“Reality” Bites

11 seasons.  ELEVEN.  American Idol returns tonight to find out who will be the person to join this list:

Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze and Scotty McCreery.

Can you picture the winners?  Do you even care anymore?  Have we finally gotten to the end of our entertainment rope when it comes to reality?

If a reality show does REALLY well, the first couple of seasons are a “cultural event”, where everyone either watches the show or knows of its existence (See Survivor.)  If the show is lucky, it’ll continue with decent numbers for a while, becoming a staple on a network for a few more years (See The Fucking Bachelor), before slowly slipping out of ratings graces and dying a quiet barely noticed death (See Extreme Home Makeover.)

Some of them reel us in because they really are out of the box ideas (See The Amazing Race), shows that we can see ourselves getting into.  These are the immersive shows that put us in the shoes of the people that are involved…what would we do in that situation?

Then there are the observational shows, the ones that let us “peek behind the curtain” to see lives and situations we wouldn’t normally see. (See Any Stupid Show Involving Kids and Pagents, or Home Renovating 19 and Counting Midget Cake Boss Chocolatiers.) My GOD, how LAZY have we become?

First of all, the reason for all this “reality” comes from the reality of making tv.  When you don’t have to pay writers and actors, you can bang out a lot more for your buck.  Come up with a unique situation, throw in some people looking to make some quick cash or get famous, give them some challenges and let the rest work itself out.  I’ve brought up the word schadenfruede before, and I really think it’s the lowest common denominator.  Think about it, America’s Funniest Home Videos has been on TV since Bob Saget was Danny Tanner, and it’s because deep down, sometimes we need that boring drivel to help coddle us on our couches and chairs and beds and say “see?  At least we don’t have it as bad as them.

Am I the only one that remembers when TLC was ACTUALLY a learning channel?  They’d show surgeries and cultures from around the world.  Now let’s look at the line-up for tonight:

From 4pm to midnight: Four Weddings (and a Fire Ant Attack), Fabulous Cakes, Toddlers and Tiaras, I Cloned My Pet, Hoarding: Buried Alive, Toddlers and Tiaras, Toddlers and Tiaras (Season 5), Toddlers and Tiaras.

FOUR hour-long blocks of Toddlers and Tiaras, NONE of them repeats.  Cakes that are fabulous?  How about you SHOW ME HOW TO MAKE ONE…the only ones that hint at interesting are I Cloned My Pet and Hoarding, and god it makes me sad just to say that out loud.  For comparison, let’s look at another famous station’s offerings:

You want to know what’s REALLY sad?  After digging through some of these parody shows from a cult 80s movie, there’s some stuff I could see actually making it on TV.  Traffic Court. (Isn’t that on already?  Like People’s Court and the Traffic Cop show?)  Name That Stain.  That’s Disgusting.  The Young and the Dyslexic.  Beat the Loan Shark.  YOU BET YOUR PINK SLIP!  I WOULD WATCH THAT!

The overall point here is simple: What IS reality anymore?  You want reality tv?  Watch me stumble from my bed to the shower at 4:30 in the morning.  Watch my friends struggle to maintain order in a house full of kids for more than 5 minutes.  Tune in as you look over our shoulders while we file endless paper work and reply to hundreds of e-mails we were CC’d on for some reason.  THAT’S reality.  You want to keep these shows coming?  Call them what they are: Reality ESCAPE shows.  They’re supposed to be a window on the “real world” (See Real World), but for most of us, they’re more fiction and fantasy than anything else.  You can call it entertaining.  Just don’t call it real.

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