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Reality...What a Concept!

by Neena Louise

I find the recent emergence of so-called "reality" shows very intriguing. Though the ratings have so far been inconsistent for the new reality-based shows, I can bet that - as we're shoved into Rerun Hell - the ratings will improve.

I believe it all started with MTV's Real World - where a group of young strangers are thrown together in a house and cameras follow their every move as they fight, bond, fall in love or whatever. I never cared for any of these, as they always seemed...well, contrived and phoney. Other than reality shows like Cops and similarly-veined crime reality fare, there really weren't any other real life[-like] programs for a long time. Suddenly, Making the Band emerged (was canceled; then returned), followed quickly by Survivor. PBS also proffered its own 3-part reality show, 1900 House (though it appears to be much less exploitative than the other network offerings) and a show called Big Brother is in the wings. Given the penchant for networks to idiotically clone successful themes, you can bet there will be more such programs before the dust settles.

Even though the premiere episode of Survivor couldn't topple the stranglehold of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? , when it's not slotted against the mega-hit, the ratings are outstanding. It's not really "good" television (more like "exploitative" television); the people generally come across as unlikable and phony; it is almost laughable in its overly-dramatic "rituals"...and yet, I find myself drawn; sucked-in almost against my will and taking sides (I actually gloated when that stuck-up bitch Stacey was voted off). Why is that?

Is it just that first-run programs are so scarce now that we'll watch anything new? Or perhaps they provide us with guilty voyeuristic pleasure. Or maybe they simply confirm our convictions that we're better people than they are. I watch both Making the Band and Survivor and actually feel ashamed that I enjoy them (though my interest in Making the Band has waned since it became so short and choppy); in fact I look forward to them [blush]. But I'm obviously not alone...

I wonder what the networks will come up with next? How about a group of strangers tossed together on a boat and forced to survive on nothing but what they can catch from the sea (can't you just see it now)? Or a family on summer vacation and the resulting vicious fights that are sure to ensue (bring back memories, anyone?). Or how about putting people out of their element - like Bill Gates being forced to live on the average American salary for six months; a pampered celebrity switching places with someone who lives below the poverty line...I'd be sure to watch something like that!

But television is not known for true originality, so we're probably doomed to watch endless variations of people cooped up together in a house/condo/apartment/shack, or stranded on a tropical island/dude ranch/mountain top, or seeking stardom as dancers/singers/actors/comedians. Sigh...  
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