If you're as dumbfounded by "Mrs. Eastwood & Company" as I was, it's because you may not have given it sufficient thought.
I was, so I thought some more.
Old Clint Eastwood – and, at 81, Clint really is one of America's most famous senior citizens – is actually going to be on the episode the world will see at 10 p.m. Sunday night on the E! network, right after, yes, "Keeping Up With the Kardashians." I know that because I happened to catch by accident a CNN Headline News interview with Dina, Mrs. E herself.
Other than the fact that Clint has been decidedly parsimonious in lending himself out to his wife's E! reality series, I learned even less
than I already knew listening to her explain why she subjected one of the world's most justifiably revered film legends to exposure in the most vulgar and crudely manipulated form of programming on current television.
There are those to whom Mrs. E's family sellout is akin to Rod Blagojevich's public anglings to sell the Illinois Senate seat being vacated by the man who was taking office as the president of the United States. They can't put Mrs. E in jail for throwing Clint and his actual children on the air right after the Kardashians, but I know there are many Clint-lovers out there who might wish they could.
After listening to her explain things, I know, as I said, even less than when I started. She admitted being acutely sensitive to the fact that she is the "gatekeeper" for her husband's future reputation. Whatever indignity is foisted on Clint by her show will sorrowfully follow the Hollywood legend for as long as he remains among us.
Its origins, she said, were in the Australian boy band she decided to manage. On their first week in the States, her life became such a tumultuous roller coaster that she called her husband and told him someone ought to make a TV show of this.
To which I say, "OK. Why? Why not have your husband's company make an HBO documentary? Or fictionalize it into a sitcom, like HBO's 'Entourage'?"
Why are you implicitly putting your family's life on the same level as the Kardashians? Why did your husband assent to it at all? Are the Eastwoods, in fact, secret watchers of Reality TV at its trashiest? Why?
And that, of course, is where the whole matter becomes very interesting, because they may well be. There is a streak of pure Bohemian avant-gardism in old Clint, and this may be where it's coming out.
He has produced and presented actual documentary films – a feature length masterpiece by Charlotte Zwerin about Thelonious Monk, for instance – so he knows what a real documentary is and how it's made. He may be interested in that next cinematic step – manipulating reality so much that it turns into total fiction, even though it's still presenting itself to the world as reality.
And that's when I began to think about it and realize how very little we know about reality TV as a form and about the people who present it.
What no one I can immediately think of has, as yet, written or starred in on TV is a full and revealing "Confessions of a Reality TV Producer." It's a natural as a book or a huge newspaper or magazine piece – or, for that matter, a real and scrupulous documentary for HBO, Showtime or PBS.
We need someone who has been paid to do it to show America how it's done. We've had the inside view of how actual fictional films are made for 100 years. And the world is full of TV people writing book-length memoirs (the latest include Dan Rather, former TV executive honcho Warren Littlefield and ABC-TV news pasha David Westin).
What we don't know in detail though is this: how contestants are chosen on, say, "Dancing With the Stars" and "Survivor."
When, for instance, Donald Driver won "DWTS" this week, I remembered a singular event that happened very early in the season; At one point, the show's chief judge, Len Goodman, made a big point of doing the unprecedented thing and apologizing publicly to Driver for scoring him too low the week before and treating him too roughly.
Huh? What was that about?
I think I know. I'm not going to claim that I called it right then and there in my living room and declared Driver the year's winner. But my guess about this TV form we have to psych out is this: The producers of the show immediately went to Goodman and said, "We picked this guy to be one of the season's contenders. We know from past winners that football players bring with them gigantic and loyal fan bases. And the guy's a student of the show. He has watched it and knows who has done what and why. We're not telling you what scores to give him, but you need to rethink being totally dismissive. He's a player this season."
Boom. Public apology from the head judge about not getting the memo – or, if he got it, not reading it.
I want a book by a "DWTS" functionary detailing what goes into decisions to choose such transgressive, audience-challenging contestants as Chaz Bono and Bristol Palin. I want to know in detail how the psychologists employed by "Survivor" pick contestants and producers figure out who will "outwit, outplay, outlast" well enough to keep the show's ratings up. (In the past season, illness crossed them up royally when the show's villain was carted off the island with appendicitis. He'll be back, they tell us. Another island, you know.)
Maybe "Mrs. Eastwood & Company" is current TV's greatest love story. Maybe there is no greater love in Hollywood than that of a legendary husband who lets his wife put him and their kids on reality TV in the time slot following "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."
Remember that the Eastwoods, man and wife, supposedly met when she was a TV reporter doing a story about him.
What if the manipulative procedures of reality TV are what she recognizes as business as usual from her days as a TV reporter? What would that tell us?
We've got the made-up reality on the E! network weekly. Now we need the truth – the whole truth and nothing but.