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Jewish World Review May 20, 2003 / 181 Iyar, 5763

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Losing interest in reality | Don't you think now that "Survivor" creator Mark Burnett is casting "The Restaurant," maybe we're scraping the bottom of the reality TV barrel (not to mention gloppy plates)?

What next? "The Muffin Kiosk"? "Meet My Cats"? "Time Share: The Poconos"?

Even if the show is quick-cut to a soundtrack of heartbeats and tolling bells, the fact is: Not all reality is interesting. I don't remember being interested in my own life when I was waitressing. Maybe viewers would have relished watching me remove a hair from a soda before serving it to a snob. But is this really the stuff of Sweeps Week?

That very question (about what viewers want, not whether one should serve food that had hair in it), seems to be catching up with reality TV. This summer, as TV brings us a whopping 24 new reality shows, it is quite possible that the genre will topple under its own waitstaff.

Already, a bunch of reality shows are finding it harder to recruit regular folks. Serial contestants - the type who would vie for a spot on "Cannibal!" - still show up. And so do the MAWs - model/actress/whatevers.

But one casting agent reportedly was expecting at least 60,000 hopefuls to try out for ABC's "Next Action Star," the show that will give 30 contestants a chance to win a part in Joel (Matrix) Silver's next flick. To the agent's surprise, only 6,000 people showed up. And that is happening at reality shows across the board.

Could it be that Americans are finally turning down the chance to eat bugs, wrestle rats and/or get hot oil massages on national TV while fellow contestants accuse them of being covered with shame, hot oil and/or rat poop?

Uh, yeah.

"A certain amount are more gun-shy than before," says Anthony Mora, a Los Angeles trend watcher. "They know full well that humiliation is part of the game."

And the humiliation isn't limited to the show. Many readers will recall a certain "Joe Millionaire" vixen who got an extra 15 minutes of infamy when the press dug up her past as a star of foot-fetish films. Other reality contestants were revealed to be ex-cons and brawlers. One guy from "Big Brother" turned out to be a follower of hatemonger Khalid Abdul Muhammad. The press found that skeleton, too.

Going on a reality show is becoming worse than running for office! And so, just as we are seeing in politics, it is not necessarily the finest candidates who decide to throw their hats in the reality ring.

Not that this will make much difference to the public. Contestant quality is not most viewers' No. 1 criterion. Either you like to watch lying, double-crossing schemers or you don't. Or you like to watch the lying double-crossing schemers you voted for, so you get C-SPAN.

Come to think of it, isn't C-SPAN the ultimate reality show? Hour after hour of minor celebrities vying for airtime, power and, someday, a better job? You bet!

And if C-SPAN is still with us, then maybe reality TV, no matter how dull, is destined to be with us forever.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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