Help wanted: Be on TV, or at least pretend

Posted on April 5, 2004

With the recent surge in reality television, I have decided to create my own

hit series called "The Communicator." I need someone to be in charge

of my phone decisions. So every time a telemarketer calls, urging me to move

my phone plan to another galaxy, I will transfer them directly to The Communicator.

At that point, I would hope the telemarketer would be told that I'm locked

into a contract until the year 2348, but that it was OK to call back after

that time.

Sure this sounds like a pretty crummy job, ranking up there with an electrical

outlet tester or a professional pencil sharpener. But it will be on TELEVISION,

which of course means the excitement and drama of the tryouts to be on the

show, as well as the actual job, will be immensely overdone and vastly popular.

Even though reality television, in itself, seems a bit of an oxymoron (if

it's on TV, is it real-i-ty?), I definitely laud the producers who earn excellent

ratings with their respective shows. And some of the shows are really intriguing

and so addicting that if they came in a bottle, you would see a huge surgeon

general's warning, complete with a skull and crossbones symbol that closely

resembles Simon from "American Idol."

Reality TV is nothing new; the first show aired more than

30 years ago on PBS. According

to the Web site, "An American Family" was

a 12-hour documentary broadcast in 1973 about a middle-class American family.

The ratings were great, but controversy surrounded the show due to its portrayal

of marital tensions and the lifestyle of the oldest son, who was possibly the

first openly gay person to appear in a TV show.

While the program was short-lived, "An American Family" set the

stage for the current wave of reality TV. From

wordIQ, there are three basic types of reality TV: the docusoap ("The Real World," "The Bachelor," "The

Newlyweds"); the hidden camera, I GOT YOU! show ("Candid Camera," "Punk'd");

and the game show ("Survivor," "American Idol," "The

Apprentice"). It's actually frightening to see the entire

list of these shows, almost as if you would think they would run out of ideas. But they haven't

even come close! Apparently, they (meaning the aliens, er, producers who come

up with these things) are even working on a series where people play golf.

I wish I could say I was making that up.

The Orwell Project contains the most comprehensive coverage to reality TV,

including the latest news, show descriptions, a message board and even casting

calls. I considered listing my new show here, but I figured just advertising

in a column should suffice. I'm also thinking about casting for a reality series

that is about making a reality series. Isn't that like looking into two facing


So what is so extraordinary about a reality television show? Why is it so

mesmerizing that even the "Golden Girls" can't compare? I've watched

approximately half of the shows on the list, but I've never followed any of

them. The closest I came was back-to-back episodes of the second "Survivor" season

and one-and-a-half episodes of "Joe Millionaire." But after a quick

survey of friends, I found I was definitely in the minority. I would say three-fourths

of them had at least one favorite reality show and a handful of others they

watched periodically.

Among the favorites:

American Idol: Is there anyone on the planet who has not watched this show?

I'm not sure what is crazier: last year's third-place finisher Kimberly Locke

hitting No. 1 on Billboard charts, or the fact that we had a family duet

competition, Idol-style, on vacation a few years back.


Eye for the Straight Guy: Home decorating/personal makeover shows appear

to be the newest reality niche. This one does the trick because girls can

appreciate the design work and guys might get a clue how to impress girls.

Survivor: It's startling that this show has survived for so long, with TV turnover

equaling that of most professional sports teams' managers. The Survivor All-Stars,

the current series, was a great idea to bring back the favorites. One of

my friends obtained a passport in hopes of making the show, so hopefully

there will be a few more seasons.

The Newlyweds: This might be the most realistic thing on TV. The nice guy

follows the pretty girl around and watches her make the decisions. While most

people seem to think Jessica is just a dumb blonde, I don't because she's making

more money than me just walking around her house!

So what is your take on reality TV? What are your favorite and least-favorite

shows? Email me at

and give me your opinion. Next month,

I'll put together all the comments about this phenomena. Unfortunately, true

reality television