So help me, I just don’t care.
Will Jon Hamm finally win a Best Actor Emmy for “Mad Men?” Will the show itself win for its farewell season or is it, as some people have been prophesying, the year of “Game of Thrones?”
I don’t give a fig. I’ll be pleased by the extreme unlikelihood of Letterman’s final year earning him a “goodbye” Emmy, just on the grounds that he was Letterman, he changed television and his show is gone. In truth, his final year deserved no Sunday evening prizes and every watcher knows it. A much better category, believe it or not, is probably “Reality Show Host.”
And that brings up what I do care about most on television next week: Vanessa Rousso. She must not – I repeat, must not – win this season of my favorite hell-on-earth TV show “Big Brother” on Wednesday night.
Seldom has American reality TV presented us with a contestant as whiny, manipulative, annoying, fraudulent and conniving as Rousso, who is blandly described on the show as a “professional poker player” from Las Vegas. (Go to the show bios and you find out she’s one of the best women in the world in her chosen trade and her winnings number in the millions.)
Thereby hangs a tale.
The time, I think has come to blow “Reality TV” out of the water. We need some pitiless left coast journalists to expose exactly how cynically scripted these shows are because they have now reached the point where what is being presented on the air is even more preposterous than professional wrestling.
It is, in “Big Brother,” the whole supposed point of the show that the contestants confined to a large house for dormitory-style living and the constant torture of each other’s barely tolerable companionship (allegory for corporate workplaces, anyone?) vote each other out of the house weekly in order to be the last ones standing with a half-million dollar prize.
Punk pay, if you ask me, considering the horrors from each other they put up with in the name of their “social games” but hey.
BB-watchers this year couldn’t help wanting Vanessa the Vile gone with the wind months ago, but every week other “house guests” would talk about voting her back to East McKeesport and every week they’d find some other schlemiehl to send packing, leaving Vanessa to connive, win more ultra-dippy contests and continue her march like Sherman through Georgia.
My candidates kept getting the kibosh on the show while she flourished but that, of worse, is the whole neo-professional wrestling appeal of Reality TV. Just as the villains of professional wrestling in its first great era – from Gorgeous George to Hans Schmidt on – were the major draws to the spectacle from the beginning, so too are the “Reality TV” contestants who have invented for themselves truly toxic characters to pretend to be every week.
That, I submit, is what makes “Reality TV” enormously interesting in its fakery: these people are inventing themselves on TV weekly. How they do it is often far more interesting than anything a mere professional writer could do.
It is, in fact, when the ultra-clumsy hand of showbiz professionalism seems to prevail – as in the exploitative week-to-week survival of a character as obnoxious as Vanessa on “Big Brother” – that it seems as if the time has finally come to insist, as loudly and publicly as possible, on how much unreality there is on “Reality TV.”
I think the fraud has the potential for genuine national toxicity, especially since one American political party has accorded its highest presidential poll numbers to a former “Reality TV” star whose show once produced one of the most memorable villains in the form – Omarosa Manigault, the would-be “apprentice” to end all apprentices.
Among the many jokes Donald Trump seems to be burying these days, “Reality TV” is high on the list – unless, that is, America, in its innocence, is now willing to turn over its presidential election process to something analogous to “Reality TV.”
In which case we need to know exactly’s what’s been what in the form’s history.
How on earth did ventriloquist Paul Zerdin defeat two superb singers on the summer’s “America’s Got Talent” – Sharon Irving and Samantha Johnson? (Too many singers on “American Idol” and “The Voice” already?)
What is crucial to realize about AGT is that what the academics might call its “mythos” – its basic story – is in evidence weekly but is total hooey. It is implied that what we are seeing are contestants who arise innocently from cattle call auditions to contend for a $1 million Vegas performing contract.
However the acts may show up at the beginnings of their experiences on the show, read their bios. They are not up from nowhere, Tennessee; they are contenders from the bottom ranks of show biz, perhaps, but often their experience is enormous.
Sharon Irving on AGT, for instance, is the daughter of Robert Irving III, who was Miles Davis’ music director in Davis’ worst electronic era.
The bio for Samantha Johnson tells us she has appeared “and directed” productions in 11 countries.
Let’s grant that showbiz bios are inflated, but there’s enough truth in those of AGT to deflate the innocence of the show’s basic yarn as surely as something Tom Brady would expect to be hiked to him by his team’s center.
Among my faves of the AGT season just ended was “The Professional Regurgitator,” whose previous stage name was Stevie Starr. His bio tells us that he’s done Letterman, Arsenio Hall and “The Tonight Show.
When it was revealed, sadly, that he didn’t win AGT, Starr himself came dangerously close to indicating what’s really what when he reminded Judge Howie Mandel that once upon a time, he had appeared on a radio show that Mandel hosted.
That’s the level of show business AGT contestants come from, not right off the street as the show implies.
When you watch “Dancing With The Stars,” you’re watching what are obviously archetypal roles being filled by very canny and cynical producers. Fresh-faced cable-TV princess? We’ve now got Bindi Irwin where we once had Sadie Robertson and Bristol Palin. Dowager Soul Sister? Sure. We’ve had Patti LaBelle; now we’ve got Chaka Khan.
Military hero? We’ve had former season winner J.R. Martinez. This season, we’ve got Alex Skarlatos, one of three genuine American heroes who stopped an armed terrorist from slaughtering those aboard a train in Belgium.
Big-mouth Queen of American dietary indiscretion? Once there was Kirstie Allie. This season there’s Paula Deen.
On “DWTS” this season, the second “results” shows may not even run anymore. Former head judge Len Goodman is sitting the season out.
Who could blame him?
As much fun as it can be, the time when “reality” needs to infiltrate “Reality TV” seems to be at hand.
Unless we want our presidential elections run the “reality TV” way.