When television goes bad.
by Mark D. Johnson
November 8, 2002
Gone are the days when “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” aired three times a week on ABC, but the recent successes of new entries such as MTV’s “The Osbournes” and Fox’s “American Idol” have spawned a new generation of imitators, and, as was true when the first Reality wave enthralled the masses, the genre frequently flaunts its ugly side. It seems that for every “Survivor,” there’s an “Anna Nicole Smith Show.” The unscripted format seems to lend itself to a trashiness that panders to bad taste. Though there are some quality reality shows that deserve respect, the question comes up again and again: how far is too far? Here’s a quick look at a few shows coming to the airwaves in the next year that exemplify the seedier nature of reality through Hollywood's eyes.
NBC continues to ride the success of its cheap thrill show, “Fear Factor,” while the young roommates on the original reality show, MTV’s “The Real World,” give their young audience new lessons in stupidity and sexual promiscuity.
And there’s plenty more reality raunch where that came from. How far is too far? Producers will continue to walk on the wild side until somebody dies as a direct result of being on a reality show. Then again, Jenny Jones is still on the air even though one of her guests murdered a fellow guest after being manipulated by the show's staff.
These unfortunate realities aside, I do want to stress that there are some good Reality shows worth watching, including “Survivor,” which has finally come up with some new challenges to stay fresh, “The Amazing Race,” one of the most engaging shows on television, and “The Mole,” a delightful game of spy novel intrigue. Those who still look down upon all reality-based shows can still justify a look at PBS’ “The Manor House,” which will debut in 2003. Like its predecessors, “1900 House” and “Frontier House,” “Manor” will follow modern-day families as they live for three months under authentic period conditions, in this case that of an Edwardian manor. It’s undeniably educational and family-oriented, but very much owes to its more tawdry network cousins. Perhaps it is Reality TV as it should be. But it’s not likely to attract many fans of Ozzy Osbourne.
About the Author:
Mark D. Johnson is the editor of The Partial Observer and welcomes television discussion in the Entertainment Forum.
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