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Reality TV Goes A-Courtin'

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Guest TSMAdmin

Many fads come and go. Some of these include collect calling services, long distance 10-10-whatever numbers, and big money game shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Greed. The latest rash on the bum of television is Reality Television. Unfortunately, the people who name these things don’t realize that TV reality and reality as we know it are two different things. Survivor, Big Brother, and for a much longer period of time, The Real World, have all been deemed “Reality TV.” A gander at one episode will tell you it’s far from real however. Example of why: look around you. Do YOU see any cameras? Didn’t think so.


Welcome to my first effort for The Smart Marks, where my job will be reviewing the chewing gum for the eyes, that new opiate of the masses, the teacher, brother, secret lover, the boob tube. I still don’t know why television is called that.


Our first target: Dating shows! I’ll do my damndest to try and be fair, but the irony inherent in someone like me reviewing a dating show is thicker than a steak in Muscogee, bah gawd.


Writing about this has given me an idea: X-treme Worship. Put it on TBN or whatever Christian channel you want. skydiving mass, cliff-diving priests, surfing Jesus(which would be a great name for a band), and four words for you: Tony Hawk IS Moses. Now THAT’S religion! I think it has a shot.


That introduction was just an example to show how the reality genre has been and can be stretched to unbelievable limits, encompassing courtrooms (to be covered in another column) and even the simple act of dating. That is what this is column takes on, because TV companies have decided that roughly eight billion shows about this can be made, since the concept of a date has changed greatly over history, and they want to tuck stuff like this away in time capsules for a later date. For instance, a dating show of the early dark ages would be something like an interview with the barbarian and then the revealing of three potential pillage and rape victims. He’d ask questions like which one can put up the best fight, who can handle a sword well, whether they like poetry, stuff like that. See how far we’ve come?


You’ve seen them, none particularly believable, some for prizes, some not, and mostly absurd. I am here to present four of these programs, and believe it or not, there are differences. I’ll rate each with a 10 point per part score based on criteria for each part, and a cumulative score out of what the maximum can be, which is 40.


The Categories:


The Poop: The concept of the show, a brief summary. Points are earned by creativity.

The Structure: How the concept is actually structured. Points are earned by being a structure that doesn’t wear on the viewer and keeps their attention.

The Execution: A lot of stuff sounds good in theory, but does the practice follow through, or does it make the show too hard to believe? This will end up being the area where I actually offer some kind of opinion on the show. Points earned by plausibility.

The Lasting Ability: Could you watch a marathon of this? This acts as a general entertainment indicator. Points are earned by sheer entertainment. A show could suck in the other categories, but excel here anyway.


Shows like A Dating Story are omitted from the running because they’re more documentaries than entertainment, and whatever entertainment is derived comes from the people and their own actions, with nothing forced, unlike these.


First Show: Dismissed, MTV


The Poop: A young man or woman is sent on a date with two people and must choose between the two at the end, with the winner(the non-dismissed date) getting, well, nothing in particular. Interesting enough, I’ll bite. 7/10


The Structure: Each of the prospective daters has their own half of the date and an activity they can choose, at MTV’s expense, I suppose. When one dater wants some time alone with the contestant(for lack of a better word), they throw down a Time Out card, which gives them a 20-minute retreat while the third person out waits. Both daters try to impress, obviously. Two of these are done on each show, one with a male contestant and one with a female contestant. Sounds good too. 7/10


The Execution: This is MTV, which means everything is at a breakneck pace and filled with camera shots that last all of 1.5 seconds at the most. The target audience is teenagers who like watching people that aren’t that much older than them cavort about like competitive nymphs for the affections of a god or goddess. With no prize except pride, the daters often get overbearing in their competitive spirit and forget that they’re there to hook up with someone, not beat the other person. Doesn’t bother the contestant often, as they’re usually incredibly shallow or dumb, as shown in the little confessional cutaways. Oh yeah, this is what kills the show. Because this is MTV, they need to have Real World-style cutaways where the daters and contestants say how they’re feeling about the date or whatnot. The only time this should be shown is during the 20-minute Time Outs and talking to the loser afterwards. This is where I get the shallow and dumb qualities from, as this is the only time you get to know the girls or guys. Girl: “He’s not really impressing me, he could have like, paid more attention to me or something.” Guy: “I am SO in there!” It also kills the plausibility when you’ve got the person sitting in the same spot every time it cuts to them. Hard to believe that they can somehow predict the future in these sometimes. They want you to think that the only structured part of these “wild, spontaneous” kids is when they say “So-and-So, you are dismissed”(heralding the end of the segment), but this is not so. Very little is actually shocking on here, since that’s what the kids are out to do, impress the target audience of people their age and younger. Wow, he showed off his six pack. So did he. So did EVERY OTHER MALE EVER ON MTV!! She has a thong on. How exciting. Maybe if this were fourteen years ago and she was in a Warrant video someone might care. Taildaters was much more unpredictable and enjoyable. Execution gets 4/10.


