Reality TV Tunnel

November 27, 2008 ☼ AdvertisingTV

My first reaction when I turned on the radio the other day and heard NPRs TV critic Andrew Wallenstein complaining about how hard his job was, and his epiphany–that he has to watch even the bad TV for the rest of his life, because he’s a TV columnist–was a throaty sound of contempt, a disdainful uvulation. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Times New Gloaming, but to hear anyone griping about having to watch television for a living, however bad it is, strikes me as haughty and ungrateful.

But then I considered it a bit more, and wrapped my head around the fact reality television is absolute garbage, trading on the most odious traits of humanity, and responsible for a large part of the general decline in social values historians will surely cite as part of our millennial breakdown. I’d rather be slapped in the mouth repeatedly with a sock full of bolts than watch two prime-time hours of network reality programming. So if Wallenstein is going to fall on the grenade, as they say, and subject his mind to a raw drip of poison to spin that into a thirty-second dirge for my entertainment, hey, have at it, buddy.

But here are some reality shows I’d like to see.

Street Art USA

Ten street artists are each assigned to a middle-American town, and instructed to cover its barns, warehouse walls and other semi-public places with their messages. Each week we’ll see the artists select a site, come up with an idea, and execute it. A celebrity panel including the likes of Banksy and Mark Ecko will confer and decide whose art has the greatest impact and thus deserves our attention, praise, and, of course, dollars. The winning artist gets a show at Jonathan Levine, with a percentage of profits and ad revenue funnelled back into the town’s community chest. Losing artists are still allowed to sell their work, pursuant with the permission of the property owner, who may remove the piece wholesale for showing or simply decide to sell the property in total. Odds are, if the show is as popular as hoped, the value assigned to the art will double or triple the value of the structures and land. Conflicts occur when the artist encounters locals who take issue with any of the sticking points of public/street art. A a few rogue wild card characters drop in to random artists’ towns each week with the express purpose of acting like actual old-school graffiti writers and painting over, crossing out and generally harassing the art school kids trying to do a wheatpasting commemorating the evils of NAFTA.

eBay Maven

Everyone has a friend with an unhealthy hobby which has been transformed through the wonders of e-commerce into a preternatural level of ability on eBay. Vinyl toys, soul 45s, vintage guitars–you name it, odds are you know someone who fits this personality trait. Personally, I’m most frightened of sneaker freaks. One friend, who I love and respect, maxed out my wacky meter when he opened his closet, to reveal it was entirely full of sneaker boxes. I never wear any of them,’ he said to me, opening up a box. Then he leaned closer to me (we were in an empty house) and pulled one out, putting it up to his face. What I love more than anything,’ he said is the way they smell.’ Then he took a long, full huff with the sneaker flush to his face like an oxygen mask. But, let’s not lose the plot. He’s sick on eBay. An utter wheeler-dealer. He’s built a tiny infrastructure based on mining Detroit’s wholesale shoe warehouses for rare colors and flipping them, or knowing skateshop owners who hook him up with wholesale prices. Other buddies of mine have collections of rare disc golf discs they buy on eBay. They know every production run, what colors or unique properties the Innova plastics from 2004 have.

But, to get to the point, these obsessions breed unique knowledge of the marketplace eBay has created for their given commodities. So essentially you created an investment show, or a speculation show, with a play styled like Ice Road Truckers or another of those where they keep track of how much money you’ve made, or crabs you’ve hauled. Everyone’s got to stick to their chosen discipline, so the 45 guy can’t start slangin’ guitars halfway through the show. Viewers will also learn about the interesting things in each discipline, say why the price recently increased or what makes a particular edition special. A psychologist who specializes in collecting and hoarding instincts and a successful small businessperson will be around to comment on strange behaviors or explain business actions. Mainly footage will focus on the collection of these items, the 45s guy going to explore the dusty old basement to pull out records or the shoe collector who goes to China or the guitar gal who visits the aging heroin-addicted bluesman to buy old axes. Otherwise it’ll be geeks clicking around on their computers, which makes for about as compelling viewing as one of those ill-conceived live design-offs where two Photoshop jockeys duke it out with their Wacom tablets. Conflicts arise due to the nature of the market as well as planted flakey bidders who foil crucial sales and act all shady.

This one would need eBay’s approval, and might even be more useful as a branded content type play. CAA, call me.

Eco Griefer

Twelve ambitious eco-committed people are charged with returning to their ancestral tract and changing the lifestyle of their kin; the winner will be the one who can reduce their family’s carbon footprint the most. Challenges include getting Dad to give up his 12 mpg Range Rover, turning the group vegan and getting them gardening, fixing solar panels or other alternate energy source onto the house or similar fuel swap and convincing deadbeat brother Larry fine Peruvian cocaine is not ecologically sound. Budgets will be extremely limited, prompting scavenging, dumpster diving, and various other humiliating-yet-earth-friendly outcomes.

Hack My Ass

In the spirit of the Oscar-winning film Ass” in the alternate universe portrayed in 2004’s Idiocracy, Hack My Ass” is a fitness show devoted solely to carving participants’ asses into unique, personality-reflecting shapes, created in the initial show along with a computer graphics wizard and a plastic surgeon who specialize in the buttocks. Fitness instructors tailor unique ass-blasting exercises to each contestant’s goals, and a panel of experts containing an Internet entrepreneur in the adult industry, a bodybuilding judge, and a Southern Senator evaluate callipygian glory and tragedy at the conclusion of each weekly show. Pitfalls include Twinkies and the sofa. Huge sponsorship opportunities would be available for Hanes and other underwear manufacturers as well as metabolic enhancement products. Web crosover includes a 24/7 ass-cam mounted on each contestant’s waist.