Today's Brew: 'Coal,' 'Deadliest Catch,' 'America's Got Talent' -- Reality Is Here to Stay
Tonight's cuppa: decaf Irish tea
When I was knee-high to a channel dial, almost all the TV I watched was scripted and used actors to tell fictional stories about pretend people. Beyond that, there was pretty much only live news, game shows, talk shows, news magazines and sporting events.
Today, many of the most popular shows on TV, shows that help prop up a network's bottom line, shows that get talked about the next day, are "reality" or "unscripted" or "docu-drama" or "reality-competition" or talent competitions (I'll just lump it all under "reality" for the purposes of this post).
(Below, crab-boat captains Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand of "Deadliest Catch")
A lot of people decry the rise of these shows. Some are fans of scripted shows; some are critics; some are actors and screenwriters (can't blame 'em).
While I'm not spending my time watching the Kardashians or "Jersey Shore," I watch a good percentage of reality TV, and it's a percentage that's going up, not down.
I love a good scripted show and am thrilled to pieces when a great new one pops up. But it's not a common occurrence, so my interest is increasingly drawn to shows like "Clean House," "Deadliest Catch," "Say Yes to the Dress" (thanks royal wedding, which made me watch it for research, so I could get hooked), "Coal," "Ax Men," "Ice Road Truckers," "Dirty Jobs," "Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew," "Dancing With the Stars," "America's Got Talent," "What Not to Wear," "This Old House," "Storm Chasers," "Top Gear" and "Ruby."
If you look at my reality list, you'll see that, with the exception of Dr. Drew Pinsky, none of the shows features the scripted staples of doctors, lawyers, cops or detectives. They feature coal miners, truckers, dancers, fashion experts, builders, meteorologists, car nuts and crab fishermen.
They also feature a wider range of ages, ethnic backgrounds, locations, lifestyles and looks than you'll find in most dramas and comedies.
(At right, Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Kirstie Alley of "Dancing With the Stars")
Sure, these shows offer a modified version of reality at best (and some are pure fantasy, like "Dancing ...") but each offers a window into lives and professions I'd never see otherwise and which are unlikely to become the subject of a primetime scripted show.
I now have an idea what it takes to get coal out of the ground, catch crab in the Bering Sea, execute a perfect tango, stucco a wall, chop down a tree or recognize when a twister is forming.
And some of the stuff on "America's Got Talent" would never, ever appear anywhere else.
Reality TV is here to stay. It's a permanent part of the economic landscape of TV. Some of it is stellar; some of it is "meh"; and some of it is absolute dreck.
Just like every other kind of TV.
And, by the way, I'm not privy to Fox's bookkeeping, but it wouldn't shock me to know that the ongoing success of "American Idol" figured into the network's fiscal health and just may have had something to do with a scripted bubble show like "Fringe" coming back.
A rising tide lifts all boats -- and speaking of which, it's time to watch "Deadliest Catch," which is as dramatic and compelling as anything created on the page. Time for opie season!