The Evolution of TV

by MaxPower

I remember 1998. I was in university and an estimated 76 million viewers watched the last episode of Seinfeld, the final episode in what some say was the best sitcom in the history of television – no matter what the producers of Friends and NBC say. Was this the end of sitcoms?

There was a brief flirtation with game shows in 2000. Remember that, the Who Wants to be a Millionaire ratings bonanza? What started out as a summer re-run filler turned into a five day a week, ABC ratings suck, and man did they milk it for all it was worth. But Who Wants to be a Millionaire and other game shows like The Weakest Link were just the forerunners for a new genre in TV – reality.

Reality TV as we know it now in 2004 also started in 2000 with Mark Burnett’s Survivor. I won’t trouble R4NT readers with recapping what made Survivor so successful because anyone can still tune in on Thursday night and check out Season 8 for themselves. Eight seasons, that puts it past most of the scripted dramas and sitcoms which start the new TV season so triumphantly prescribing the death of reality TV. Reality TV has simply been that successful, it has lasted much longer than critics and pundits thought was possible. Most of these wags predicted the death of reality TV within a year of Survivor‘s launch, ending much like the failed resurrection of the game show genre. However, here we are four years later and reality TV is arguably stronger than ever, so much so that we have seen a marked progression through the genre itself.

Survivor has morphed into Temptation Island which morphed into The Mole.

After this first wave of reality shows we started getting not only copy cats, but also surprisingly an evolution of the genre to keep people’s interest. In essence, all reality TV shows have the same type of voyeuristic appeal, we as a populous apparently like to watch people’s successes and failures, laugh at the cocky bastards failing, and cheer the underdogs to victory. I wouldn’t be surprised if people who watched reality TV shows and got attached to the personalities have the same attachment to their favorites just as many people do when they watch sports.

Big Brother morphed into Bachelor(ette) which morphed into For Love or Money

I don’t have a problem per say with reality TV. Much of the scripted tripe networks throw at us have worse storylines than the ones that develop ‘naturally’ in an unscripted albeit heavily edited environment like Survivor where personalities do not ‘develop’ rather simply come to be understood by the audience. That and the fact they are damn cheap to produce. Get some guys with a camera, get a bunch of people who want to be on TV and want to do it for free, buy them plane tickets and give them a hundred American dollars and you have The Amazing Race. Personally, if I had that type of cash on hand I would love to run around the planet in a couple weeks with a camera crew following me and recording the event. I think that’s the attraction with a lot of these shows, if you don’t want to be doing whatever it is they are doing on TV, you can be sure people want to watch other people doing it – Fear Factor anyone?

Joe Millionaire morphed into Average Joe which morphed into My Big Fat Fianc?

Most of the shows have a universal theme, the average person’s desire to do anything for money. However, the popularity of the genre suggests its not even the average person’s desire; it is most or many people’s desire. It doesn’t seem like it, but if someone asked you what you would do for a million bucks I bet you’d try to eat some bugs or make a fool out of yourself.

So while I don’t have an issue with reality TV, recently there has been a trend towards shows that give me a funny feeling. It’s like we are two steps away from The Running Man or Gladiator. By that I don’t mean we as a society would ever condone throwing innocents to the lions, but people who volunteer willingly to fight some lions for a chance at 10 million? Well if they get mauled it’s their own fault, you know people do stupid things every day for a shot at much less money. If you decide to rob a gas station with a handgun in east LA, you have to understand A) the expected payoff is less than 50 bucks and B) the guy behind the till could have an Uzi. So? really? what’s the problem with looking for volunteers to run a maze and have guys chase them on skates with swords? Hey, they get 10 million, they can walk out of the show at any time (but they’ll be doing it in front of 100 million people) plus they’ll be a C list celeb! Interesting how when I explain it to myself that way it seems almost legit, which shows you how close we are. Does anyone out there actually think this wouldn’t fly? If there was, I want to point to a new show called The Swan where a bunch of women have serious cosmetic surgery, psychological counseling and other fun things only to have a shot at winning a beauty pageant! Seriously.

Oh, but I would never do anything of the sort. I mean I’m an educated guy. I’m not going to eat bugs for a shot at 100 grand. But give me a shot at taking part in marketing activities, politicking and schlepping around with The Donald listening to how everything he does is ‘the greatest in the world’? Sign me up for The Apprentice.

Hmm, Mark Burnett again.

You’re Fired.

  • The Evolution of TV
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on April 1st, 2004

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