Sara Reddy, exec producer of TLC's hit show, lords over the show's ''translations'' of Alana and her fast-drawling, ''guess whose breath''-playing family

By Dan Snierson
July 19, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

Why does the EP supervise the subtitles?
Reddy — from Southern California, not the South — developed an ear for the family’s unusual enunciations while working on Toddlers & Tiaras. At Boo Boo, she proved to be the one best able to decode their language. ”I don’t know why I have this gift, but I understand them perfectly, and I don’t think they need to be subtitled. It astonishes me when people are like, ‘What is she saying?’ I’m like, ‘You can’t hear that? It’s perfectly clear to me!”’

How do producers decide what to subtitle?
”We have so many subtitles, it’s like we’re making a foreign film in English,” she declares. The main litmus? ”If [the family is] delivering information you need to follow the story line, we subtitle it. Sometimes we subtitle things we don’t understand and put in the noises. They’re not even words. We take it seriously and make sure we’re phonetically accurate.”

What goes into the process?
The subtitles require 15 to 20 extra hours of labor per episode, estimates Reddy. They are typed in and checked for accuracy; as many as 10 co-workers might weigh in on a difficult line. Lipreading is also key. ”Sometimes it will come down to looking at the upper teeth meeting the lower lip and you know it’s an f or a b, and that could be a starting point.” (Another trick is to isolate a family member’s microphone during the audio mix session.) The show’s online editor keeps Post-it notes on her wall with spellings of the family’s made-up words, such as ”smexy” and ”s’mage.”

Isn’t it condescending to subtitle people speaking English? Or Pumpkin saying ”marannaise” instead of ”mayonnaise”?
Reddy insists that’s not the intention. ”They make up so many interesting words and mispronounce things in pretty genius ways, and I don’t want to correct them,” she says. ”Also, it tests your eye if what you’re reading doesn’t match what you’re hearing. If we put ‘mayonnaise’ as it’s spelled, your brain has a little stutter…. When people say it’s condescending, it’s because they’re reading the subtitles so they understand everything. If we showed it without subtitles, they’d be complaining they couldn’t understand enough.”

Which family member is the toughest to translate?
That’s easy: Mama Bear. ”I’m fluent in June-ese,” says Reddy. ”That’s the hardest dialect. She talks so fast. It’s just this rapid fire of syllables. She does amazing combinations of words like ‘beautimous.’ ‘Vajiggle jaggle’ is this kind of onomatopoeic word. It’s brilliant. In early edits of the show, ‘vajiggle’ was spelled ‘vagiggle,’ which looked like ‘va-giggle.’ We had to change it to a j. I was an English major; I don’t know if it’s an advantage or a disadvantage.”

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