Jewish World Review July 8, 2003 / 8 Tamuz, 5763
Hill Williams at Bay
Public Television is where reality programming originated. Remember the
Louds? All the cooking shows? Even Antique Road Show could be considered
reality programming. Ordinary people with a dream that the chifferobe
up in your attic could have belonged to John Paul Jones only to have
that dream dashed the chifferobe really DID belong to John Paul Jones,
but you ruined its market value when you stripped it and painted it over
in a sunflower and daisy motif. Sorry.
The Louds begat the Osbornes, and the cooking shows begat entire cable
networks, not to mention Martha Stewart, but public television,
undaunted, continues to step boldly into the reality arena. PBS has
offered 1900 House, Frontier House, and Manor House, in which
participants step back in time and live as our forebears did, sharing
the pain and joys with us, the ardent television viewer.
And in April, PBS debuted Warrior Challenge. Participants become
Vikings, gladiators, knights, and Roman warriors, flail at each other
with weapons of choice, and collect valuable prizes. Well, no, no
valuable prizes: this is public television. They're in it for the glory,
and for the sure knowledge that ardent public television viewers are
learning something about what kind of person would want to pretend to be
a Viking on television. And that's important.
Also looking to contribute to the grandeur of the American airwaves, CBS
has laid plans to launch The New Beverly Hillbillies, in which a real
rural American family will be moved to a Beverly Hills mansion, and we
observe how they cope.
On the face of it, I don't see why they wouldn't cope just fine. A poor
family is given a mansion, all expenses paid, and all they have to do in
return is expose themselves to possible public ridicule. Where's the
Well, there's been a firestorm of protest against this show, hurled by
everybody from the United Mine Workers of America to the state
legislatures of Tennessee and Louisiana, who want CBS to cease and
desist this yokel-bashing.
If the series is to be saved, CBS needs to take a page from PBS and turn
it around. People from Beverly Hills should be plunked down in the
Appalachians, if they're television executives so much the better.
Teevee executives will be plunked down in Kentucky, given only a $20
line of credit at the Goodwill Store, food stamps, and a 65 Impala.
Sinister locals get to pelt the Chevy with broken black and white
Motorola televisions and rusted auto arts until the executives either
surrender or make it across the border to Ohio. Think of it as
Deliverance Meets Fear Factor.
With this scenario, stereotypes of studio executives and country folk
alike will be preserved. Isn't that what pop culture is all about? And
valuable prizes of course.
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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2003, Ian Shoales