Commentary

Reality TV: Nastiness Is Back

The original world of reality programming--full of vapid, droll, and other characters who backstab each other--is back, and not a moment too soon.

Feel-good, aspirational shows--in the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" or "The Biggest Loser" vein--are taking a backseat. From a marketing perspective, networks including ABC and Fox are hitting the ground running with shows full of dimwits, screaming matches, and some sexual tension.

ABC is launching "America Inventor," in which the wacky and smart bring products that'll vie for a top prize of $1 million for their product to be marketed. Network promos have the inventors talking about their strange contraptions, including one man who seemingly urinates in a specially made suit.

You heard right. What's that invention about? The promo didn't go into details--all part of ABC's attempt at keeping the decorum of prime time somewhere above "Fear Factor." It's almost as if ABC were trying to outdo Fox--the king of the bad taste reality shows.

But Fox, itself, isn't sitting on the sidelines in this down and dirty fight. It has "Unan1mous," a show where contestants will remain stuck inside a bunker until they come to a unanimous decision about which one should receive the show's grand prize. A bunker seems a natural place for spiteful and malicious characters.

These efforts, from Fox and ABC, are merely to sustain what has always been loved about reality shows--the hissing, sniping and pouting that gave us the original villains and victims in "Survivor" (Richard) and "The Apprentice" (Omarosa) and others.

For its part, "American Inventor" might not have the wickedness of "Unan1mous," but one can expect "Inventor" judges to be raw and frank. At best it'll be a poor man's "American Idol," with initial contestants making goofy inventions (read that as bad notes, strange performances in "Idol" lingo) with the seriously real products to come in the final rounds (great vocalists).

If that sounds like familiar territory, it should. "American Inventor" comes from none other than that ill-tempered "Idol" judge himself, Simon Cowell, and "Idol"'s producers.

From all this, one then can breathe a sigh of relief--reality nastiness is back where it belongs.

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