The other evening I tried kicking my daughters off the TV with “Go do your homework.”
“But dad,” they replied. “This is educational. It’s reality TV.”
“Yes!” they exclaimed in unison, a trick they learned from the Disney Channel. Apparently when teenage girls talk in unison on the Disney Channel, it’s cute. “Yes. This isn’t made up, it’s real.”
I sat down to watch with them. Something called The Colony. It’s about people who pretend like they have survived a natural disaster. They come from a variety of backgrounds: a professor, a carpenter, a supermodel — well, I can’t complain about that last one. Along with a dozen other people carefully picked at random, they’re dropped off in a deserted industrial district in a northeast city. Plenty of those to go around. And then they’re not allowed to make a run to McDonalds for 12 weeks. Survival with rust.
This is real? I asked myself as I watched. I always thought the difference between fiction (what my daughters called “made up”) and reality, was that fiction cut out all the boring bits, like going to the restroom or washing dishes, and just gave us the fun bits, like supermodels. Apparently, the reality in reality TV means we get all the boring bits as well.
As we watched the supermodel wash dishes in a pair of orange overalls the college professor found for her so she wouldn’t distract the carpenter, I had a brilliant idea.
“Hey,” I said, a light bulb flashing above my head.
Both my daughters edged away from me. They know it means trouble when a light bulb flashes above my head.
“Why don’t both of you start your own reality show and go wash the dishes before doing your homework.”
That was when I found out they’d mastered the art of moaning in unison as well.
Perhaps, though, I’m being too harsh in my criticism of reality shows. The problem isn’t that reality is boring, or that TV is boring, or even when you put them together they’re boring. The problem is that the people who come up with the ideas for these shows are boring. The only remedy, I decided, was to come up with some ideas of my own. And yes, if you hadn’t guessed, as soon as I decided that a light bulb flashed above my head. Here are my ideas for real reality TV:
“My Second Grade Teacher.” This show would follow retired school teachers who taught famous celebrities, preferably celebrities who are famous for being famous rather than have any actual talent. You know, the ones featured on celebrity versions of other game shows? Every week we’d give the celebrities a second grade test. I decided on second grade because I’ve seen some of these celebrities on late night talk shows and know they need something that wouldn’t tax their brains too much. Here’s the twist: rather than kicking celebrities off of the show, the teacher of the celebrity with the lowest score would have to come out of retirement and teach second grade again for a year. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my second grade teacher. But whoever is responsible for Paris Hilton has got some explaining to do.
“The Last School Bus Driver Standing.” Personally, I have nothing but admiration for the patience of school bus drivers. But, what could be more fun (in reality TV parlance, cruel) than to put a group of school bus drivers in a situation that tested their patience beyond enduring? For instance, driving a bus full of traumatized fifth graders back from a Marilyn Manson concert? To make it interesting, we wouldn’t tell their parents that’s where they had been until they were dropped off in the school parking lot, two hours late. Rather than kick off the driver who lost it first, the norm on most game shows, we’d kick off the driver who was most successful at being calm. That’s right, the winner would get to get off the show and not have to put up with those kids any more. In fact, we’d find those drivers a new job, something calmer, like the bomb squad.
“Surprise, it’s quintuplets!” This may be my personal favorite. Ever been out to dinner with a childless couple? They’ve got a bigger house, a more expensive car, and go wherever they want on vacation. Why? Because they aren’t paying for braces, saving for college, or buying a new pair of Nikes. Then, over desert they say something like, “We would never bring a child into a world like this,” with a martyred look on their face. Oh, the sacrifices they are making. But that’s alright. Reality shows, I am convinced, are actually designed to get back at people like them. So, here’s what we’d do: a couple with children, five or more preferably, would dump their kids off on this couple’s doorstep one evening and head off on a fully paid vacation to somewhere without cell phone service, like Fiji. For a week, we’d watch the childless couple struggle with everything from diaper changing to explaining the facts of life to a third grader. Then, for a grand finale, when the kids graduated from college they’d all come back and live with them again.