It was a grand experiment putting cameras in the middle of a group of people and recording their every fart for 72 hours, editing it down to 18 minutes of concentrated reality and then selling it to the networks. It was also an incredible way to cut costs on talent, with no paychecks being cut for actors or writers. Despite someone coming up with an even less expensive form of entertainment, called YouTube, we must accept that reality TV is here to stay.
Producers embraced the formula of following people around with cameras and sound guys and hoping like hell that something interesting happened. Show creators who were early to the party had their pick of fun and exciting groups of people to film, and shows like “COPS” and “The Deadliest Catch” were TV gold. After all, there was no shortage of action on crab boats or police cars. The key for these reality pioneers was to follow the right crab boats and the right cops. It turns out that fishing 150 miles off the coast of Alaska is a whole lot more exciting to watch than some guy with a crab trap full of chicken necks trying his luck off of a railroad bridge outside of Mahahawkin, NJ. Similarly, it was a good idea to film COPS episodes in trailer parks and housing projects where bare-chested men with home made tattoos were more likely to be having slap fights with their common-law wives. It was no coincidence that COPS never spent much time doing ride-alongs in affluent suburbs – there’s a paucity of toothless meth addicts and street corner drug dealers to chase in places like Reston, Virginia.
Anything this successful in the world of entertainment is going to be done ad nauseum. We’ve watched like well-trained zombies as camera crews followed exterminators, gold miners, homicide detectives, Kardashians, wedding gown salesmen, cake decorators and God knows who else. My TV won’t stop telling me about the exciting shows coming up where we’ll soon be privy to the behind the scenes drama of rodeo girls. Rodeo girls?! You make the popcorn and I’ll get the barbiturates!
As we can see from shows like “Rodeo Girls”, show developers are constantly searching for people in or on the fringe to thrust into reality stardom. One enterprising group of show developers at A&E happened upon a diamond in the rough in rural Louisiana; a financially successful family of country folk. It was like the Beverly Hillbillies with no Milburn Drysdale and a few extra Jethro Bodines. A ton of episodes later, “Duck Dynasty” has turned into a major franchise in reality TV.
In recent weeks, videos have surfaced of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, (he’s the one in the camo tux) saying all kinds of politically incorrect things. Phil’s topics have included such hot topics as gay bashing and his belief that homosexuality leads to bestiality, some racial insensitivity and most recently, suggesting that men marry 15 year old girls. As one might expect, people are up in arms. The network is struggling to deal with a bearded goose which has suddenly started laying exploding eggs.
For all our clamoring for reality shows featuring eccentric oddballs, there is a discomfort when these characters turn out to be a little too authentic. It appears that as much as the viewing public enjoys reality TV, we simply don’t want too much reality. Anyone with half a brain* will accept that there are those among us with unique views on race, just as there are those with homophobic ideologies or a taste for the younger versions of young ladies. While it’s desirable to watch as reality stars live the bumpkin dream of making a small fortune by successfully selling duck calls, we just don’t want to know if they may actually embrace some of the politically incorrect views we’d typically expect to find in the backwater locales of some of our redder states**.
For anyone who’s interested, I’ve got a great idea for a new reality TV series. Cameras will follow around a bunch of A&E executives and producers as they try to figure out how to solve the problems posed by the rants of one of their reality TV superstars. We’ll be glued to our flat screens as spin doctors in Armani suits try to minimize the damage of one of Phil’s outrageous comments, only to have another gem surface a few hours later! The gritty drama interspersed with zany hi-jinx will make for Emmy-worthy entertainment.
As is always the case when I blog about possible formats for new reality shows, I offer this concept free of charge, asking only that my name and blogs are featured in the show credits. Also, I should get one of those Emmy’s***.
* In the spirit of correctness with which I’ve got to write if I ever hope to be employed by A&E, I’d like to point out that having half a brain is a difficult
handicap physical challenge and people who live life with such a disability should be applauded and not confused with the common phrase of ones having “half a brain” or the similar label of being a “half wit”. In the event that a network decides to base a new reality show on the adventures of a group of people struggling to live with only partial brains, please leave me out of it. Besides, it’s been done already – witness any episode of “Jersey Shore”?
** People with politically incorrect ideas can be found in any corner of the United States of America, and indeed anywhere in the world. The author’s use of red states as a qualifier is not meant to imply that residents of said states harbor any such aberrant values; It was simply a ploy used to make residents of blue states feel even more superior than usual. This description was also not meant to convey any bias toward color-blind readers.
*** I don’t want to come off as a profiteer, but my altruism only runs so deep. Screw the Emmy and give me some cold, hard cash.