Reality Television

It began as an innocent experiment in the summer of 1999. The average television viewer was indeed sick of reruns of old programs in primetime. The networks saw that this was indeed not good for the thickness of their pocketbooks. A solution was in order.

The network execs came together at the drawing board and attempted to reverse-engineer how they had gotten wide viewership in the past. They had to ask themselves one simple question: why do people watch TV?

But it must be noted that the execs' motivation for asking this question is a bit out of context. The question they were really aiming for was, “How do we make sure people are watching the commercials that air on our network?” Or, to be even more dishonest, “How do we make sure that our advertisers think that people are watching the commercials airing on our network instead of other networks' commercials?”

Because when it comes right down to it, the networks don't care if you watch their programming or not. They just want to sell you the Downy Ball, Vanilla Coke, a Nissan Altima, a Pontiac Vibe, and eleven different brands of premium malt liquor.

To prove just how little respect the television networks have for the TV-viewing American public, they decided to run a little test. The premise? Put crap on the air, hype it like it's the only thing taking place on the planet worth expending oxegen for, and run it into the ground.

But the crap's gotta be innovative and original, right?

Wrong.

The first wave of reality television came straight from the UK. 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' had aired in about five different countries before the concept was brought to American viewers. What's really sad is that the stakes were higher in the UK. There, you could win as much as £1.000.000, whereas in the states, all you could get was a measly $1,000,000. Even there, the show wasn't original. It was just your everyday, run-of-the-mill quiz show, once a staple of primetime American television back in the 1950's.

The only facets of this programming that lent itself to be lumped under the catch-all crap-TV term of 'reality television' is that it involved supposedly everyday normal Americans like you or me, and it was introduced to our airwaves at about the same time as the other networks' crapfests.

Of course, to really make this show take off in the States (since the jackpot is 35% smaller), choosing a host for this show was a make-it-or-break-it decision. You'd have to select a famous guy who's not busy filming anything during summer afternoons on a twice- or thrice-weekly basis. Hmmm... Regis Philbin's done by 10:00 every morning, and although there's no real reason to, people like him.

So the show is an overnight success. The other networks scramble to put out ripoff programming just to keep up. Competing with Disney is a blast, isn't it? NBC tried it with the old skool 'Twenty-One' from back in the day. This, being the same show that was fixed and made into the subject of the 1994 Redford flick 'Quiz Show'. Nice work, Peacock. Oh yeah, and while you're at it, to show the nation that you don't have an original bone in your body, pick a second-rate male daytime talkshow host to host this show. After all, a daytime talk show host is a daytime talk show host, right? Povich this.

Slowly, CBS and Fox jumped on the bandwagon, each incarnation somehow more depraved than the one that preceded it. Let's just say that 'Greed' was custom-made for Fox's classic history of programming.

Alright, so the quiz show quickly fizzled out. Disney hung onto 'Millionaire' for a little too long (read: 2 years). But the technique worked while it lasted. Overdramatizing answering questions has a hypnotic effect on people when it's too hot to go outside at 8/7 central. The other networks decided to move on.

"Let's dump a dozen or so people on an island and see who kills who first!!!"
-MTV addict-turned-CBS-exec.

I suppose after the so-called 'Real World' has been on the air for a decade, a die-hard fan or two of the show is bound to slime his way into a decision-making chair at the broadcast networks. And if any network needed younger viewership, it's CBS. But still, think of the actual substance that came from any of those ultra-rad apartments in the most populous cities in the country (and beyond).

Ah, but one trashy strangers-living-together show wasn't enough for Columbia. They decided to throw in a Dutch clone of a show where you've got a ton of people locked away into a house, and cheapened even further by *mounting* all of the cameras to the walls. Think of the production cost savings!

It went on and on, and the quality of programming plummeted exponentially. Now, we're left with the programming that just wouldn't go away. And I continue to wait.

Where exactly does the 'reality' come into play in these programs? These people are obviously there for attention that wasn't given them at home. Basically, the only 'drama' that plays out on screen is a bunch of hippie offspring fighting each other for the spotlight. This is entertaining? People fighting each other is the basis of professional wrestling and heavyweight boxing. Boxing has enough controversy to last 3 seasons of Big Brother. I mean, people are still talking about Holyfield's ear. How long ago was that, 4 years?

It saddens me that the networks just stopped trying to include stimulating programming into their primetime lineups. They have basically declared television a place where a mind is unnecessary. We will make sure that your brain isn't used. Any place where thinking may be necessary will either be edited out, or we will simply tell you what to think. Oh, and while we're telling you what to think, we'll go ahead and tell you what to buy, too. After all, that's why TV was invented. To sell things to a mindless public.

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