TV Strike May Bolster 'Reality' TV
The good news: lots more game shows and reality fare!
Rather than such favorites as "The Practice" and "Frasier," look for "Survivor III" and "Temptation Island II," more "Big Brother" and "The Mole," and other such real-life challenges featuring money, sex, humiliation, insect hors d'oeuvres _ or all of the above.
As the networks scramble to come up with enough strike-proof programming, here are some of the new shows they might consider:
- "Reality Lawsuits"
Where there's reality TV, there's litigation. CBS sues Fox for allegedly ripping off "Survivor" with "Boot Camp." "Survivor" washout Stacey Stillman sues CBS, claiming the producers rigged the game to get rid of her. The Los Angeles couple booted from Fox's "Temptation Island" because they have a child are suing the show's producers, claiming their scenes were unfairly "edited and manipulated." Why not a courtroom show where such lawsuits could be adjudicated where they belong: in front of a TV audience? It's just a matter of time: Under the guise of Phoning a Friend, a shifty "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" contestant phones someone who is only a casual acquaintance. Watch ABC sue this reprobate for fraud when "Reality Lawsuits" premieres.
- "The Schadenfreude Show" (TSS)
NBC's new game show "Weakest Link" is the latest evidence: We love to jeer at life's losers ("You are the weakest link," snaps acerbic host Anne Robinson; "good-bye!") as we banish them from sight. Its title borrowed from the word that means "glee at another's misfortune," "The Schadenfreude Show" aims to rub salt in the wounds of deserving subjects.
"TSS" would chortle at Bryant Gumbel's "Early Show" ratings (and short-lived beard). Giggle at CNN for signing former actress Andrea Thompson as a Headline News anchor - a hire made all the dicier after nude photos of her surfaced on the Internet.
"TSS" would rejoice that MTV has been hit with another round of criticism over "Jackass," its weekly celebration of dumb and often dangerous misconduct.
Meanwhile, "TSS" could barely suppress chuckles at any "Jackass" viewer impressionable enough to tape a life-threatening stunt in hopes of getting on the show - like, maybe, the 16-year-old Kentucky boy who was nearly killed when he stood in the path of the car his friend drove into him.
Another source of "TSS" satisfaction: the squalid yet tedious "XFL Football," a misadventure in pigskin hooliganism that repeatedly dragged NBC to its lowest prime-time rating for any show or any night. Ever.
With "XFL," NBC was caught red-handed underestimating the audience - a remarkable feat.
But the network compounded its disgrace by choosing exactly the wrong partner to operate the league. NBC hooked up with World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, whose specialty isn't sports but its polar opposite: scripted brawls with predetermined outcomes.
According to this rationale, the producers of "ER" should be running a hospital.
- "Reality Stalkers!"
Used to be, we knew our place: in front of the TV watching the show. Now we clamor to get in front of the camera and BE the show.
Our lust for mass attention is what makes reality programming possible, of course. And what makes no price too high to pay for that attention.
Even the Kentucky teen who busted his leg was rewarded for his sacrifice: That tape of him sailing through the air was repeatedly broadcast on network TV and cable news, giving him far more exposure than "Jackass" ever could.
Now what will he do for an encore?
More importantly, what of those people who prefer to stay out of camera range? What of those publicity-averse folk who, for some unfathomable reason, don't yearn to be on TV?
Wherever they lurk - in their backyard, at their workplace, at an ATM withdrawing cash - they will be found and exposed.
Thanks to "Reality Stalkers!" everyone, like it or not, will be a star. Writers and actors? Who needs all those pricey outsiders when we've got us!
Elsewhere in television ...
'WHAT ABOUT JOAN': It doesn't have a question mark, but "What About Joan" has landed an extended run. The ABC midseason sitcom starring Joan Cusack, which premiered in March, will continue with new episodes through May sweeps, the network has announced - a sure sign that ABC sees hit potential. Cusack co-stars with Kyle Chandler ("Early Edition") in this comedy, set at a Chicago college. It airs Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. EDT.