The Lasting Ability: Could I watch a marathon of this? MTV does it anyway, giving me little choice between it and The Real World marathons that are always going on. I can watch maybe three episodes of this straight, but it would wear on me seeing the same sterile young adults being thrown at me over and over again. 4/10


Boy, this one sounded good in practice, didn’t it? Total score for Dismissed: 22/40


Second Show: Elimidate, WB


The Poop: One man or woman contestant goes on a date with FOUR prospective daters, and “elimidates” them as the date goes on to leave one dater. Since this has come out since Dismissed, it isn’t as original as it sounds. 5/10


The Structure: Three Rounds, following a format put together by the contestant, and occasionally ideas from the daters, with one dater being cut after each round. Might not be an original idea, but the structure is compelling and adds suspense. 8/10


The Execution: Damn MTV generation. This show is meant for older people as evidenced by the more mature subject matter of the advertisements(cleaners, law firms), but it’s for the older MTV generation members, as evidenced by the damn cutaway things. How can these dates have any flow when people just walk off and start talking to a camera? The people are older, looking to be in their mid to late 20s. They also do it in certain cities like a tour, which is a nice touch. The guys offer guesses on who will be cut next, when they often aren’t very different and all possess the same preppy bravado or appearance. The girls offer guesses when they aren’t very different and all possess the same backstabbing ego and trash talking. These young adult dating shows need to work on getting a variety of people in them. Seriously, maybe one guy is a little (gasp) DIFFERENT and the others are all polo shirt and khaki wearing blond guys. The girls all wear some kind of atrocious halter top with those ghastly pants that look like they’ve been wearing them for ten to fifteen years. You know, those “worn” looking pants that seem to be the rage because some vague person behind a desk said it would be? It looks like they’ve accidentally spilled acid on their crotch or ass. The wrestling fan in me was angry at lack of a payoff when a woman didn’t choose any of the guys. There needs to be a winner, even if you don’t want any of them. Just send them on their way once the night is over, don’t make us feel like we watched all of this for nothing. A tad better executed than Dismissed though. 5/10


The Lasting Ability: I don't know, it seemed kinda slow even with the breakneck pace of things happening between activities and cutaway confessionals. Not good for a show that’s only a half-hour long. Focusing on only one group for a whole episode doesn’t help speed things up either. Bland contestants, same silly competitiveness between daters, it’s Dismissed to the second power, with four daters instead of two. Maybe two shows in a row, which is what the WB is doing right now, but no more. 2/10


More was not better in this case. Enough to keep me from falling asleep, but then again, I was doing it for this purpose. Total score for Elimidate: 21/40


Third Show: Shipmates, syndicated but shows up on my UPN affiliate


The Poop: A couple is sent on a weekend cruise together and spend 72 hours(!!) trying to make something happen. This is probably the most original idea I’ve come across. Hey, these were the same people who did A Current Affair, so you know it’ll at least be original. 9/10


The Structure: The couples spend each day doing whatever things for amusement there are on the boat, and offer a video diary for each day they’re on the ship with the other person. Good, doesn’t sound too taxing to watch. 7/10


The Execution: Well, at least they do the confessional cutaways after the action is over, which makes it all seem much more plausible. The couples are varying in age, but are generally south of 35-40. Seems to be directed at an older audience. One problem the creators and producers didn’t count on, or maybe meant to happen, was that if the couple wasn’t a success, they were stuck on that boat. I mean, there are other people on this cruise ship, they just don’t have cameras following them around. On the other side of the coin, if the couple clicks, it can be a very enjoyable 72(!!) hours. One thing about this though is that it REALLY stretches the idea of a dating show. Not many people go on a cruise with the idea of going on a three-day blind date. At least the show is well produced. The good and bad balance each other out, with good getting a slight edge and the fact that we really get to know these people helping the score as well. 7/10


The Lasting Ability: Like almost all dating shows with one exception, I can’t stand to watch this one very long. It’s got more longevity due to the greater variables factored in with the time though. 5/10


Not horrible, not great, all around decent show. Total score for Shipmates: 28/40


Fourth Show: Blind Date, syndicated, but appears on my FOX affiliate


The concept: A blind date. That’s about it. Not very creative. 2/10


The Structure: It isn’t stated as such, but each date follows a certain pattern. First we get to know the daters. The date itself is two random activities followed by dinner and then dusted off with a trip to some local watering hole. After the segment is over, each dater says if they want to go on a date with the person again. Simple, and simple is good. 7/10


