I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of good intelligent television (with decades of very practical experience). I grew up watching Herman head off to work at the mortuary each day and Uncle Joe “moving kinda slow at the Junction.” I was amused by the rowdy antics of the Sweathogs in Mr. Kotter’s class and was saddened when Chrissy moved out of the apartment she shared with Jack and Janet. I learned about diversity though Fred’s ongoing battles with Lamont, Grady, and Aunt Esther and became aware of social issues listening to Archie’s “discussions” with Meathead and Jefferson. I empathized as Kevin Arnold pined over Winnie during his Wonder Years and sought out my own neighborhood watering hole where “everyone knows your name.” I witnessed the transformation as Alex P. Keeton became Deputy Mayor of New York and remember thinking that Michael, Hope, and their “30-something” crowd were actually quite old. I’ve howled over countless episodes about “nothing” (and still do in reruns) and snickered every time Alexis interfered in Blake and Krystle’s life together.
And yet now, the classic sit-coms and dramas that we all watched have been replaced by this new brand of television known as Reality TV. After years of unsuccessfully trying to recreate the early successes of Friends (by adding more and more inappropriate language and sexual innuendoes that appeal mostly to impressionable teens), Hollywood writers essentially threw up their hands and quit. Today, we are treated each day to “real people” (or actor wannabes) performing death defying stunts (like eating gross foods) or attempting to meet their future spouses (with the world watching and/or their daughters choosing) or swapping wives (from one dysfunctional family to another). We are “entertained” as greed is matched against true love and root on the underdog as Average Shmoes compete for a beauty queen’s affection. Plot has been transformed into plotting; dialogue has become nothing more than complaining and backstabbing. Famous (infamous) identifiable characters like Hawkeye Pierce and J.R. Ewing and have been replaced by Ryan and Trista and even William Hung.
I must admit to being somewhat intrigued by The Apprentice last season (if only to participate in that weekly water cooler conversation in my home office); unfortunately, I was disappointed when that anticipated business acumen was depicted as nothing more than Omarosa’s petty quibbles with Heidi; storylines revolved less around Kwame’s adaptation of his Wall Street experiences and more around Nick and Amy’s budding romance. And Donald Trump’s recent business hardships damage his credibility. Perhaps Carolyn and George (and even Bernie) should be spending more time managing the casino instead of overseeing Sam’s ridiculous behavior. And is Bill actually supervising that real estate project or have financing issues delayed construction? (Frankly, I’m utterly embarrassed that I even know their names.)
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM…
So while other people were investing in plasma TV’s and TIVO, I was beginning to think I may take up some new hobbies. Perhaps I should join a book club (or, at least, read a book); perhaps, I should initiate some handyman projects around the house (or simply hire a handyman and supervise); perhaps, I should invest in a killer stereo (to listen to more talk radio programs). Just when I thought I may get rid of my television(s) altogether, along comes Last Comic Standing.
I’ve always been a fan of comedy clubs and enjoyed watching young stand-ups attempt to make their marks on the Tonight Show and get invited to sit on the couch next to Johnny (and now Jay) after performing their routines. I remember Steve Martin’s balloon animals and David Brenner’s jokes about family. I’ve laughed at George Carlin’s “dirty words” and tried to understand Dennis Miller’s intellectual rants. I’ve even seen the show’s host, Jay Mohr, perform in person at a club in Houston. This Reality TV appeared different than the others as the contestants actually competed in their normal settings.
I must admit, I was hooked on the show early on. The talent scouts narrowed the field based on their short performances and the cream of the crop rose to the top. Unfortunately, after the first few weeks, the show diverged from being non-stop entertaining stand-up routines to emulating more traditional reality shows. Those Hollywood writers could not leave well enough alone and instead had to interject those idiotic reality staples into this program. The best comics moved into a house together to compete against each other in a variety of ridiculous activities. The weekly hour of humor became about 10 minutes of comedy and another 50 minutes of annoying complaining, backstabbing and plotting against each other. I was truly disappointed in the direction the show took (but not disappointed enough to stop watching) as the comics went into “survivor” mode and forged alliances to kick their competitors out of the house.
AND NOW THE REALLY EMBARRASSING PART
By the last few episodes, the final six comics emerged and the entire shows were again dedicated to stand-up routines (and the necessary audience participation to choose the winner). During the semi-final and final rounds, I wholeheartedly rooted for my favorites (and secretly wanted to have a say in the selection process). So after years of joking about these reality shows and laughing at all of my friends who admit to watching; after years of my intellectual snobbery and non-stop criticism about how television has become utterly unwatchable; after years of hoping to discover the next L.A. Law or Charlie’s Angels (television version), I found myself logging onto the LCS website and voting for my favorite performers. (That entailed completing a detailed registration that will surely reward me with countless spam emails from all the sponsors.)
I am thrilled to reveal that I indeed voted for Gary, Alonzo, and John to make it to the finals. And I was even more excited when John emerged as the Last Comic Standing, undoubtedly benefiting from my vote(s). My initial reaction was a sense of pride as I recognized that I must truly be an exceptional judge of comedic talent. But, after some careful thought, I began to wonder if those other viewers (or losers as I have so affectionately referred to them) actually took the time to log on and vote (as I did). Did they participate in the process or merely watch for entertainment purposes and then move on to more important matters of the day? Perhaps, I was the only one who went to such trouble and, therefore, my votes alone gave John that victory? Perhaps all those other losers are not really losers at all (as I am)? After that frightening realization, perhaps I need to give Survivor, Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy, Who Wants to Marry Our Dad, and For Love or Money another chance?