I remember being on a TV critics’ summer press tour a dozen years ago and witnessing TV changing before my eyes.
The occasion was an NBC executive panel where the entertainment president du jour was asked about the network’s plans to counter ABC’s hugely popular Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with some reality programming of its own. CBS had Big Brother and Survivor, and Fox had plans for Temptation Island.
Future juggernaut American Idol was looming on the horizon.
The NBC honcho smirked and dismissively pronounced so-called “reality” or unscripted TV a fad. NBC would stick with what it did best - quality comedy and drama.
Naturally, the executive was sacked within the year as the reality “fad” rolled on and NBC was left in the dust.
The decade that followed found unscripted TV, like kudzu, smothering everything. Some of it is fun and memorable. Most is not.
Because an hour of unscripted TV is relatively cheap to produce, the omnivorous cable universe is now overflowing with wackos, yahoos, good ol’ boys, freaks and weirdos in shows that mostly poke fun at them or subtly hold them up for ridicule.
The “stars” of the shows seem not to care. They’re having their 15 minutes of fame, and life is good. Lucrative, even, for most. For some, such as TLC’s Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson and Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, their reality fame has spread to become some sort of national cultural phenomenon.
Seriously. In a sane TV world, how could Kim Kardashian parlay a sex tape into fame and fortune? A couple of years ago, Kardashian was pulling in $6 million a year as a “socialite and TV personality.”
I was contacted by a British production outfit a couple of years ago that wanted me to put them in touch with anybody with knowledge about the “lifestyle, rituals and rites of passage” of hillbillies. I sort of laughed them off.
Yep. Hillbilly Blood is now a series on cable’s Destination America channel. It follows two brothers from North Carolina as they demonstrate how to survive “the hardscrabble life” up in the hills and hollers. Follow their adventures at 9 p.m. beginning Saturday.
With all those hours and hours of programming to fill up, what could possibly be left for TV to churn out? Thecable outfit formerly known as The Learning Channel, is already home to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and a gaggle of other series where “learning” is suspect at worst and subjective at best.
TLC brings us Tontitown’s Duggar family (19 Kids and Counting), the exploitative Toddlers & Tiaras and the painfully manufactured mommy drama of Cheer Perfection, which follows the pseudo angst and envy at Sherwood’s Cheer Time Revolution.
So, what could possibly be left for TLC to put on the air after Breaking Amish, Long Island Medium and Sister Wives? General Manager Amy Winter says, “TLC prides itself on telling authentic stories and going into the hidden cultures that spark conversations, evoke emotion and open eyes to a different way of life.” Here are some shows slated for the 2013-14 season.
Alaskan Women Looking For Love. Five native Alaskan women head to Miami “dreaming of love and opportunity.”
Ballroom Blitz. Dance devotees will do anything to win it all.
Best Funeral Ever. A Dallas funeral home organizes unique services showing that “while you may be in a casket, it can still be fantastic!”
Breaking Amish: Brave New World. In Season 2, our four former Amish and one Mennonite followers head to Florida to continue their dabble in culture shock. Maybe they’ll hook up with the Alaskan women.
Cajun Paranormal. Two dudes investigate paranormal stuff in Louisiana.
Family S.O.S. with Jo Frost. “Supernanny” Jo tries to help fractured families.
Husband Hunters. “Focused” women are ready to wed. Now to find a man.
My Teen Is Pregnant And So Am I. You loved the special, now it’s a series. Mothers and daughters are pregnant at the same time and “as their bellies grow, so does the tension.”
The Good Buy Girls. Two feisty pageant gals try to make a go of their home shopping network.
Women of Homicide. Series follows the country’s most elite female homicide detectives.
The Moment. USA debuts this reality series at 9 p.m. today. Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner hosts the series, which follows nine people who are given a second shot at dream careers. First up: a woman who always wanted to be a sports photographer gets a tryout with Sports Illustrated.
Sinbad. Syfy imports the one and only season of a British action/adventure series at 8 p.m. Friday. Sinbad stars Elliot Knight as the legendary seafarer and Naveen Andrews (Lost) as his nemesis Lord Akbari. There will be 12 episodes.
The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Weekend, Pages 32 on 04/11/2013
Print Headline: Reality TV fans will delight in TLC’s new shows