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TV Trends

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Reality Goes Raunchy



The major broadcast networks today are, to varying degrees, in dire straits. Viewership is declining due to competition from cable and satellite TV’s original programming; most networks are still reeling from the effect of last year’s writer’s strike, which shattered the momentum of new series (a momentum many shows have yet to regain); and, of course, the current state of the economy casts a pall over any major expenditures the networks might wish to contemplate.


Faced with these factors, the broadcast networks are seeking less expensive programming. Essentially, this means that in the near future viewers will likely see fewer scripted dramas and situation comedies, and more talk and reality shows, as such programs are cheaper to produce. One example of this trend is NBC’s recent announcement that, beginning this fall, current Tonight Show host Jay Leno will fill the 9-10 p.m. hour five nights a week.


Another example is the proliferation of programs in the “reality” genre. But while reality shows have been a successful staple of broadcast television since the premiere of CBS’ Survivor in 2000, in recent years the genre has been overworked – with the result that ever more extreme and bizarre concepts for such programs are being adopted by the networks…with considerations of taste and appropriateness often taking a backseat to the desire to fill programming hours as cheaply as possible.


This is not true of all such programs. CBS’ new Game Show in My Head is silly but not degrading, being essentially an updated Truth or Consequences; while NBC’s Superstars of Dance is a tasteful and entertaining international dance competition appropriate for the entire family. 


Sadly, the same cannot be said for Momma’s Boys, NBC’s competition in which women compete Bachelor-like for the attentions of single men – but have to get past the formidable barrier of the men’s mothers. Formidable, in part because several of the women competitors are former nude models for publications like Playboy and Penthouse, much to the mothers’ displeasure. Naturally, the makers of Momma’s Boys take every opportunity to show the women’s nude photos (breasts and genitals are blurred, but enough nudity is shown to clearly convey the point).  Accompanying such displays are discussions laden with comments on anatomy such as, “These guys aren't gonna listen to their moms because they’re gonna be too busy looking at my boobs,” “When I opened the folder the first thing that stuck out was her in the nude.  In Playboy, they show a lot of boobies, bootys, private areas,” and “You need to be a man. Where are your balls?  I always let somebody know that, metaphorically speaking, I have cantaloupe-sized, stainless steel balls.”


But a crude emphasis on sex is not the only tasteless element. One of the mothers, Khalood Bojanowski (called “Mrs. B” on the program) opened the first episode on December 16th by declaring that her son should not date anyone African-American, Jewish, or Asian. When one woman calls her a racist and delicately objects, “Bitch, are you crazy?” Mrs. B lashes back, “My skin is darker than yours, bitch!” Particularly irked is Vita, an African-American nurse:


Vita:  “That woman has lost her damn mind, talking about she doesn't want no black girl, no Jew…I'm a good ass woman!”


Mrs.B: “I don't give a [bleeped ‘f***’]!...Kiss my [bleeped ‘ass’]!


But the program hit its nadir (at least to date) with the January 5th episode.  During a scene (clearly taking place a week or so earlier) intended to show how the various women would react in a family setting, a priest and a rabbi bless a joint Christmas/Hanukkah tableaux. The program cuts back and forth between the religious ceremony and contestants Michael and Meghan making out with one another in the basement. The episode also showed more of Mrs. B’s explosive temper and the contestant’s improper behavior; as Mrs. B confronts contestant Misty about her attire, Misty lowers her shorts and moons Mrs. B, prompting this exchange:


Mrs. B:  “Look, I told you not to wear any of that and you're going out with my son. Now I'm really [bleeped ‘f******’] pissed off, because you're here to aggravate the [bleeped ‘f***’] out of me.  If you had respect for me, you would not go out with my kid.”


Misty:  “You're right. If I had respect for you I would not go out with your son.  So guess where I'm going right now... out with your son!  Let me hike these down a little bit.”


Misty pulls down her shorts.


Mrs. B:  “You look like a whore.”


Later, Mrs. B rants insanely as she spies on her son and Misty necking in a hot tub:


Mrs. B: “Oh [bleeped ‘f***’]!  I swear I'm ready to kill somebody!...What a friggin' tramp. A hoochie mama.  No respecting me, I can't believe it...I'm going neuter that boy.  That's what I’m gonna do, I'm gonna strangle his balls, I swear!”


Certainly, Mrs. B’s prejudice, profanity and lunatic rages reflect worst upon herself; but what does it say about NBC that it has chosen to give Penthouse playmates and foul-mouthed bigots nationwide attention?


Sadly, NBC is not the only network joining this trend. On January 7th, the CW premiered a Survivor ripoff with a graphic horror theme. 13: The Fear is Real features a group of contestants stranded in a haunted house in the Louisiana bayou, surrounded by blood-drenched walls and stalked by a faceless “Mastermind of Terror” who threatens them with “executions” like being buried alive. Throughout the episode, women contestants were shown tied up, blindfolded, gagged and abandoned. And when is CW airing this program filled with slasher-movie elements? The Family Hour of 8:00 p.m. ET, of course!


But disgusting and disturbing though these programs may be, at least they are honest about their premise. Such cannot be said of the Disney-owned ABC network’s new reality program True Beauty. This show purports to trick self-absorbed narcissists into a faux beauty competition, only to judge them on their “inner beauty” and force them to confront their negative character traits. In fact, the program dwells extensively on the contestants’ looks, and gives them plenty of attention as they say things like:


Haddiyyah-Lah: “That is [bleeped ‘bull****’]....This is [bleeped ‘f******’] stupid. I am not ugly...I am the most gorgeous, [bleeped ‘godd***’]  it). I don't care what the [bleeped ‘f***’] Mr. Palmer says.”


Chelsea: “I might be a little cocky bitch but I happen to think I am drop dead gorgeous. I don't give a [bleeped ‘s***’] what anyone else says.”


And a teaser for future episodes shows female contestant giving a lap dance to a male contestant and Monique, wearing a men's suit jacket with nothing underneath it, stating, “men are suckers for a big pair of boobs.” In fact, True Beauty resembles nothing so much as the 2003 program Are You Hot? The Search for America’s Sexiest People. Apparently, Disney’s offshoot ABC is going to keep making reality shows about “hot” people until they score a ratings success…and, like their fellow broadcast networks, they will continue the trend toward distasteful reality programming no matter how many contestants they exploit -- and viewers they repulse -- along the way.


TV Trends: This column was compiled from reports by the Parents Television Council’s Analysis staff.


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