This Is Reality?

I generally don’t like reality shows. Now, I will admit right up front that I have biases toward shows that employ actual writers, since I am a writer myself. I’d much rather watch one hour of Joss Whedon-crafted dialogue and story than one hour of some people buying wedding dresses or baking cakes.  And I really have no interest in what I consider to be the borderline-child abuse of shows about kids’ beauty pageants and dance schools.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I do watch Mythbusters and Top Gear on a regular basis, but I don’t consider them to be reality shows as such. One of them is a science series, and the other is more like an auto magazine for TV (only far funnier and more entertaining than your average car mag).

From what I can tell, though, my dislike of shows like American Idol, The Biggest Loser, and Project Runway puts me at odds with the taste of a great many people in the world. That’s okay. I’m used to it. I loved Firefly and Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies and a bunch of other quirky shows that were cancelled because the general public didn’t embrace them.

And in all honesty, I can understand why some of these shows are popular. I liked the first two seasons of Survivor. The Amazing Race can be exciting and educational. As for The Voice and American Idol…well…people like singing? I don’t know.  Something is keeping their ratings up.

Other shows, though, I absolutely do not get. What is the draw of the various Real Housewives series? Obviously they are popular and have multiplied like tribbles (yes, I went Trekkie instead of using the rabbit cliche), but WHY? Was watching one group of rich people not enough? Are the rich women of New Jersey that different than the rich women of Atlanta? Is it really that entertaining to watch a bunch of people who have more money than you ever will? Who is watching this stuff?

I have a theory. It’s not a great theory, but it is a theory. These shows remind me of the soap operas like The Young and the Restless that my ex-wife used to watch (or maybe still watches), which seemed to be about nothing but the problems of the incredibly rich. Soap operas have been cancelled right and left in recent years due to low ratings. I have to wonder if the reason for this isn’t that the audience got bored and started watching something else. Maybe too much of the audience is now at work during the day, a move necessitated by the rough economic conditions of the last few years. These Real Housewives shows are basically the same type of thing, and they’re on at night. Also, they have the added luster of being “real” (a word I used in the heaviest quotation marks that I can, since reality shows tend to be incredibly scripted), which puts the people appearing on these shows into a weird place between being a character and a celebrity…or as close as America gets to royalty.

As I said, it’s a theory. I have no way to back it up. But the popularity of these shows is just one of many things that I have to admit that I do not understand.

And while I get the financial upside for the networks that produce reality shows (they are ridiculously cheap to make compared to a one-hour long drama series), I don’t understand why they bother putting them out on DVD afterwards.  Who is saying “I want to watch that episode of Honey Boo Boo again and again!”?  WHO?  Why would anyone buy a season of Pawn Stars?  “I just HAVE to own that episode where Rick told that guy his Civil War pistol was only worth three hundred bucks.”

Please.  If someone in your life has purchased a season of a reality show, write me.  Tell me why.  Help me understand.  Because right now, I absolutely do not get it.

-Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter