Saturday, September 09, 2006

Reality TV

When Reality TV was first invented, it was a lot different from what we have today. I can't claim to be an expert on the subject since I never watched much of it, but I have an observation or two to make nonetheless.

As far as I know, the first Reality TV show was aired on MTV about a decade or so ago. I think it was called The Real World and it involved gathering together a group of really annoying or neurotic people in their twenties and making them live together under one roof. It was an interesting idea, I suppose, but it wasn't that much fun to watch -- not for me at least, since I don't get any particular enjoyment from watching neurotic and annoying people fighting about stupid and inconsequential things. If I enjoyed that sort of thing, I'd probably get a few roommates.

I did see that show once -- mostly out of curiosity -- and it wasn't awful, but I thought its appeal would be limited and short-lived. I wouldn't have guessed that it would have spawned the huge multi-billion dollar Reality TV industry that we have today.

But as I said, Reality TV is a lot different today. It doesn't have much to do with reality anymore, but the real difference is that the shows today are basically high-stakes game shows. The participants are contestants who are hoping to win some sort of prize, whether it's a truckload of money or a career as a TV personality.

Of course, I'm basing that statement on my general impression, not on any actual viewing experience. The only two Reality TV shows I've ever seen are The Real World and some show about Anna Nicole Smith, which I also saw only once.

But I have seen a lot of previews and promos, so I know, for example, that Donald Trump had a show in which the grand prize was the opportunity to be his assistant. I also know that the Food Network (whose new motto is something like "It's not just about food") has a show in which the winner gets to be the host of a new cooking show. And not to be outdone, HGTV has a show in which the winning contestant gets to host a new home design show.

I haven't seen any of those shows, by the way, but as far as I'm concerned, the only qualification needed for hosting a show on HGTV is a lot of what often gets mislabeled as "personality" but is actually just the ability to make idiotic jokes and generally get on people's nerves. I liked HGTV a lot more when the focus was on home renovation. Now I hardly ever watch it.

Anyway, Reality TV shows no signs of impending demise. As a matter of fact, I think there's even a cable channel that shows nothing but Reality TV shows. So since they're obviously here to stay, I've got a proposal to make.

But before I go any further, I'm pretty sure I'm not the first person to make this suggestion, so I don't want you to think I'm trying to take credit for something I didn't come up with myself. However, I might be the first person who ever made this proposal in earnest. I think everyone else has said it jokingly or cynically.

In any event, here's the idea: Instead of presidential elections, we have a Reality TV show called The Next President or American President or something like that. I think this would be a really good idea -- or at least it would be a much better way of choosing a president than the one we have now. And if you think I'm kidding, consider all the tribulations and ordeals that the Reality TV contestants have to endure. It's a lot more than what we ask from our presidential candidates.

That's because presidential candidates basically do nothing. Sure, they fly all over the country, telling people what they want to hear and reading speeches that someone else wrote for them. Okay, they also engage in a few so-called debates, for which they're given the questions in advance. But that's about it. They're never really put to the test. They never have to think on their feet. They're never forced to show us how they perform in crisis situations. As a result, it takes a lot more effort to become a pop star or a TV show host than it does to become the President of the United States.

So let's get this idea off the ground. If some TV producer starts the ball rolling now, the show could be in production by the time the current presidential term expires. I really think it will improve things.

Of course, I don't think it will solve all our problems. In particular, it won't ensure that we get any halfway decent candidates to begin with. I know that all the other Reality TV shows have a pre-screening process designed to eliminate most of the potential contestants, but it doesn't seem to do much good. I've never seen American Idol, for example, but I know that the winner is always some bland singer who mostly knows how to please a crowd. That may be okay for manufactured pop stars, but our standards for presidential candidates should probably be a little higher. I don't have a solution for this yet, but if I think of something, I'll let you know.