Reality Bites

•  TV news once took Darwinism to a silly extreme

•  A pox on the medium gave Pax TV (R.I.P.) a far-fetched idea about hiring                     

•  Who was their HR guy, Jeff Probst?

I despise so-called “reality TV.” Not just because it is supposedly “unscripted” and resulted in the elimination of jobs for writers in television. Not just because it relies on people who will do anything to be on television, no matter how embarrassing – or rather, the more embarrassing the better. Not just because it has dumbed down our popular culture.

Mostly, I hate reality TV because a self-promoting real estate con man with a “You’re fired” catchphrase appeared often enough on one such show that it led couch potatoes across America to believe he would make a good leader of the free world. I don’t know if somewhere there’s a deep-dive analysis of the 2016 election that shows just how many people voted for him simply because he was a celebrity aggrandized by reality TV, but you can’t convince me that might not have been the key factor that sealed his election.

Back in September of 2000, another presidential election was spiraling toward another close finish, another electoral college loss by the winner of the popular vote and a recount ended by a Supreme Court ruling.

At that time, my days as an entertainment correspondent on CNN’s Showbiz Today were numbered, though I didn’t know it. The show would be cancelled in early 2001 when Time Warner merged with AOL (a business move ultimately as astute as, say, buying a bunch of Atlantic City casinos).

What I did know was I would undoubtedly be called upon to report on the growth of reality TV, since, in 2000, Survivor and Big Brother debuted as huge hits and copycats were already in production. I did not look forward to it. Sure enough, I was assigned to cover a startup television network that used a Survivor-style, on-air competition to select an anchor for a newscast.

Yes. They were, in effect, building a Big Brother house in their newsroom. Great idea from a credibility standpoint, right?

See for yourself, here. (Pardon the VHS tape dropout at the beginning)

In retrospect, the marketing people behind this stunt were waaaay ahead of their time. This was literally the first year of reality TV’s hold on America. Somebody at Pax TV saw what was coming. Pax TV, however, didn’t stay around long. Started by the founder of the Home Shopping Network, it morphed into I: Independent Television, then into Ion Television, went through a couple of bankruptcies and now survives, if you will, serving up syndicated re-runs.

Nicole Katz, as far as I can tell, is no longer working in television.

Reality TV? A generation later, it’s going strong. I’m not talking about bachelors and bachelorettes, I’m talking about the virtual nonstop coverage of the daily chaos churned up by that great American emcee who continues to vote people off his island and out of that white big brother house.


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