It’s Been More Than a Year Since I Wrote a Column on Reality TV

I was going to start off this column with the phrase “just when you thought you were safe from more reality TV…” but as soon as I started to type it, I realized that there’s probably not one person reading this right now who has, for even a second, ever thought they were safe from reality TV. According to a fake Nielsen report I just made up, more than 90 percent of all new programming last season was reality-based. And according to an actual New York Times article published December 22, the popularity of reality shows among network executives is growing; there are going to be even more reality shows added to the networks’ midseason lineups in January.

I am concerned about the continued popularity of reality TV because reality TV takes away jobs from aspiring comedy writers such as yours truly. As if getting a job writing in Hollywood wasn’t hard enough, the surge in the popularity of reality shows is making it even harder. With the abundance of reality shows on TV, I bet it’s easier to become a cast member on a reality show than it is to land a job writing for a sit-com in Hollywood (Note: this is a great premise for a reality TV show).

But when it comes down to it, my writing has been going downhill since my junior year in college, so there’s no chance I’ll ever make it in Hollywood. This is what, my ninth column on reality shows? That leaves me a normal TV-watcher just like the rest of you pathetic losers. Sigh. I worry for us, the TV-watchers, and here’s why:
1. Reality TV totally sucks
2. It’s getting homogenized and formulaic
3. Which is making it suck even more
4. But it’s more popular than ever
5. Steps 1-4 lead to a downward spiral of continuingly worse television
6. Which leads to the boredom, and eventually book-reading. And none of us want that horror.

Basically, there are two types of reality show on network TV today: the “game”-style reality show, which usually involves normal (stupid, but non-celebrities nonetheless) people, and the “documentary”-style reality show. The “game”-style show is clearly the most common. Every single episode of a “game”-style reality show goes like this:

1. Premise of show introduced to viewers just jumping on latest fad reality show bandwagon.
2. Host introduced. Viewers wonder what he’s going to do after this gig is over.
3. Cast introduced. Loyal viewers explain to new viewers which cast members are assholes and therefore interesting.
4. Host introduces ridiculous activity to invoke end-of-episode voting off of anywhere from 16 to one cast member, depending on how far into the series the show is. Said ridiculous activity may include one of, if not many, of the following activities:
a. A date
b. A stupid game
5. Drama from the date/game erupts when one cast member finds something another cast member did offensive; usually something like acting catty, or walking around like a floozy.
6. Drama is built using clever editing, video “diaries,” and bleeping naughty words. Filmed evidence of tears used whenever possible.
7. Drama culminates in “voting off” scene, in which cast members are (shocking!) voted off. Clever editing and tense music make a scene that probably took three minutes to shoot drag out for the show’s last fifteen minutes.
8. If it is the last episode of the show, there is a huge predictable twist followed by a happy ending and a two-hour “behind-the-scenes special,” which generally includes more footage of the idiots who were on the show you thought had just finished its godforsaken run on network TV.

The “documentary”-style reality show chronicles the life of its cast members via an interesting premise. Basically, it is the same thing as a “game”-style reality show, except there’s no voting off, so there’s less backstabbing and more passive-aggressive anger. The “documentary” style is less exploitative of its cast members and therefore generally much less interesting. I don’t really get it, personally. For a network to sell me on a “documentary” style show, the premise has to be great, such as the premise for Fox’s The Simple Life.

Before The Simple Life, I did not know who Nichole Richie or Paris Hilton were. I tuned in, like most do at first, because I saw the Paris Hilton porno tape, and I wanted to see what she looked like with clothes on. I love The Simple Life, and it’s not because it’s a great premise; it’s because it’s the least realistic reality show I have ever seen. That show is so obviously and awkwardly scripted by the producers that you can practically hear them yelling out lines to the family members and the girls as they “unpredictably” get fired from all of their jobs. I expect that when The Simple Life DVD comes out (don’t worry, Fox is trying to get its release to coincide with the show’s finale), there will be lots of juicy extras like this:

Mom: The girls got fired again.

Dad: Dang. I guess I better have a talk with them and tell them about the next job on the list they’re supposed to get fired from – I mean, where in tarnation am I going to find those girls another job in our tiny Arkansas town of 800? What do you mean ‘another take?’

Original Post Date: December 31, 2003