June 13, 2005
Reality: It's not just for off-camera life anymore.
The Nine Month Inch
Sometimes You Just Need a Break From Reality
School's out, the sun is shining, movie theaters are hiking ticket prices. Ah, it's that time of year again — time for the new TV season to begin!
Wait. what? Didn't the last season just end, like, five minutes ago? Doesn't my TiVo deserve a break after working overtime during May Sweeps? Don't I deserve a break?
All of this goes to prove the old axiom "Be careful what you wish for."
For those of you currently on Rumspringa Break who never turned on a TV prior to 1999, it wasn't always like this. It used to be that summer was a time of wall-to-wall reruns, when people who hadn't figured out how to get their VCRs to stop blinking "12:00" (a VCR was like an Amish TiVo) could catch up on all the shows they'd missed and the rest of us could enjoy a trip to the beach without worrying about all the new episodes of Friends we were missing. Sure we complained about having to go three to four months without new installments of our favorite shows, but that was just the way things were and we accepted that.
On August 16, 1999, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire debuted and became an instant sensation (in no small part thanks to the lack of original programming it had to compete with). It wasn't long before the geniuses who program the networks (well, the genius who programmed the Tiffany network, anyway) realized that if they put new stuff on TV in the summer, people might watch. However, with creative people like actors and writers needing time to rest and "stretch" on the big screen and operating budgets designed for nine-month seasons, there was only one place to turn for cheap content that required neither writers nor actors (in the conventional, Guild-regulated sense at least): Reality Television!
|Just because it's "new to me" doesn't mean I'm going to spend my summer catching up on reruns of Navy NCIS or Yes, Dear|
The problem for me is that since I watch so many Reality shows during the regular season, the novelty of the summer Reality craze has worn off. More than that not-so-fresh feeling, there's no break from it. At first, Reality was like trashy beach reading — something fun and mindless to give your brain a rest after nine months of convoluted storylines, character arcs and snappy repartee. Now it's become like those obnoxious summer reading lists you'd get on the last day of school. I didn't want to read Wuthering Heights during my months off then and I don't much feel like watching the umpteenth Apprentice rip-off now.
The truth is, I'm burned out on Reality (shhh, don't tell my editor — that's kinda my beat). Realetists have been predicting for years — pretty much since Richard Hatch won a million bucks — that America would tire of the genre and come running back to scripted television, begging for forgiveness. I've always dismissed that notion as wishful thinking on their part, and I still do. I'm sure that by the time Jeff Probst is back from his summer vacation, I'll be rejuvenated and ready for more shaky camerawork, confessionals and backstabbery. Until then, I think I'll spend my sunny days working on my summer reading list.
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