Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Monday, March 03, 2003

love and marriage, love and marriage

Could someone please tell me why the entertainment industry has such a desperately cynical concept of love, marriage, and family relations? And could someone else please tell me why we seem to just eat it up? I mean, take a look at the recent past and near future in so-called "reality" television:

'Joe Millionaire' Chooses Zora on Finale (Austin Statesman-American, February 17, 2003): Zora got the nod, and a diamond ring, from Evan Marriott when the "Joe Millionaire'' finale aired Monday night. [....] "It's been a real roller-coaster ride,'' said a nervous Marriott as he finally leveled with Zora Andrich, the dark-haired, 29-year-old schoolteacher from New Jersey. "I've chosen you.
     "There's been something else I'd like to say to you that's been really weighing on my nerves,'' he added. "I don't have $50 million. I don't have $50,000. I'm sorry I lied to you, but I wanted to find someone who loved me for who I am.''

... Oh.

Apparently, the way to find someone who loves you for who you are is to lie to them for two solid months, while millions of people are thinking you're a tool and she's a fool. Keeping her from actually getting to know about you, while humiliating her publicly, will lead her to love you for who you are. Who knew?

If you thought that "The Bachelor", "The Bachelorette", and "Joe Millionaire" were excessively cynical takes on conducting modern relationships ... fasten your seatbelts, baby; you ain't seen nothin' yet.

TV's New Reality: Hit Shows Are Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (Washington Post, February 17, 2003): ..... Fox, meanwhile, has bought "Spellbound," a reality show in which three attractive young women are hypnotized to believe that an unattractive man is their perfect mate (the show is produced by Elisabeth Murdoch, the daughter of Rupert Murdoch, who heads Fox's parent company). And Fox will replace "Joe Millionaire" next month with "Married by America," a series in which viewers vote to match-marry contestants.

Fox Arranging Marriages. Really. (E!Online, November 1, 2002): ..... As the networks unleash yet another army of upcoming reality TV programs, Fox is at the head of the class with Married by America, a new series that sets up singles in arranged marriages. The new weekly series, which will bow sometime next year, is hunting for a small group of people, evenly split between men and women, "who are tired of the dating scene and open to the idea of having a marriage arranged for them," Fox reality chief Mike Darnell tells Daily Variety. After the lucky singles are selected, their friends and families will interview a bevy of marriage material contestants and whittle down the pool to two potential finalists for each lovelorn single. The third show will let the viewers decide who should tie the knot and will end with a proposal between two people who have never met. Fox hopes love (and viewership) will ensue as the newly engaged couples get to know each other in the next episodes, which lead up to a live televised wedding finale.

Fox also apparently thinks that its potential engagees are the next-best-thing to terrorists-in-waiting, given the spectacularly odd sequestration requirements. (Contestants are required to bring at least three swimsuits each. Apparently, regardless of any particular inclination, YOU VILL SVIM! And, of course, provide the requisite T&A, since this is, after all, Fox we're talking about.) You can't even work out alone; if you make it through the eight weeks, you can't talk on the phone the entire time, or listen to the radio, or read newspapers, or set a foot outside your room at any time unless you're accompanied by your chaperone. I mean, even Miss America occasionally allows its vestal virgins to take a peek around without having their chaperones draped on their backs at every single possible moment.

Spring's slate of new reality television shows (CNN, February 20, 2003): ..... the romance with reality is only going to heat up this spring with Fox ready to offer up "Married by America" on March 3. Meanwhile, NBC is popping the question, "Who Wants to Marry My Mom?" later this spring. And, believe it or not, this show isn't the only one asking that question. On March 10, the show "Meet My Kids," will let three people choose their mother's date for a trip to Hawaii. Of course there's also the return of the old stand-bys in the business of mining televised romance for ratings gold: A third season of "The Bachelor" starts March 26 and a third "Temptation Island" is also on the way.

FOX Can't Mask Enthusiasm For 'Mr. Personality' (, TV News Daily, February 26, 2003): FOX's commitment to romantic honesty through fraud continues with "Mr. Personality." After "Joe Millionaire" pondered whether true love could survive a 50 million dollar lie, "Mr. Personality" will challenge one woman to choose the man of her dreams from a group of men whose faces she's never seen. While this format sounds very much like "The Dating Game," the show will add a twist -- rather than hiding the men behind a screen, preventing any kind of direct interaction, "Mr. Personality" will make its female star choose from amongst 20 men, who will all be wearing masks. [...] The show will begin with the 20 men and a single woman sequestered in an undisclosed location. The woman will gradually eliminate the men and only then will she be able to see their faces. At the end of seven episodes, the woman will finally be able to unmask the man of her dreams, a man she chose on the basis of personality, common interests, pecs, and the ability to kiss. FOX promises that the masks will be " exotic" and not scary, which eliminates the spectre of a reality show where the woman must choose between 20 men in Nixon masks. FOX also is trying to cast men of similar body type to ensure that " personality" does not get confused with " tight abs." Arts & Entertainment | Fox planning second "Joe Millionaire": Flush with the success of "Joe Millionaire," Fox executives said Wednesday that they are readying a second edition. Fox would not say when the hit reality series would return or how a sequel would differ from the first, which was based on a joke that everyone but the female competitors were in on. "It can't be done identically to the first one for all the obvious reasons," said Sandy Grushow, Fox Television Entertainment chairman. Grushow said the network "has come up with a notion that carries all of the same values forward. We're obviously optimistic that it will perform extremely well when it returns."

