Two new spectacularly retarded television shows do their damnedest to make innocent viewers pine for the early days of reality television, when the only victims were the alleged perps getting their faces ground into the curb by police officers.
Jesus, Mary and John McEnroe. What hath NBC and Fox wrought? Decent viewers everywhere have recently been subjected to a spate of promotional segments for two upcoming game shows, entitled The Chair and The Chamber respectively. Not only do they both vie to outdo each other in the stupidity sweepstakes, but according to a Washington Post article last Friday, Fox has a lawsuit pending against NBC for allegedly ripping off their concept.
Granted, the idea of hooking someone up and monitoring their vitals as you increase their “discomfort” while simultaneously asking them trivia questions is original. And, granted, Hollywood/La-la-land somehow generates a self-contained vortex within which several natural laws are suspended. However, challenging a great white shark to an arm-wrestle in its natural environment is also highly original. And any propensity to imitate stupid acts, environmental or otherwise, can be downright fatal—nature supplies us an excellent exemplar in lemmings.
But what of game shows? Well, it’s my professional opinion that we are witnessing a species in its decline. During the population boom initiated by Survivor’s success, some bafflingly odd and downright bad offspring were born.
And despite the fact that the mania for reality television and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?-imitating game shows has largely passed, a surfeit of producers weaned on Mark Burnett and Regis Philbin continue to pollute the airwaves. In times of meagre sustenance, organisms who somehow vary in a way which accords them an advantage over others will thrive while others perish.
Seeing the market shrink, these producers are throwing their wildest curveballs in hopes of finding some sort of audience.
What would the great forefather of reality shows think? Though there might’ve been other higher-minded attempts involving cabbies and families on cable or public television, the first true reality series was Cops. All the gritty reality of a documentary, and all the violence and sensationalism of profoundly malfunctioning human interaction. Cops was, and is, cheap, sleazy and edifying only in the same way as a parent threatening a child with a spectral boogie-man to keep him in line.
It would take Mark Burnett’s fusion of this tawdry and dangerous aesthetic with his truly impressive human-horse race of a show, the Eco-Challenge, combined with a large cash injection, to produce what is still the zenith of this strange genre.
But the appearance of shows like The Chair and The Chamber can only mean one thing—we won’t have these kinds of shows to kick around for much longer.