Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Reality TV's most hackneyed phrase...

... is, without a doubt, "thrown under the bus." As in, "She threw me under the bus!" or, "If I don't have immunity, they'll throw me under the bus!" This is the betrayal, the heartbreaking of reality rejects who make poor alliances because they can't read character or can't compel an alternative. People get thrown under the bus by the minute on reality tv.

Contestants spout off this phrase compulsively whenever a voting-off-the-island is about to happen, but if I really dislike the show, I'll imagine I hear it four to five times per episode. Tonight I heard it on the Biggest Loser finale on NBC. On the finale. How can anyone get thrown under the bus on a weigh-in finale? The only thing you hear more than "thrown under the bus" on Biggest Loser is the pernicious Subway plugs. I wouldn't be surprised to find they sold the phrase "thrown under the bus" to Greyhound, who pays them every time it's said. Lord knows some of the participants live for reading product placements on camera. 

This may be the worst possible time for a writer's strike from an entertainment point of view. NBC already announced that they're weaning off drama and serials for more game shows and reality tv. The problem is, both of these genres painted themselves into a corner years ago. Reality tv is dead. The format holds no drama: group of 20 is whittled down to one by voting or judging, and challenges win them prizes or immunity along the way. This holds true for everyone from aspiring supermodels to the morbidly obese, exploited pioneer kids, seamstresses, chefs, and those odd few hoping to sway an ambiguously bi-sexual MySpace web-lebrity. (That is, ANTM, Biggest Loser, Kid Nation, Project Runway, Top Chef, Shot At Love with Tila Tequila. Kind of an apocalyptic gathering.)

That said, I'll always tear up at watching fat people lose weight. It's life-changing.

Game shows, meanwhile, have become fixated on giving away the most money for the most banal tasks. The bar is set low to make everyone feel like a challenger ("I coulda been someone!"), and the contestants are inundated with spotlights and pounding drums and minor chords, and then the guys says, "We'll find out... when we come back!" And the audience groans like what we only ever wanted in our hearts, in our heart of hearts, was to find out if that case had $1 or $1,000,000 in it, when the guy could've just walked away with $37,500 for no compelling reason. The tide was turned with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and the tradition continues with Deal or No Deal and 1 versus 100. I feel bad for accomplished comedians who have to pay the bills by hosting game shows. They did something real to get there, they got out there and worked their material and carved out a niche in the toughest job in show business, and then they took their accomplishment and cashed it in for a career in white bread. It's like cutting your teeth on punk rock to make a lateral move to Musak. (Though it's a step up from Funniest Home Videos for Bob Saget.)

Drama, as it were, or theater — theatre, if you will, is dead. Dare I say, kicked the bucket. And since I've already declared reality TV dead and what the hell, game shows, let's make some more DOA proclamations: cop dramas — dead. Poorly repackaged Sex And The City knock-offs — dead. Comedies with overdrawn wha?? titles (e.g., "The New Adventures Of Old Christine")— dead. Dead, dead, dead.

Television, theater, drama, writing, the creative urge itself is in dire need of a renaissance or revolution or reconciling or reorientation or retardation or something "re". Given, most of these things beget the mediocrity they seek to overhaul. But I'd love to see a play written by Beck followed by an abstract animated short by Woody Allen with a cubist sketch show improvised live by Dave Eggers and a 12-piece band played all by Zach Galifianakis with a short film chaser by Shiina Ringo.

I think what I'm saying is, TV needs to be challenging to watch sometimes. Nothing much is as of late. I'm signing off with that.

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