Friday, May 23, 2008

The Challenge of Being Yourself

My wife, Danelle, watches some really awful stuff on television. So by association, if I want to spend time with her I also end up watching some pretty bad stuff.

It used to just be bad sitcoms. She's the only person I've ever known to actually sit through an entire episode of Small Wonder. But when so-called "reality TV" came on the scene, she'd found her true genre.

It started, of course, with MTV's The Real World. To make many of you feel really, really old, that show is now on its TWENTIETH season.

Then Survivor came along and took things to another level, then Big Brother, The Bachelor, etc. But she's also been a loyal viewer of some truly forgettable efforts.

I can't argue with her logic. She says she uses her brain all day long at work, and she doesn't choose her entertainment options to be challenged. We all have guilty pleasures.

I read once that the Los Angeles Times refused to refer to that type of programming as "reality television," and instead used the clumsier-but-arguably-more-appropriate term "staged, unscripted television." Which leads me to my observation.

The biggest challenge some of these shows seem to face between their first and second seasons is when the subjects stop actually BEING themselves and start PLAYING themselves. It absolutely killed The Osbournes. I think Ace of Cakes is struggling with it. It hurt America's Next Top Model when Tyra Banks became just a caricature of herself, but at least she's pretty enough (and each season's new crop of aspiring models are crazy enough) to keep people tuning in.

The latest offering to see if it's up to the task is Gene Simmons' Family Jewels, which is about to start its second season. As messed-up as you might expect this family to be given the principals -- KISS frontman Simmons and his partner of 24 years, Playboy playmate and Skinemax legend Shannon Tweed -- their two kids seem remarkably well-adjusted.

The son, Nick, has a very quick and sharp wit. And daughter Sophie is going to probably force her dad to invest in a .45 and a shovel before too long. Both children seem totally unfazed by who they and their parents "are," probably because their circumstances and upbringing are completely normal to them. They had no other significant frame of reference before they did this show.

As for Simmons and Tweed, once you get past their pasts and their complete disregard for the institution of marriage (which seems to be more his doing than hers) you get the shocking insight that -- surprise! -- celebrities are real people with foibles and flaws just like the rest of us. Except that most of the rest of us don't have a huge room devoted to our own licensed merchandise. Or have stripper poles delivered to our houses. But I digress...

Now they've gotten to watch a whole season of themselves, and absorb all the associated expectations and projections about how the media and fans see them. Will they be able to succeed where others have failed? Does being famous before you do one of these programs make it easier or harder?

As a blogger, will I one day have to deal with this issue myself? I've already joked with my family more than once since starting this thing that "oh, I'm going to have to blog about that." Once I start LOOKING for things to blog about and HOPING that a thought I have is interesting or something in my life is entertaining, have I fallen into the same trap?

Only time will tell for both the Simmons-Tweed clan and me. A&E only cares if you take the time to find out about one of us.

Maybe if I had my own toothbrush...


Danelle said...

Ok, I completely agree that reality TV rocks my world... can turn the brain completely off and get a chuckle at the same time. But have to correct you in that i have never heard of Small World. I may have clicked by it while searching for "Double Trouble" - now THAT was a classic. I even loved it in reruns!

SteveHarbula said...

Whoops -- I stand corrected. But I think you just proved my point about your taste in bad TV more than I ever could. ;)