'Survivor' and Other Reality Bites
by L. Brent Bozell III
"Survivor" has by no means gone away, not with CBS airing reruns opposite the Olympics and the sequel premiering right after the Super Bowl. But it's highly unlikely that the program or any of its cast members, past or future, will ever again saturate the media to the extent that they have this summer. Good news, right?
Not so fast. The outcome of the networks' ongoing reality-show rampage may soon have viewers longing for another glimpse of "Survivor" champ Richard's pixilated private parts. If what is in the works is the best the Hollywood creative community can do, let us declare, emphatically, that it has run out of gas.
According to Broadcasting & Cable, NBC has signed up for the U.S. version of the Dutch series "Chains of Love," in which a man (or woman) is chained for five days to several persons of the opposite sex and releases them one by one until only one is left - and then the two go on a date. What excitement. NBC is also planning a special, "Sweet Revenge," which "allows friends, co-workers and family members a chance to get back at someone with the help of [the show's] producers."
NBC apparently already knows how foolish their programming is going to be. Washington Post TV writer Lisa de Moraes points out that the network's "announcement about ['Chains'] does not include any quotes about how great it is from either NBC west coast president Scott Sassa or from NBC entertainment division president Garth Ancier, which is unusual." If Sassa and Ancier won't praise "Chains," you know it's awful - worse-than-"Big Brother" awful.
An upcoming Fox reality project, "Love Cruise," skips the chains and gets right to the, um, dating. The Post's de Moraes reports that on the show, sixteen single persons, eight from each sex and none older than 35, go on a Caribbean cruise on which, in the network's words, "cameras will capture every tantalizing moment." Unsurprisingly, Fox, given its "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" embarrassment, is "going through hoops on the background checks," says a "Love Cruise" executive producer.
From sex to violence: Electronic Media says that Fox is nearing a deal for "Road Rage," a "reality-based game show" which those involved call "demolition derby with a wrestling sensitivity." No, dear reader, I have
no idea what this means. God help us all.
Also from Electronic Media comes the news that ABC has acquired "Prison Break," a British show concept about "ten people who try to break out of a specially constructed prison." And MTV has "Mall Confessions," which, reports Broadcasting & Cable, "takes [a] candid-cam into shopping centers around the country in a mobile confessional booth." (Penance for these confessants, perhaps, will consist of visiting the Gap during a sale without the means to buy anything.)
These programs are so dreadful-sounding that you can poke fun at them. That's not the case with the appalling "Confessions" - real-life, videotaped criminal confessions - which debuts September 10 on Court TV.
We're not talking about shoplifters here. "The first three confessions," according to a Court TV press release, "involve...Steven Smith, convicted of raping and killing a doctor...Daniel Rakowitz, charged with killing his roommate and then boiling her body...and David Garcia, a male prostitute found guilty of murder after claiming self-defense." "While some of the more graphic description of the convicts' crimes will be excised," writes Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times, "much will remain."
Protests over "Confessions" have been widespread. The network's response was to schedule in the time slot after the premiere a panel discussion to include, says Rutenberg, "experts in crime and psychology." Even though one assumes these experts won't try to rationalize the monstrous acts in question, in its yoking of scholarship and sleaze Court TV's ploy reminds me of the "intellectuals" who a decade ago championed the artistic merits of the porno-rap outfit 2 Live Crew.
The critics' underlying message is that Court TV is doing to the judicial process what MTV has done to music. But why the surprise? Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor of television and film, explains the reality of reality TV: "When you're flipping through the dial of 90 channels, everyone is trying to get something to stop you in your channel-surfing tracks. It used to be that a graphic scene in an HBO movie would do it. Now it takes something much more drastic."
So what's next? Shows featuring video of actual crimes, including murders? "60 Minutes" broke that taboo with Dr. Kevorkian's assisted murder of Thomas Youk. Sure, the world recoiled at that horrific spectacle, but don't be surprised to find it come back. Snuff TV is right around the corner. It's the next step down on our voyage toward a cultural abyss.
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