... Values? There are values evident in Joe Millionaire? Well, who knew?

A Rundown of the New Reality Shows (NY Times, February 23, 2003, registration required) :
A rich benefactor puts his potential heirs through tests to determine who will inherit his money.
A couple is offered money if one of them will go on a vacation with a stranger of the opposite sex.
Two families from different social circumstances exchange mothers for two weeks. [....]
A young single woman gets two friends to judge a number of young suitors, who must make an impression within 30 seconds. Ten finalists then go on dates with the woman and are eliminated by audience votes.
This one-time hit returns with committed couples brought to an island, where sexy single people try to break up their relationships.

There's also "Meet the Folks", which takes the always-awkward first meetings between a person and the parents of those they're dating (or in certain cases, their children) and then sticks the parents/children on the dates as video observers and THEN, as if things weren't weird enough, throws a lie detector into the mix, as well as the obligatory public family grilling about odd little details in your past that the network has dragged out with the aid of the person's family and "friends" and private detectives. And finally, there's ABC's "The Family", in which a family competes against each other for $1 million, the winners to be judged by the servants.

I'm not even condemning this as "reality" programming run amuck on the airwaves. Although I will say that reading the critics on this issue is fairly amusing. They keep warning -- hoping, really -- that the genre is becoming overprogrammed, that scripted series need to be the backbone of a schedule. Totally ignoring, of course, that Fox has managed to ride "reality" programming to its first sweeps win ever. Totally ignoring that reality programming has been one of the few bright spots in ABC's horrendous year. There's really no sign that people are tiring, or that networks really need to put more scripted series out there. When an individual reality program has failed ... really, that's all it was. The market for a particular program was misjudged, or the concept was too lame even for us. ("I'm a Celebrity, Get me out of here" utterly fails to keep from leaping to mind as a prime example of a desperately lame concept. Why on earth would they think that people would want to watch an entire series of B- and C-list celebrities, many of whom fail to pass the "Who the hell is THAT?" test, and many more of whom make their money by being profoundly irritating.)

Side note: Has anyone noticed that "reality" programming really has nothing whatsoever to do with actual reality? They would more properly all be called game shows; every single one of them involves winning some prize at the end of a sometimes quite extended competition. Frequently, the prize is another person, which is rather reprehensible, since it essentially says that people are things. But let's deal with that particular ethical shortfall another day, shall we? Let's shall.

Somehow, modern society seems to have produced a truly boundless cynicism about the role that love, marriage, and family should play in one's life. It is true that modern life leaves many people little time to go out and find one's mate. After all, professional people are expected to give 50 hours or so per week to their jobs in most cases, and many nonprofessional people tend to work long hours and more jobs to make up for the monetary shortfall, so ... what are people to do to meet each other? That said, most people can't avail themselves of the ability of a network to do casting calls to make certain that the only people responding are (1) beautiful, and (2) rich, or at least relatively well off. Perhaps the whole "dating" part of the genre taps into some desire to have the whole thing handled for you. (Although, frankly, the truly puzzling part is the desire to have someone else make judgements about what works for you. I mean, "Cupid" and "Married by America" are just bizarre. To be sure, arranged marriages have almost always been a part of human society. However, in most arranged marriages, the people who arrange them generally have your best interests, or some version thereof, in mind. They're not arranging your marriage purely for the entertainment of the masses. And the masses have nothing to say about traditional arranged marriages. Let's face it: "mass entertainment" will likely have nothing whatsoever to do with your best interests, and much more to do with whoever comes across as the best-looking, or what would make for the most dramatic relationship.)

But even assuming that would be the case, what does the success of "Joe Millionaire" say about that part of the genre? That everyone wants to be able to lie successfully to people? (And let's face it: after a certain point, the women would have had to be awfully stupid not to have at least had some idea that there was significant deception going on. If nothing else, Evan Marriott was a lousy liar, even if it may never have been terribly clear to them what he was lying about.)

And what on earth is going on in the rest of it? Granted, most of them haven't aired yet, so their success is not certain. (Although, interestingly, the "relationship" section of the "reality" genre seems to be the one segment that does reliably well. For example, despite the fact that the second edition fell off significantly in the ratings, Temptation Island did well enough to be brought back for a third version.) Why on earth do we want to see that sort of deception and backbiting and competition within any given family? And why on earth do networks think that we'd want to see it?

No answers, really. Just lots of questions.

I have to admit, I hope most of these upcoming shows tank massively. I don't think they will; I just hope.

Posted by iain at 03:58 PM in category