Monday, August 21, 2006

How to Save Reality TV

So I see that a mid-season Real World clone-- titled North Shores or Pacific Heights or Malibu Lane or whatever-- has vanished after two pitiful episodes. Was this the result of a bad timeslot, or the dreaded summertime viewer malaise? I would guess not. All reality TV these days seems well past its prime, with shows like Fear Factor and The Apprentice running on the inertia of such casting gimmicks as “The TWINS Episode” or “Streetsmarts vs. Booksmarts”.
For all of its strengths, one of the major weaknesses in most reality TV is that it ignores one of the basic rules of drama: the audience must identify with the characters, feel their pain when they lose, and struggle alongside them. Can anyone really feel any anguish when the underwear model-turned-real estate mogul fails to win the affections of The Bachelorette? Or when the exotic dancer loses her chance for $50,000 butt implants on Fear Factor? The answer: No. We, the Frito-munching, rehab-bound schlubs in the viewing audience have a pretty good idea that they’ll survive somehow. These genetically-blessed superbeings elicit all the sympathy of a modern day Beowulf: flawless, one-dimensional, and hopelessly dull.

The Jerry Springer Show, in spite of its universal condemnation among moral/intellectual elitists, taught a fascinating lesson in the world of entertainment: stars don’t have to be beautiful, talented, intelligent, or even appealing in order to be entertaining. Imagine Fear Factor being played by such sweating, asthmatic gastropods not from the shores of South Beach, but from the strip malls of Little Rock? Or a Blind Date between unemployed alcoholics with missing teeth and criminal records? Winning the prizes in any of these shows, be they cash, a job, or the affections of a young “hottie”, would be a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for such “Average Joes”. Plus, your average prime-time viewer can identify much more readily with obese, alcoholic contestants than the tanned, confident personal trainers that usually infest reality TV.

TV execs: leave the underwear models in the Sunday fliers. Give us some “real” contestants for reality TV!

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