Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Family Reality

Like Madonna, sport utility vehicles, and supply-side economics, reality television was not deemed a potential long-term threat to American popular culture when it first appeared. But with various shows from contests about surviving on a deserted island to the domestic life of Ozzy Osbourne's brood, they've been everywhere, on all channels, for the past ten years, and the reality "craze" shows no signs of passing. NBC, which resisted reality programming for so long, started binging on it just to keep its ratings - not respectable for years - one step up from pathetic. And so it is in this environment that we say goodbye to "Jon and Kate Plus 8," which aired its finale on TLC. (TLC, which used to stand for The Learning Channel, is just a bunch of meaningless initials now. You don't learn anything from their current programming.)
I've never taken the time to watch this show, nor do I regret ever missing it. The concept was obvious - a couple trying to raise eight children, nothing we hadn't seen before. How far back do you want to go? Two of sociologist Lillian Gilbreth's twelve children wrote about their large family.
The "reality" of Jon and Kate Gosselin's situation, which led many to believe they were able to preserve a stable marriage and domestic life, became all too real when Jon left Kate and the eight children, causing the tabloid-documented feud that some folks must have found more entertaining than the show.
I'm sorry, I'm old school. I prefer an old classic, scripted show like "Eight Is Enough," which was also based on reality - it was derived from the autobiography written by columnist Tom Braden. True, the fictional Bradford family didn't have much in common with the real Braden family, but at least we didn't have to see any ugly fights or tabloid exposés, not even any involving the cast. Dick Van Patten and Betty Buckley aren't those kinds of celebrities.
Ultimately, most of these "reality" shows exist to pick on the foibles of real people for the entertainment of others, and that's why I avoid those shows. Even a good ol' fashioned talent contest like "American Idol" has to be ruined by Simon Cowell's insults and fans taking sides. And so, while "Jon and Kate Plus 8" is off the air, I fear a new, similar show may fill the void, and possibly on TLC in the same time slot.
I couldn't have watched that show anyway, and not because I don't get TLC on my cable service. I have a small-screen TV. If I had tried to watch "Jon and Kate Plus 8" on it, I would have only seen four of them! (Sorry, couldn't resist. And there is more than one TV set in my house.)

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