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Whose Reality Is It Anyway?

21 Jan, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've had just about enough of "reality programming" cluttering up the airwaves.

I suppose "Candid Camera" was the first reality programming. Then one of the networks figured out outtakes -- marketed as "Bloopers" -- would get viewers. Then that wasn't enough and they had to expand the concept to "Bloopers and Practical Jokes," which used outtakes and set-up jokes on TV cast members.

Even "The Osbournes," which I do not watch regularly, had some tabloid appeal. Tabloids make their millions by airing the sordid or just plain mundane details of celebrities' lives. What I suspect amuses most fans about "The Osbournes" is seeing some utterly nontraditional people dealing with the same unglamorous tasks we all face, like feeding pets and taking out the trash.

But like any good thing, the concept fast becomes too much when the media conglomerates seize on it. That's why every diva hopeful on talent search programs sounds like Mariah Carey or Celine Dion. That's why we have Brittney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Too many executives with cookie cutters and 90-day profit reports.

This year we have a raft of "reality" shows, although I can't see much reality in any of those I've peeked in on. The ones in the pipeline seem even further from most people's reality.

So far the only thing I've seen in these shows that approaches reality is the caption IDs on the first episode of "Joe Millionaire" (which I have not watched since). For about half the contestants, it was the same line: Name, 24, Loan Officer. Cha-ching! Who'd have guessed!

I won't even try to remember the names of some of the new ones, but a sample of plotlines: eight wacky American families compete to see which is the funniest, to win their own sitcom; a young man's parents grill a potential love interest and her former boyfriends and give the thumbs up or down on the new relationship; a network plucks up a poor family and puts them up in a Beverly Hills mansion, a la "Beverly Hillbillies."

About the only good thing about these programs is that they only compete with other viewing on a one-to-one basis. Even the network programming executives dismiss the possibilities of releasing "Survivor" or "Who Wants to Marry A Millionaire" on home video. The only reason anyone watches is to see how it will turn out. Kinda like how once you know the chick in The Crying Game is really a guy, the mystery is over and most people won't watch it again.

Then again, maybe all this broadcast detritus is good for the home video industry. Broadcast programming is going down the same, self-destructive road as the music industry, chasing the flash in the pan and, for the most part, not bothering cultivate real talent with some future potential.

One look at the TV guide most nights is enough to send any thinking person scurrying for the nearest video shelf, whether it's in the home or down the street. Maybe we need to start a new industry marketing campaign to remind viewers there are alternatives to this dismal programming. Our slogan could be, "Get Unreal! Rent A Movie."

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