Originally created 07/09/01

Must the shows go on?

We take comfort in the news that the Screen Actors Guild has accepted a contract and a strike has been averted.

This means, we sincerely hope, an end to the ultimate ghettoization of television that has occurred with the advent of what is known as "reality TV," where chuckleheads are humiliated, tricked, double-crossed and practically strung up like sides of beef, all for the salacious fascination of a bored public. Those reality shows were Hollywood's fallback, should the actors actually go on strike so that bit-part actors could earn more than $70,000.

They started with Survivor, got more tasteless with Temptation Island, and the lesser-known Gay Riviera on Bravo, Big Brother in Great Britain and have now evolved into Fear Factor and the mean-spirited Spy TV.

But we Americans have eaten from the trough and we love it. The ratings for these shows are phenomenal, which is why last week's Fear Factor actually had the highest ratings of any NBC show since the coverage of the death of Princess Di. Reality bites into ratings big time.

Of course it was only a few years ago that we were declaring television programming had reached rock bottom with the Jerry Springer and Sally Jesse shows, which aired those phonier-than-silicone family feuds ("My husband is cheating on me - with my best friend!")

How low can they go? Oh, much lower, it seems. Now you've got to eat grubs and be strapped down while live rats are poured on you, or slither in a pit of snake. Reality bites, especially when it's a rodent.

The biggest trouble is that the shows are at a time when children are watching - and they mimic this stuff in the backyard. Little Johnny tells his baby sister to jump off the garage roof onto a waiting butterfly net. According to experts, children under the age of seven have trouble differentiating reality from fantasy, but teen-agers with a reckless streak can also get carried away.

And so, while once we thought Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina, the Teen-age Witch represented the nadir of prime-time television, we'd welcome them back.

Parents, do your children a favor and turn off the TV set this summer. Perhaps by the time fall shows start up again, the reality TV fad will be behind us.


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