OP-EDS

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October 9, 2001

Pulling on the reigns of reality

It is no lie that reality television has invaded our households and has truly captivated the lives of many who tune in weekly to experience the world of strategy, deception, danger, and excitement. As one series reaches its dramatic conclusion, another soon springs forth to appease the hearts of the “reality hungry." The questions that lie ahead for the head-honchos of broadcasting are rooted in the desire of the viewers. How long will reality television last and to what extent will the producers go to pull helpless reality victims to their programs?

A few weeks ago, “Big Brother 2" wrapped up a remarkable series of reality television centered on the art of deceit and imposition. For anyone who is not familiar with this program that observes the everyday functions (and problems) of a cluttered home, the conniving “evil doctor," Will, prevailed over the unsuspecting houseguests to win the prize of $500,000. Ratings of this season far surpassed its precursor. This is prompted in part by the intricate plans of the players that forced them to secretly betray friends and break loyalties. The drama soon ensued and the viewers found themselves fascinated with Will's web of lies. What can be said of America's approval of the victorious champion and his treachery at that time? It is obvious that in this time of crisis, people are looking for an escape from the current situation. Generally, this is the sole purpose of reality television: to look for excitement and electrification elsewhere. David Kohan, the executive producer of NBC's “Will and Grace," pointed out to reporters that during a time of upheaval, sitcoms like “The Beverly Hillbillies," and “Petticoat Junction" flourished.

“There is something about sitcoms as a form of escapism, particularly in a time when there is a national crisis," Kohan said. “The most ridiculous sitcoms did phenomenally well during the Vietnam War." The perpetual dilemmas in reality television cause tension that adds to the level of stress of many Americans who are already saddened by the terrorist attacks and the war declared on Afghanistan. Therefore, the demand for these programs has certainly decreased.

Will this stop the progress of producers who continue to extend the boundaries of acceptable programming? Let us take a look at a few programs that are still thriving: In “Fear Factor," the number of victims who flock to their television screens will decrease. Currently, there is no demand to see six players face extreme heights, bug eating, and whatever else they may not want to do in order to win a measly $50,000, a prize that is just play-money in today's world of reality television. Death-defying situations in these shows call for the dismissal of the innumerable lives taken in New York City, and that is not a priority for Americans.

In no attempt to ignore our tragic situation, the significant question on the minds of the “broadcasting big-boys" is how reality television will fare in the future. The obstacle that program developers face is having to develop programs that are unlike anything seen before. With the passing of “Temptation Island," the desire to view couples compete for the chance to fall in love and win cash on “Love Cruise" has diminished. Why would America find amusement in such a cast? What comfort do pointless quarrels and seduction bring? The question can be answered by the skyrocketing ratings of popular sitcoms such as “Friends," “Will & Grace," and “Frasier." The truth is that comedy is the medication for tragedy and in the last week, the climb upwards for this type of programming has proved that. The search for childlike arguments and easily solved problems has been set aside as television shows such as “C.S.I." and “J.A.G.," series that search for truth and justice, inspire and uplift viewers. What will happen with the premiere of “Survivor 3?" What will viewers be looking for and how many will still tune in to engage themselves in never-ending strategy? Programs that force players to analyze and investigate will succeed. More importantly, programs with a foundation in sincerity and harmony shall thrive and plummet upon reality shows that lack any sense of purity and righteousness. Not only must these components be present, but also the addition of material that proposes new questions that are shed in a light of another color has to be made.

Producers will find themselves abiding by the laws of the viewers that reign over their television sets. This is an important point, for it is not the programs themselves that pull the reigns, but in actuality, it is in the hands of the viewers to decide what will air on their television screens. Reality programming may take a huge nose-dive as the number of series increases and the distinctiveness in them can be seen no longer. There is no doubt that the head-honchos will extend the boundaries in an attempt to find something that catches the viewers' eyes, but they will definitely proceed with great caution. Reality television is here to stay, but now the boundary lines have been set and it is up to the people who watch these programs to mark their territory or send them off to another place. How many Will's from the “Big Brother" series shall we find now? Truth must prevail and those who come out being victorious will be those who embrace ethics and morality. Reality television does not have to be rooted in evil. Producers will eventually realize this truism as they hunt down inspiring quality programs.