The Execution: How simple the show is lets it shine in this department. The activities aren’t so distracting so as not to let the daters forget what the purpose is, and this show concentrates more on the interaction of the daters than any gimmicks. Not a lot of the super-fast shots either. This is meant for an audience of fairly young people, but some men on there have been close to the big 5-0. The real meat of this show can be found in how there are small comment thought bubbles or captions on the screen that offer further insight into the daters themselves, how each one screwed up, and so on. These only make up about 25-35% of the captions though. The rest is devoted to a Mystery Science Theater 3000 style, with jokes made at the expense of everyone onscreen, and even the informative stuff is presented in a humorous manner, with recurring cartoon drawing characters such as Obvious Guy, Dr. Date, and Therapist Joe. Example: “Obvious Guy Says: This date sucks.” The only flaw with this show is the very hit-and-miss nature of the matches of people. Seems to have about a 30% success rate, but the viewer doesn’t get too upset because the defeats can be just as funny as the victories for these daters. Fixed cameras in their rental car, in their restaurant, and in the bar allow the daters to relax and reveal things about themselves. Blind Date is the most popular one of these shows, and I see why, as I love it. It’s the only one I’ve seen so far that gets celebrities, and is going to have several WWE editions in the future. Two segments per show keep it moving fast, and after those are over, there is a segment called the Hall of Shame where past dates that were remarkable for some reason or another are shown in clipped form. I can’t go all the way due to the almost purposeful mismatches of people. 9/10


Lasting Ability: I could watch this all day because it brings the funny and makes sure that it doesn’t take itself seriously unlike the other shows. A wide variety of people also helps a lot. You actually get unappealing people on here. Freaks, bikers, millionaires, losers, nerds, pyschopaths, gold diggers, goths, party animals, even celebrities! Their execution also lets you know enough about each dater to make you actually care about them. All the way on this one, because it’s really that entertaining. 10/10


Blind Date simply rules the dating show genre. Its “less is more” approach works with amazing effectiveness. The only sore spot is the concept, and you can see how much it hurts. It may have the same score as Shipmates, but it’s much better. Total Score for Blind Date: 28/40


Final Scores:

Dismissed: 22/40

Elimidate: 21/40

Shipmates: 28/40

Blind Date: 28/40


Final Thoughts: The reality television is grasping for straws, and at the rate that dating shows are coming out and filming so many episodes, they’re going to run out of desperate single people in this country in five years or so. Until then, dating shows offer a great escape for those who can’t get a date and want a voyeuristic view, people who are dating and like seeing how other people handle it, and married folk who are probably very glad they’re off the market with things like this going on. The pursuit of true love (or, if lacking this, a quick lay) will always interest people, especially in this television-controlled country where there seem to be cameras in the hand of every two-bit yokel. That said, dating shows are very entertaining, but with the death of better shows like The Blame Game and Taildaters, the dating show genre looks to be sputtering out, much as the Rescue 911 and Cops fads did.


I already know how to fix this: FIND SOME KIDS WITH PERSONALITY. Some of these people are literally cookie-cutter prototypes. Both males and females. On Elimidate once, there were three short preps and one tall prep. Discerning qualities: One was tall, one wore two polo shirts for some reason, one shaved his legs, and the fourth one... um... has a neat cellular phone skin or something. The girl was convinced by Pop Culture America that she needed to be treated like a princess and was gorgeous. Hearing any of these people talk about what makes them stand out, or, in the girl’s case, why she doesn’t like one of them, is laughable. THEY’RE ALL THE SAME. She got rid of the tall one first because “he just didn’t look right... I mean, he was boring.” The shaven legs guy was gone for... shaving his legs! Girl: “I mean, for no reason? Come on!” So? He’s trying to be different. Give him a chance. She then, as I said above, got rid of both of the men left at the end, even though the one who hadn’t been that notable was the MAN on the dance floor. Oh yeah, I forgot, he stepped out of line and did something original. On one rather upsetting Dismissed episode, a guy was dismissed for being energetic and willing to act effeminate to get a laugh. The other guy just no-sold all of his homoerotic jokes(which were pretty damn funny), and won as a result. Let me repeat that: He was considered better because he stifled unconventional behavior. Oftentimes a girl will totally ignore a guy’s personality if he isn’t dressed as preppily as his opponent, and pretend that the preppy one has a personality. “He’s so smart and funny,” she is wont to remark after the guy makes some kind of pop culture reference that takes little to no effort. “He’s weird,” she says about the one who makes some kind of literary reference. I’m here to educate as well as entertain, so here’s a tip for the younger kids: originality = failure.


Some married people actually miss this shit?


The only show I see being able to weather this downturn in cyclical fate is Blind Date, which I see getting up there with The Dating Game and Love Connection in the well-known dating shows of all time. Its basic idea and humorous execution allow it to shed any contrived competitor like fleas. Even though Blind Date rules the roost these days, I actually want to see The Dating Game make a comeback. We had it with Singled Out, sort of. Until then, Roger Lodge and his basic show rule all. Chuck Woolery would be proud.


NEXT TIME: An article about the greatness of Kylie Minogue.


Send feedback here: [email protected]


Patrick Spoon

Always on Hiatus

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