Arts & Entertainment
Print storySubscribe to the Times

Summertime, and the viewing is sleazy

Published August 19, 2003

First, I'll give you this: A guy who earns a living watching TV shouldn't expect much sympathy from anybody.

Still, you've gotta admit, it's been an eventful summer for America's couch potatoes.

From the return of Roseanne Barr to the advent of Bravo's "gaysploitation" TV, the small screen has kept shoveling product at us through much of the summer, erasing the usual warm weather rerun break. Then there's the news media feeding-frenzies over Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case and California's recall election . . . .

Those of us who have pushed the networks to stop hanging the gone fishin' sign during summer naively expected they'd fill the extra time with groundbreaking programming: developing the next ER, or discovering the newest Jennifer Aniston, perhaps.

Instead, we got the usual crop of castoff series and cynical reality TV experiments, often forcing viewers to choose between a hat trick of empty-headed dating-show contestants, empty-headed stunt-show contestants and empty-headed talent-show contestants, all in the same night.

As often proves the case on TV, more truly was less this summer, with patience-challenged viewers further encouraged to develop their channel-surfing muscles by lowbrow series that seem developed mostly for those reared on MTV's The Real World and CBS' Survivor.

Even now, six weeks before the official start of the fall TV season, the deluge isn't done.

Fox-TV, the network that taught us no institution is too sacred to cheapen by degrading it in an exploitive reality show, gives us regular Joes dolled up to look like their favorite stars in Performing As . . . (Aug. 26) and the return of the sex 'n' sleazefest that induces four couples to cheat on one another, Temptation Island 3 (Aug. 28).

But there's still a few points worth pondering as I consider What Summer TV Taught Me:

Reality TV ain't going away. Every so often, it comes in a plaintive e-mail or a hopeful in-person query from a reader, usually someone on the outer edge of the 18-to-49 demographic.

When's this reality TV fad going to end, already?

Let me deliver the bad news: never.

Of course, we knew this some time ago, but it was cemented by this summer's performance of reality shows, particularly on NBC.

As one of the most profitable TV outlets, the peacock network faced a particular challenge this summer. Laden with aging series that rarely repeat well - Frasier, ER, West Wing, Ed, etc. - NBC had to find a way to keep the lights on while protecting its front-runner status.

Enter For Love or Money 1 and 2, Who Wants to Marry My Dad?, Dog Eat Dog, Last Comic Standing and more. According to NBC entertainment honcho Jeff Zucker, these shows boosted their summer ratings by 7 percent from last year, bringing an additional $30-million to $40-million in "found money" to their bottom line.

The numbers get even better with The Restaurant, NBC's reality show about the opening of a tony restaurant in Manhattan. Because the show's cost is underwritten by its major sponsors, NBC gets the show essentially for free, adding more "found money" to its bottom line.

"We will employ exactly the same strategy next summer," Zucker said in July. "The move to 52 weeks a year of original programming has not been evolutionary, it's been revolutionary. The old playbooks are out and gone."

That's too bad, because I'm pretty sure one of the old playbooks had something about broadcast quality somewhere in its pages.

There's a bright side to California's freak-show election

News that broadcasters would have to shelve Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gary Coleman programs or risk being forced to give 134 other candidates equal time made me yearn for similar circumstances in the Sunshine State, if only as a convenient way to raise the bar for our own TV experience.

My celebrity wish list for a recall election in Florida?

Steven Seagal - Possibly a waste of time, since his movies head straight to cable channel TBS these days, anyway. Still, even the chance his bloated ponytail might wind up on my tube makes me scream, "Run Stevie, run!"

Bennifer - This is just to stop all the "Gigli Stinks" TV news reports. Yeah, no one wanted to see a pair of rich, beautiful insanely successful actors make a good movie together, but let's get Ben and J.Lo out of the woodshed, already. Even From Justin to Kelly didn't deserve this kind of abuse.

Mike Tyson - It's a twofer: Ensuring he doesn't score another million-dollar payday for polishing off some nobody on pay-per-view while keeping his oddly tattooed mug off Access Hollywood and Extra for a few months.

Ryan Seacrest - Another twofer: stops American Idol before it can degrade any more of America's music industry while raising hopes Tim Russert might take him down a notch on Meet The Press. Hey, a critic can dream.

Sunday is for HBO

Turns out, spending a Sabbath evening curled up with my favorite premium cable outlet is the perfect antidote to reality TV fatigue.

First, there's Sex and the City at 9 p.m. I don't care what anyone says, watching Kristen Davis' Charlotte wig out during the most hapless wedding ceremony in recent TV history was the most fun I've had in front of the tube for a while.

Next comes TV's best cop drama, The Wire. I've already seen the show's Aug. 24 conclusion, and it wraps up the story of drug dealing, smuggling and murder among Baltimore's working-class black and white residents with a typically unsettling and realistic finale.

Already TV's most diverse, well-written drama, The Wire brings potent proof that the best TV rarely provides easy answers.

Then there's Project Greenlight, a contest that has plucked an aspiring screenwriter and directing team from obscurity to make the film of their dreams. Greenlight documents every problem so fully, you wonder why anyone ever agrees to go near this project.

Taken together, it's two hours of quality TV that somehow makes a week filled with Meet My Folks and Big Brother 4 a little more bearable. Here's hoping they don't screw it up when a new crop of shows debut this fall.

- To reach Eric Deggans, call 727 893-8521, e-mail

[Last modified August 18, 2003, 09:36:58]

Floridian headlines

  • Born of convenience?
  • Summertime, and the viewing is sleazy

  • Pulse
  • Healthline
  • leaderboard ad here


    Back to Top

    © 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
    490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111