Charles Davis 

11-3-04

If you have had access to a TV in the last few years then you’ve probably seen them.  The last couple of weeks have seen their ads and promotional propaganda with a near chokehold on the media.  No, not John Kerry and George Bush, but so-called reality television.  The past few years have seen them rise to now, when literally hundreds of different reality shows dominate our television screens, with the culprits ranging from the truly loathsome Fox network to the lets-ride-this-fad-into-the-ground WB.  Each premise tends to get dumber by the day, from midgets marrying washed-up celebrities to MC Hammer getting a fashion makeover show, it seems as if producers have simply given up trying and are now just engaged in some cruel joke.  I only hope that if just one thing survives from our culture by some archaeologist a 1000 years from now, just please don’t let it be an episode of “Who Wants to Marry My Dad?”

            Despite reality TV’s continual race-to-the-bottom in culture, millions of people continue to tune in to these brain-cell destroying programs.  So with this in mind, I decided to watch and critique this cultural phenomenon firsthand -- so you don’t have to.

The Rebel Billionaire, Fox

If producer Jerry Bruckheimer and a reality show hooked up after a few too many peppermint schnapps at the company Christmas party, this would be their love child.  Featuring “rebel” Virgin CEO Richard Branson, the show promises us plenty of death-defying stunts with the ultimate goal of taking Branson’s job – a perfectly reasonable method of determining the president of a multi-million dollar entertainment company that is sure to go over real well with Virgin’s stockholders. 

The Anna Nicole Show, E!

In this glimpse at what life would be like handicapped with the mental capacity of a seven year-old, the viewer is treated to the spectacle of former Playboy centerfold-turned-gold-digger-turned-drug-addict Anna Nicole Smith’s daily battle with, well, not dying.  I couldn’t think of a less-appealing premise for a show (though Mad About You is pretty damn close), watching this show is a lot like punching yourself in the face, but a bit more painful.

Laguna Beach: The Real O.C., MTV

Billed as the first “reality drama” and the latest attempt to market Orange County as the epitome of “cool,” this show follows the wholly uninteresting lives of seven uninteresting but photogenic high school kids as they face the troubles and tribulations of being extremely wealthy in Southern California.  The unfortunate viewer witnesses the torment of figuring out what to do on Friday night and the gripping, emotional decision as to which model BMW to drive.  The most remarkable thing about the show is that it is perhaps the first time that the terms “O.C.” and “real” have been used in the same sentence (zing!).

Cheaters, Syndicated

Of all the reality shows, I dislike this one the least.  It utilizes the latest in high-tech gadgetry, from wiretaps to night-vision cameras, in a massive invasion of privacy for a somewhat moral reason – to catch lowlifes cheating.  The greatest part is the wonderful confrontations at the end of every show, complete with the antagonizing host getting in the cheater’s face with the digital evidence -- good for entertainment, but it occasionally gets the host stabbed.  All in all, a slight step above its mediocre competition.

            •After several excruciating hours of focused reality television viewing I could actually feel the brain cells popping.  However, I did walk away with further confirmation that in the end, future historians will probably point to the popularity of reality programming as the point when television officially outlived its usefulness.  But as bad as things may seem, at home when the best things on TV are an episode of According to Jim and a garden hose infomercial, just be content that, at the very least, Dharma and Greg is still canceled.