Monday, January 19, 2009

The truth about reality TV

It all began a long, long time ago when a bunch of television executives got together to have a meeting on the state of television and one of them said, “I am so over scripts.”

Then somebody else chimed in, “Me too. Let’s just film regular people doing stupid stuff. That way we won’t need writers or professional actors, just people who want to get on TV, and there’s no shortage of those.”

And so it was agreed, and “reality television” was born. The jury is still out on whether that was a good thing or not.

Either way, it’s too late now. Several years have passed and now reality TV is all grown up and has reproduced like crazy, taking over the airwaves and spawning all kinds of shows about all kinds of weird things that get watched by all kinds of people.

Nobody can quite pinpoint why reality TV has become so popular. There are lots of different types of reality TV shows, and people like them all for different reasons.

Sometimes we just like to watch people in their natural habitat, so we watch Dirty Jobs or Little People, Big World.

Sometimes we like to feel good and fuzzy inside, so we watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and watch Ty Pennington renovate a house for some poor people.

But by and large it seems that we love to see people pitted against each other under pretty much any circumstance. We love to see people bicker and backstab to stay on some island and win some money, and have been watching that particular scenario for 18 going on 19 seasons now. We love to see people fight and claw to be the next big pop-star, chef, model, fashion designer, etc. etc. We even watch people compete to lose the most weight.

Why is it so fascinating? Maybe we just like to see people at their worst. A lot of times reality TV is just so shocking we can’t help but not watch. It’s like some perverse kind of voyeurism where we like to peer anonymously into the bizarre lives of complete strangers who do completely out-of-control things. Or maybe it’s like a car accident: we know we shouldn’t be looking, but we have this morbid curiosity and can’t tear our eyes away.

Take Rock of Love, for example. It’s currently in its third season, only it’s called Rock of Love Bus now. How does a show like this survive one, let alone three, seasons? I guess the better question is “Who wants to watch a mob of silicone-y skanks sink to all sorts of degrading depths to win the affections of some has-been butt rock hair metal singer?” Apparently, everyone.

And, for better or worse, it looks as if reality TV is here to stay. Major networks and even cable channels are choosing to fill more and more of their slots with reality television. Sure, it may change forms a little bit, but it’s such a huge part of our culture now, I can’t picture living without it. Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, I’m rooting for Britanya.

* Just in case anyone is confused, I am not really rooting for Britanya. That is TOTALLY a joke. I would never. Nor have I ever seen an episode of Rock Of Love Bus, nor will I ever see one. I would rather chew off my own leg.