a former dancer and self-described “head creatress at Life Body Naturals” skincare line, whose pregnancy is the reason that they’re gathering tonight.
“It’s a gender reveal ceremony,” says Justin Guinyard, a tall field producer for the show, as he digs into a plate of food from Zoe’s Kitchen—dubbed “lunch” despite the late hour of 6 p.m.—in a corner of the house. Once the cast arrives and all four cameras begin to roll, this corner will become a sort of war room with viewing monitors surrounded by a small crowd of producers. There are two dozen crew members at the house, which has been decorated “in a tribal, sort of Bohemian theme,” in the words of owner and event stylist Jennifer Shields. “Feathers, arrows, things like that.”
The talent is running late, as usual, and Scheibal has strongly considered heading to Costco for a craft services run. Instead he tells a story about what went on the night before in Buckhead.
“We were at Havana Club until 3 a.m.,” he says excitedly. “The usual drama ensued between these girls.” Provoked or organic? “The story is the story,” Scheibal says. “Obviously, we have to produce it, put them in situations that allow it to happen or amplify it.”
“A lot of our show is based on ‘little people problems,’” adds Garcia. “In an average-sized world, they have to deal with [things] that the rest of us don’t even consider.”
Created by star Terra Jole and production company Kinetic Content, Little Women: L.A. was an immediate hit when it debuted in 2014. The first spin-off in New York aired the following year, and soon afterward talks began for a third Little Women series. Kinetic was already producing a number of reality shows in Atlanta and decided to base the second spin-off here. Little Women: Atlanta launched in January 2016, and now 1.3 million viewers tune in per episode. “The little people world is very small,” says Kinetic vice president of communications Paria Sadighi. Ms. Juicy “was already a known commodity because of her role in the radio business,” says Sadighi. “With her help we found other little women here or who lived out of state but were looking to move to Atlanta.”
Around a quarter to 7, three of the cast members enter the house, high-heeling past two bored-looking security guards vaguely familiar with the show. (“If I’m watching Cupcake Wars,” one says, “I might check it out after.”) Ashley “Minnie” Ross chats about her pre-taping ritual: “I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, so before I get out of the car, I pray. I pray to control my tongue. But sometimes it gets a little loose!” The crew laughs. At 7:07 p.m. two more women exit an Uber Black S.U.V. Soon they’re all here, perched somewhat tensely on a couch. Guinyard explains how the gender reveal ceremony will go down.
“Tanya will take a bath ball and drop it into this bowl of water. I don’t know how it works, but it’ll dissolve, I think, and the water will turn pink or blue.”
Meanwhile a production assistant finishes taping one last light tube to the ceiling. The blinds are shut. The makeup touch-ups are finished; the tweezers and lash glue are put away. The talent is herded back outside and microphoned up. Garcia and Scheibal each put two earpieces in: one to hear the talent, the other to communicate with the crew.
“Anyone not under four-foot-two,” someone shouts, “get behind the wall over there!” Another voice: “Send in the girls!”
Dinner, observed on one of the monitors in the war room, goes off without much drama. Tanya’s mom tells mildly embarrassing stories about what her daughter was like as a little girl. Andrea pushes her six-month-old daughter in an average person–sized stroller, causing Garcia to exclaim into his headset.
“That’s a little person problem!”
Finally the ceremony begins. Tanya drops one of the bath balls into the bowl of water, which sits before a mini teepee. The water begins to froth. There’s clapping and a collective chorus: Oh my god, it’s pink!
Tanya’s mother thanks everyone for being there on such an important day. “She’s too nice,” murmurs Scheibal, smiling. “This is not a nice show. We need her to be more like Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket!”
Guinyard rushes out with a request for the cast: “That was great! But can you do one more big reaction just for us?”
Everybody reacts one more time, not quite as enthusiastically.
Soon the day is wrapped. Three hours of shooting will result in perhaps five edited-down minutes of television, but Scheibal is pleased. He likes his job. “I’m as cool as a dad can be to his teenage daughters,” he says. “It doesn’t completely embarrass them that I work in reality TV.”
This article originally appeared in our May 2017 issue.