From the archives


Reality TV? Get real!

Here are two of my favorite columns on America's favorite TV genre:

Top ten signs you've been watching too much 'reality' TV

July 2004

I have in my right hand, direct from my home office, tonight's top ten list. Top ten signs you've been watching too much reality TV.

10. At the last family reunion, you voted off your brother-in-law

9. You've installed a video camera in every room of your house

8. For chocolate and peanut butter, you'll strip naked

7. You've named your children Ozzy and Sharon

6. While in financial planning meetings, you shout "Hit me with the digits!"

5. You purchased William Hung's CD

4. While your neighbors were on vacation, you sneaked in and completely remodeled their house

3. When you have guests over, you serve Madagascar hissing cockroaches

2. You're actually interested in "the simple life" of Paris and Nicole

1. You know the story behind each of these signs (Seek immediate help!)

Experience some really real reality this summer. Turn off the TV, put down the paper, log off the Internet, and enjoy the simple life with your family and friends. Play catch. Grill out. Go for a walk or a bike ride. Visit the zoo. Build a tree house. Go fishing. Tell someone you love him or her. Now that's real!

© Copyright 2004 James N. Watkins

Related post
Top ten lists page

Real 'reality'

August 2000

Over fifty forty million (that's seven zeroes!) viewers tuned in to see Survivor's Richard, "that fat naked guy," win a million dollars (that's six zeroes!).

I had a hard time deciding who to cheer for: a conniving exhibitionist, a grumpy old bigot who announced the Bible is only useful for toilet paper, a mean-mouthed truck driver who's considering posing nude in Hustler, or a woman wanted for the 1995 theft of a credit card.

Even the losers are being offered lucrative offers, such as the doctor who will be an actor on The Guiding Light. And four of the "final four" have already posed for a "Got Milk?" ad. Rudy, Richard, Susan, Kelly, and the rest voted off the "desert tropic isle" are now famous celebrities because of their 15 minutes (or 13 weeks) of fame. Ex-contestants have appeared in Reebok commercials, and Colleen and Jenna have turned down offers to take off those swimsuits for Playboy. Gervase has since appeared in an episode of the UPN's The Hughleys.

Reality shows are big. COPS and Real Life have been around for several seasons, but Survivor has flooded the airwaves with an entire China Sea of flotsam. (Survivor II, will pit sixteen new contestants against the elements of Australia's outback and each other. Please, someone vote the host off the island!)

Big Brother—aka "Big Bother"—features a boring assortment of people trapped in a TV studio with cameras and microphones discussing their boring lives with a few bored viewers at home.

Other reality TV shows are reportedly planned. Fox TV's The Runner, will be a combination of The Fugitive, Survivor, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. A single contestant must elude bounty hunters and viewers at home to arrive at the goal undetected. NBC is dragging out Chains of Love with a woman chained to four men. She must eventually choose if she is interested in linking up with one of the contestants. ABC has dug up The Mole where contestants spy on each other. And Court TV will air Confessions promising actual videotaped confessions of real criminals.

This is "reality" TV? Let's see a show of hands. How many of you have spent 39 days on a China Sea island while 40 million people watch a guy in safari gear make you wallow in the mud and swallow grubs? How many of you have TV cameras in your bathroom connected to a nationwide audience? (If you do, I don't want to know about it, thank you!) How many of you, outside of a Mississippi chain gang, are bound together to total strangers?

COPS comes closer to reality than "Alien Autopsies" and "Who Wants to Disgrace Themselves By Marrying a Total Stranger on National TV?" but is this reality? Pa-lease!

To be real, Survivor would feature a single mom trying to make ends meet while working two jobs. A husband and dad who is hoping painful chemotherapy will help him live long enough to walk his daughter down the aisle. How 'bout a homeless family on the streets of southside Chicago? How 'bout the 100,000 residents of Hyderabad, India, who became homeless when torrential rains caused a devastating flood. (Oh that's right. You didn't hear about it due to the deluge of 'Survivor' coverage.)

Real life would have more average looking people than the beautiful, buff co-eds on the MTV show. And, it would be great fun for the televised bounty hunters from Fugitive to track down so-called parents who aren't paying child support.

Reality TV is actually fantasy TV. Rather than trying to live meaningful, purposeful lives, millions of couch potatoes try to vicariously live out their lives playing "peeping Tom." (Okay, I've gotten sucked into the Survivor silliness, but only lasted through about fifteen minutes of Big Brother which turns to be a soap opera with no plot or interesting dialog.)

And, worst of all, reality TV confuses fame with heroics. Richard the exhibitionist is now famous; Richard the Lion-Hearted was heroic (even if he wasn't exactly politically correct). Kelly is famous; Helen Keller was heroic. Susan is famous; Susan B. Anthony was heroic. Rudy the redneck is famous; Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was heroic.

Reality TV? Get real!

© Copyright 2000 James N. Watkins

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