Reality shows do have their qualities

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, March 12, 2003

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP - Managing Editor
It seems I have written several of these columns on television in the past several months. First, I sounded off on what I believe is a misuse of what could be an important educational tool for our society. Last week, I concentrated on the loss of a television pioneer - Fred Rogers. This week, I am going to defend a more controversial aspect of today's television programming - the reality shows.
The onslaught of these series over the past several years has been overwhelming. We see shows about surviving nature, building relationships with others and facing our fears. Lately, the established writers, producers and actors in Hollywood have become active in their outcry against these shows mainly due to the fact that they are finding it harder to sell their own products.
About five years ago, the reality show hit the ground running with a breakaway hit - Survivor. The success of Survivor led other networks to follow the trend and soon we had numerous reality series.
Over time, the quality of these series has waivered and the themes have become more outlandish, which is unfortunate. Now we have shows that make a mockery out of marriage, family, friendships and just about everything else.
But, some of these shows deserve a better reputation. These shows focus on competition, forging relationships, strategy, human nature and many things that can be entertaining without dipping too far into the tacky pool.
Many say that they do not like reality shows because they are not realistic. To a great extent, it is hard to argue against that point. After all, these shows are on television which automatically makes them fake, or perhaps a better description - staged. There is little doubt that the producers of these shows set up pitfalls and rewards for the shows' participants. These elements are intended to bring out story lines and build relationships between the characters which in turn give the series at least some of its entertainment value. What makes the reality series "real" is that the participants are real people reacting to their circumstances with their own real emotions.
CBS's Survivor and ABC's Big Brother, probably stand as the best in the reality show spectrum. They are both popular and seem to be poised for the long haul with their networks. Both of these shows are examples of entertaining programming without stepping over the boundaries of tastefulness. While viewers may find one of the participants to be obnoxious, mean, deceitful, a bad dresser, too tall or whatever, then they can root for that person to be "voted off." We don't have to like these people's views or enjoy their personalities to enjoy the overall theme of the show - competition and human nature.
Another advantage I give to the reality series over the conventional sitcom and cop drama is that they offer entertainment without celebrity. Sure, some of the participants will experience some fame, but, these are, for lack of a better description, disposable celebrities. Some consider that a bad thing, but I like the idea of having fewer Hollywood types filling our airwaves with the same characters and situations, disguised only by a different name.
While some reality shows have stepped over the boundary of common decency, not all of them should be written off as television trash. While I would like to see television reinvent itself to better serve society, I also believe there is nothing wrong with simple entertainment. Reality shows provide that entertainment with real people reacting to their settings.

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