Sunday, March 05, 2006

Reality TV

This is sort of a TV review...not our usual style, but we felt like sharing this early morning.

We've said it once, we've said it a hundred times to friends and colleagues...we're generally not fans of the "reality TV" genre.

We can count on two hands how many minutes of "Survivor" we've seen over its entire run. We tried "The Apprentice", and ended up wanting to fire Donald Trump from our TV screens. We step into "American Idol" only long enough to wince at really bad singers for a few minutes. And don't even get us started about "Fear Factor", "The Real World", "The Bachelor", et al.

But round about 2003 or so, "buzz" we were hearing led us directly to try one show..."The Joe Schmo Show", on Spike TV of all places. We decided to brave watching a show on a cable network that basically positions itself as a TV frat house, and tried it out for ourselves. We got hooked.

The show's lone "real" person, one Matt Kennedy Gould of the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon, thought he was on a reality show to compete for a $100,000 prize among other fellow contestants...when instead, he was surrounded by actors playing typical reality TV stereotypes. It was all in good fun, honest.

Those who ended up watching the show know it's was not as bad as it sounds. In fact, it was basically the only "reality show" with a heart. When Gould ended up being Mr. Really Nice Guy/Everyman, the show turned on a dime, celebrated him, and the "reveal" of the show's premise to him is still one of the more touching moments we've ever seen on TV.

In addition to originally discovering new "Saturday Night Live" cast member Kristen Wiig ("Dr. Pat") on the show, we were also fortunate enough to strike up an acquaintance with one of the show's co-creators and producers. Getting to talk with him during the run of the show is one reason we realized that the folks putting this together genuinely liked the guy who'd been set up as their "mark".

A dear friend, who watched that show along with us, also got us watching CBS' smart reality/travel show "The Amazing Race". (That's why we had to explain all this above.) And we're thrilled to report that "TAR" is back, and back to its roots.

Last season, we can only guess that someone slipped something into the drinks of TAR producers/creators Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri while they were planning the eighth run of the show. "The Amazing Race: Family Edition", instead of leading teams of two across vast parts of the world, led teams of four family members across vast parts of Americana...from a giant office chair to a BP station to a mobile home dealer. (No, we aren't making that up. That was actually one entire episode.)

After spending inordinate amounts of time in Utah, and driving back and forth among various "old west" landscapes, the show ended near Niagara Falls...mercifully. A mercy TV killing if ever we saw one, even if the Cincinnati-area winning family was a nice enough group.

Near the end, CBS was clearly aware what was done. At the end of "Family Edition", the network ran a promo all but saying "HEY! We're sorry! The real show will be back in February, honest!" Thus, we're back to the usual format for "The Amazing Race 9", with a pretty decent selection of teams and an immediate departure from North America. They won't be back on U.S. soil again until the last episode, and for that, we're thankful. Elise and Bertram, we officially forgive you.

If you're not usually a reality TV fan, this might be worth checking out. The show plays more like a spiced-up travel documentary than the typical reality TV fare, and New Zealand native/host Phil Keoghan is golden. We don't watch much episodic or series TV, let alone reality TV, but we're parked in front of the tube for TAR...

1 comment:

Pat Cloonan said...

The Amazing Race also holds up well in reruns on GSN. Oddly, I didn't catch the last TAR run with those families, but if it was as bad as you described it, perhaps just as well. (Then again, it was my late sister, a TV junkie when she wasn't watching two handicapped relatives, who turned me on to reality TV. She died in August and I wasn't really into going back to reality TV for a while as a result.)