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Jewish World Review
Feb. 20, 2008
/ 14 Adar I 5768
An overdose of reality
Recently, reports began circulating that the Hollywood writers strike may end soon. This can only be viewed as good news for those of us who are tired of tuning in to our favorite shows only to see, for example, an hour of the cast of "Lost" aimlessly sitting around on the beach, poking sticks in the sand and occasionally opening their mouths to speak but with no words coming out.
It's no better over on Fox, where for three months agent Jack Bauer has been powerless to stop the dozens of terrorist acts committed on American soil every hour. Unable to set up a single perimeter, download any schematics to his cell phone or even bark "There's no time!" to a spineless superior, Bauer has been anxiously pacing in his office for 12 straight hours, breaking the silence only sporadically by looking directly into the camera and shouting, "Dammit!"
Another unfortunate consequence of the writers strike has been broadcasters' increased reliance on "reality" programs. When these shows first gained popularity, many viewers hoped that the phenomenon would soon fade, much like previous television fads, including:
Sitcoms about hayseeds ("Beverly Hillbillies," "Green Acres," "Petticoat Junction")
Shows with superintelligent animals that could communicate with humans ("Lassie," "Mr. Ed," "Flipper")
Shows featuring women with supernatural powers ("Bewitched," "I Dream of Jeannie")
Attempts to boost long-running shows' ratings by introducing a new baby ("Family Ties"), adopted cousin ("Brady Bunch") or wayward orphan portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio ("Growing Pains" really!).
But instead of dying out, the reality TV genre has actually grown in strength, much like some sort of mutant creature fed by ambient broadcasting waves and viewer stupidity. Today's reality shows are even spawning sequels, spinoffs, spoofs, "all-star" seasons and reunion shows. Clearly, it's only a matter of time before the producers of "Survivor" announce they're spicing up the show by introducing a tribe with a baby contestant. Either that or a talking baboon.
The reality premise itself has evolved as well. Early installments tended to follow a similar formula: sequester a diverse group of ordinary citizens under the same roof or on a tropical island and see how they respond when they get into arguments, compete in unusual "challenges" and are forced to eat sheep testicles.
The next great reality show innovation was the introduction of celebrities. Or, more precisely, "celebrities." Most common nowadays are the shows featuring D-list stars who use a reality show to overcome specific life struggles, such as former teen idol Scott Baio and his commitment phobia, wrestler Hulk Hogan with his out-of-control family or newlyweds Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson navigating married life (how did that work out, anyway?). It appears that, when confronted with any major life crisis, today's celebrities have two options: either go on a reality show or into rehab.
But wait! That decision just got a whole lot easier, thanks to my new favorite entry into the reality television pantheon: "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew." If you enjoyed reality shows where famous people get wasted and then crash their cars, assault police officers and vomit all over themselves, just imagine how you'll enjoy watching the very same celebrities get sober and then go through withdrawal, assault their therapists and vomit all over themselves.
If the writers strike does drag on, the networks will likely continue demanding more of this type of programming. The problem, however, is that the nation's supply of has-been and drug-addicted celebrities is already beginning to dry up. Faced with such a crippling shortage, desperate producers will eventually turn to average Americans to star in such shows perhaps without even getting permission! In fact, since this process is probably already under way, I've decided to include the following as a public service:
Signs you may be unwittingly participating in a reality TV show:
Someone with a camera follows you everywhere you go, and you're not a toddler.
- You frequently get through awkward, disgusting or painful activities by repeating to yourself, "Come on, you're doing this for a million bucks."
- Immediately following a confrontation with a co-worker, family member or neighbor, a headset-wearing stranger approaches, asking you to re-enact the altercation, "so we can get takes from different angles."
- People are constantly critiquing your talents as a singer, dancer, model, chef, fashion designer, business person or prospective mate for rapper Flavor Flav.
- You just got voted out of the house you own.
If you do suspect you've become a reality TV star, don't panic. For one thing, panicking is a ratings grabber, and will likely get you picked up for a second season. Just ride out the storm and soon your show will probably meet the same fate as most reality programs and fade into obscurity. Unless you do something foolish like have a baby, that is.
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JWR contributor Malcolm Fleschner is a humor columnist for The DC Examiner. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
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01/02/08: Our bills are due
12/13/07: Going (to lunch) once, going twice…
11/28/07: Out with the old
11/06/07: My latest pet project
11/06/07: Can't tune it out
10/23/07: Something special in the hair
09/12/07: Can I have your attention, please?
09/12/07: Houston, we have an image problem
08/21/07: In the heat of fashion
08/09/07: Let's get in the game
06/13/07: You gonna eat that?
05/08/07: That's disinter-tainment
05/02/07:You Are (not) Getting Sleepy...
04/18/07: No time like Father Time
03/15/07: Deface the Nation
03/08/07: More gifts? You shouldn't have
02/22/07: Relationships can be such a chore
12/05/06: Who's calling the shots?
11/09/06: I'm taking selling to a whole new level
10/27/06: Some skills are beyond repair
10/18/06: You can't tech it with you
10/04/06: Award to the wise
08/24/06: Phrased and Confused
08/09/06: We're Gonna Party Like it's $19.99
07/19/06: Just Singing in the Brain
05/24/06: Who says you can't go home again?
05/11/06: When nightly news stories go off script
04/26/06: Cents and sensibility: A thought for your pennies
03/16/06: The day the Muzak died
02/23/06: Checkbook diplomacy begins at home
02/15/06: Today's toys: Where learning means earning
© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner