A couple of days ago at the TV critics tour in Los Angeles, ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson was dogged by questions concerning possible problems of judges and viewers voting on "Dancing With The Stars." No formal action would be taken said the network.
Now yesterday, Fox Entertainment President Peter Ligouri said there would be an independent investigation of "American Idol" by a team of lawyers because of an alleged relationship one contestant had with the judge, Paula Abdul.
Suddenly TV shows are getting the third degree. What should viewers get? Perhaps a suntan - and a good yawn. Aren't their bigger issues to mull over than whether some frenzied fans of a soap star jammed the ballot box to make Kelly Monaco the big winner on "Dancing With The Stars?" Should there be some governmental investigation about why we are at war in Iraq better than muckraking into whether Paula Abdul romanticized a contestant and gave him advice on haircuts and clothes?
Sure there is public trust to let people know that reality competitions aren't fixed. Quiz show scandals of the 1950s opened network executives' eyes on that subject a long time ago. But there's a different TV environment these days - one where there is always a question of doubt.
What can you really believe? What if there was some questionable accounting of judges' or viewers' scores in any reality show? We know reality shows aren't unscripted - that editors work feverishly, wadding through miles of videotape to get the right dramatic responses. Not that the reality of the finale is skewed - just that the journey there might not have been as it happened.
After all, it's just television. It's not like the main traffic light in town stopped working. Unlike in sports - football, hockey, or wrestling, for example - no one get hurts here. Okay, maybe a little mental anguish. But this is all by choice. American viewers don't get drafted, being forced to sing for their supper on "Idol." No one is put on trains headed to slave labor dance camps to hoof their way onto "Dancing With The Stars."
TV critics tend to get blinded when it comes to the nature of TV programming - and their readers -- as if innocent women and children's minds are being brainwashed by watching a reality show that isn't on the up and up.
Finally Liguori verbally slapped some sense into the proceedings: "We're talking about a piece of entertainment here."
Oh yeah. It's entertainment.