4/07/2013

When the limelight dims on the superstars of reality TV

Two years ago, you couldn't hear enough about Jersey Shore, MTV's runaway hit.  Its cast of guidos and guidettes fascinated the nation as no reality show could.  Everyone knew what GTL was (gym, tan, laundry) and how short Snooki really was (4'8" without heels).  MTV ended (sadly or mercifully, depending on your view) Jersey Shore on December 2012, namely because the cast was demanding larger and larger salaries as ratings began to tank.

Four months later, one of the cast members discussed the transition from being an instant celebrity with a camera trained on them perpetually and any-drama-for-a-storyline hungry producers to being sued, becoming a punchline for late-night comedians, and becoming a parent.  In other words, real life that is not manufactured by ratings-obsessed suits intervenes and is more difficult to transition to when the cameras are off.

There would be no Jersey Shore if the mother vinegar of all reality TV shows, The Real World, had not come to be.  College-age kids with various backgrounds bickering, fooling around, whining, acting like jerks, and occasionally doing some good work here and there - what a concept!  It wasn't enough to have one jerk - two or three were gravy - but there were also good people to root for, like Pedro, who was HIV positive and put a good face on AIDS awareness.

The networks had their turn with Survivor, The winner of that show, Richard Hatch, was as sleazy and conniving as possible to win the $1 million top prize.  The producers loved it.  Other networks took notice and made their own reality TV shows.  Later, Richard Hatch was convicted for tax evasion, spent a few years in federal prison, and hasn't been heard from since.

Audiences love drama because the drama on TV is far more interesting then the drama they experience in their own lives.  Forget that you were laid off, your bills have been overdue for months and you just got a call from your doctor about an abnormal blood test - who gets kicked off of American Idol this week?  Once the show is over, however, you're still laid off, you're still overdue and the blood test reveals you have cancer - only cameras aren't trained over you and producers want more emotion - you're alone, you have no one to turn to, no one to yell "cut!"

Therein lies the problem with reality TV shows: viewers want all the drama, networks want all the ratings, but the participants are easily and quickly disposable after the lights fade out.   A reality show can end but the people who were once celebrities are likely relieved they don't have to be coaxed for more emotion or have their makeup-free image splayed needlessly all over the tabloids.  Then, the freedom to be yourself is far more rewarding than being someone you're not.

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