Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Reality. Really?

Last night, I had an epiphany.

Well, actually it was more like this morning; I tend to get a little mixed up when it comes to either end of my sleeping patterns. But that doesn’t matter.

What matters is that I discovered something that could mean the death of reality TV.

Now, a little background on the evil of reality TV: The Real World on MTV pretty much seeded the idea; basically taking a bunch of decent-looking young people, shoving them (and their hormones) into a house with a cool looking pool table, aquarium and boldly designed interiors, and letting them have at each other. Oh, and they didn’t have to work or anything. Very Real World, right? Well, a couple seasons passed and catfights and rape attempts just didn’t seem to keep garnering ratings, so they decide to force the people to actually get jobs but – here’s the catch – they actually have to work together.

And it’s still thriving, this show. As much as I hate to admit it, the Real World is quickly becoming the Absolut Vodka ad of reality TV: they can do anything they want with it and people will still watch it. The next Real World could be subtitled: ‘Sleeping’ and be those creepy night-vision shots of people sleeping. Not having sex or anything remotely fun. Just sleeping. And people will watch.

But then it happened. CBS decides to pull a Gladiator and ‘unleash Hell’ on those of us who still crave a written script and trained actors; they break out Survivor and by doing so, start a giant wave of reality TV fluff that stretch from the supple curves of Paris Hilton to the depressing trailer lots of Anna Nicole Smith to the harmonically challenged American Idol.

Sure, some of the stuff is entertaining, I guess. My wife tends to watch more of than I do, something I attribute to our respective professions. She is a social worker; she deals with wounds and all-around icky stuff while I sit at a desk, drink coffee, and (try to) keep current on pop culture and communication (and you thought advertising was just “ads ‘n stuff”). Suffice it to say, when I get home, I’m not looking forward to watching TV. And on the flip side, she isn’t exactly looking forward to coming home and placing disgruntled old guys with smelly “necrotic” holes below their scrotums in places where old guys with smelly holes normally get placed. So she watches TV (most of it reality-based) and I will go to the gym or read a magazine or whatever; we both get away from our day jobs just long enough to get energized about going to work again the next day.

But here’s the thing. While I am reading or relaxing from my workout or whatever, I am usually in the same room with my wife, so I get a healthy dose of reality TV and have come to realize this: reality TV is the Napster of TV.

Now, bear with me here. First off, think about it. Napster created a revolution in and of itself, where consumers no longer had to force themselves to purchase poorly produced, ill-written lyrical trash, just for the song of the day. We’ve all been there. You hear a song, you dig it, and you go to the music store, put down your 15-20 bucks thinking that if that one song is good, then an entire CD should be even better. But you pop in the disc and soon find that the CD as a whole sucks; it isn’t worth listening to and you’re so disgusted by the whole thing that the song you actually purchased the disc for doesn’t sound half as good as it once did.

So, that said, Napster allowed the end-consumer to have a choice. Consumers no longer had to pony up the cash for poor products if they didn’t want them. Instead, they could sample the songs and as studies have shown, normally go and purchase the disc. All because they didn’t have to take the risk of what would normally be a gamble: sometimes you came out on top, but most of the times you were disappointed with the CD as a whole.

Of course, record companies got pissed off because of lost revenues due to Napster (and now to other file-sharing programs), so they immediately proceeded to shut the companies and, in the case of Metallica and other bands, the consumers down through lawsuits.

But through this file sharing, music will inevitably get better. The thing is, if I were a record company, knowing that people were downloading music, not because it’s free but because they were fed up with the quality of the product, I would make the product better. Just look at car companies. If cars were all alike with no differentiating factors, there would be no reason to purchase a BMW over a Ford. But BMW, seeing a niche in luxury and performance, went with just that. And people pay more for it.

Anyhow, how does this all relate to reality TV? Easy. In the same way that file-sharing will begin to separate poor-quality music from the good stuff, reality TV will force network and cable shows to produce better, higher-quality dramas and comedies and sitcoms.

By forcing miserable stuff on the viewing public, they are making the choice to go to reality TV an easy one. But eventually, reality TV will force actors to act, writers to write, and producers to produce, but the level will be higher. Because it has to be higher; a poorly-written, dismally produced show that once had a chance to succeed in the pre-reality TV world has no chance whatsoever, which is great for me and other cynics who can hardly stomach insipid dialogue, because we’re not forced to sit through it. Or, even worse, the trailers and commercials for said shitty-stuff.

So, there you go. A little bit about a lot of stuff, and where are we? I don’t know, but Survivor is on next week!


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