This is a simple column by a complex
“add a real dose of reality-TV to soaps”
Last night (that would be Sunday, July 20, for the nitpicks), while skimming over NBC’s latest reality-TV primetime fare, The Restaurant, featuring that Food Network hunk, Rocco DiSpirito, my mind wandered into the gutter.
Like a reality-TV pitchman paid to hype project proposals for the fall line-up.
DiSpirito’s unscripted, one-hour, weekly drama about the true-life struggles of an Italian-American chef rediscovering his roots in his new Manhattan restaurant – scheduled to air six episodes throughout the summer with the very likely possibility of a return – is basically a soap opera, with real people, many hired specifically for the cameras, wait staff ability taking second place to sex appeal and Real World moxie.
What a perfectly delicious idea for ABC Daytime!
Imagine a weekly series, kicked off on Monday, August 4, created around the backstage antics that go into the making of a soap opera, AMC, OLTL, GH, and the ill-fated PC. Just think of all those blind items come to life. Ratings would shoot straight to #1, leaving CBS’s usual winners – Y&R and B&B – a distant stagnant memory. Youth demos, middle age demos, old folks running over peaches and babies demos, sickos jerking off to the online porn of fat, pimply women in love with Richard Simmons demos, every kind of demo known to mankind would tune in to catch the soap within a soap.
No longer would we hapless, Joan Rivers wannabe, fans remain in the dark about the countless affairs, addictions and atrocious egos rampant in daytime. Finally, we’d glimpse into the machinations that result in an amoral, inhuman montage of wet dreams only 14-year-old geek boys could relate to, otherwise known as GH. Or the schizophrenic, disjointed, hallucinogenic mind trip of an OLTL lost in the past but not quite entrenched in any future beyond creative jargon juxtaposed with creative music mixes. Or the failed attempt at copying long-expired teen primetime fare with a touch of Cinemax After-Dark meets Saturday morning supernatural cartoons on the cancelled PC. Or, worst of all, the once-great epitome of soap operas, turned reality-TV copycat, set to the lowest common denominator: a conformist with a hefty paycheck and an itchy remote trigger finger, AMC.
This morning (aka Monday, July 21), I watched the last five minutes of ABC’s talk show, The View, as co-host Joy Behar humored daytime president Brian Frons by allowing AMC’s youth demo darlings, Rebecca Budig (Greenlee) and Alicia Minshew (Kendall), to share center stage as they introduced the 25 “Sexiest” male contenders for a shot and a spot on near-future AMC episodes. Their characters help run Fusion, a young upstart cosmetic company in dire need of financial backing and promotional pizzazz, so – in a tie-in to the hot reality-TV format and a desperate attempt to do something different, risky and cutting edge to shake up a dinosaur of an entertainment genre originally aimed at aging frazzled housewives from the ‘50s and ‘60s – they decide to put on a “Sexiest Man” competition across the country, using real men as candidates.
The candidates strutted, preened, flexed and disrobed for the appropriate abs and ass show, but for the most part, I tuned out after the fourth toothy smile. When you’ve seen one hunk, yawn, you’ve seen them all. Honey chile, I embody the adage, “Beauty’s only skin deep.” For all of Minshew’s and Budig’s half-hearted, clichéd insistence on a sense of humor as essential to the criteria of sexy, let’s face it, the only reason those guys are up there and we’re down here being lured to Vote! and Judge! and Be a part of the excitement of a reality-TV atmosphere!, is to play the common denominator, the general stereotype, and cater to the shallow gutter mall rats who study and obey trends as if edicts from the Lord and Savior Himself.
And, age-old desperation for ratings equals lots of money.
Instead of cashing in on obsolete trends – Lorenzo Lamas, who? – why not go back to the basics of the heart and soulless of reality-TV, circa the ‘70s PBS special that followed a family’s growth throughout the years and the ‘90s MTV replica The Real World, that followed a group of strangers thrown together as roommates for several months? Reality-TV ... implant cameras all over the studio of an ABC soap opera, turn on the surveillance equipment, and let the madcap inadvertent sitcom ensue!
You know this will never happen. Not even if every soap opera took a nose-dive in ratings and were threatened with extinction, and executives were assured of instant success to surpass Luke and Laura’s wedding and to threaten the very existence of primetime and film altogether.
The genre is renown as a secretive, two-faced, bullshit artist haven of public relations, publicists, con hand jobs and the act in actors. Every detail of a soap must be scrutinized, analyzed and then, released with the slick finesse of a Vegas act at MGM – oftentimes, months to years in advance. Storylines are pre-written, summarized, in what’s known in the industry as a bible, six months in advance, aired three weeks in advance, and carefully guarded with appropriately tendered spoilers (some writers and executive producers, as rumored in the case of GH and OLTL, release false spoilers to throw off the scent of savvy online columnists and posters). Only in the last 10 years have publications and TV shows revealed a mere hint of backstage goings-on, as well as personal profiles of the soap stars – and only then, cleansed rehearsed versions, exfoliated from anything remotely tabloid-worthy beforehand. Don’t believe me? Take 15 minutes to sit (painfully) through a SoapNet SoapTalk show, the ultimate in studio slick. Nothing gets on that show that TPTB don’t want on that show. Most of the celeb interviews are repeats of career cheat sheets given every Tom, Dick and casting agent.
Besides, think of what a reality-TV spin on soaps would do to the fictional accounts of soaps themselves. Nobody would watch to be spirited away by fantasy anymore. They’d all be looking for signs of the affairs, addictions and atrocious ego explosions that happened seconds before shooting. There wouldn’t be enough bodyguards in the world... [narrator’s voice fades, shakily]
It’s already atrocious enough, the addiction to the make-believe speculations on blind items, a who’s who I know the brother of a hairdresser’s cousin third removed fifth-hand telephone tag into the vagaries of soap stars and their affairs, real or imagined in the virtual community. Resulting in a soap within a soap within a soap community, where fan bases, factions and fruity trolls get up in arms over favorites, rumors and the celebrity cachet of a close-up personal appearance.
But, for a while there, the concept nearly worked.
“Bianca sucks, let’s rape her!”
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