On Tuesday, July 1st 1941, the TV airwaves of America were treated to the first game show: "Truth or Consequences” with host Ralph Edwards. The game show format (which lived in radio prior to the advent of television) offered viewers a very different type of entertainment. Viewers were allowed to see people who were not celebrities and not (necessarily) professional athletes compete for a prize. The competitors were real people in real, unscripted situations.
In the nearly 70 years that have passed as of this writing, the viewing public has witnessed people guessing prices, answering quizzes, and performing feats within an allotted time period. Competitors have won prizes ranging from cash awards to paid vacations to new vehicles. Some game show winners have even gone on to become celebrities in their own right. After all, nothing says role model like a man who can toss 50 porcelain plates through a bull’s-eye target in less than 60 seconds while the “Sabre Dance” is blasting in the background.
Sadly, the American public has been subjected to a sub-genre of television entertainment that threatens to insult one’s intelligent and morph one’s mind to a mound of mush: reality TV. All any viewer has to do turn the dial (or rather “surf the schedule menu”) and be treated to any one of the following reality TV premises:
- People living together on camera 24 hours a day/7 days a week (condensed for allotted TV time slots). This could be taking place in an apartment, an incommunicado house, a drug rehabilitation center, or a deserted island (not including the sound and camera crews). Some of these shows award prizes. Some do not. Nonetheless, people from all over the world will submit videos for the opportunity for viewers to see them at their absolute worst.
- Singers, actors, former child stars, or athletes allowing viewers into their world so that viewers can remove any doubt about their self-absorbed narcissism. To be fair, some of these celebrities actually want to be seen as “down to earth” as they feed caviar to their French poodle while sitting poolside at their multi-million dollar Beverly Hills mansion.
- Singers, actors, former child stars, or athletes looking for a romantic soul mate. The subject may not even be a celebrity but, instead, a gazillionaire who owns a tofu empire. This usually results in the subject finding a partner, falling in love, breaking up, settling out of court with their new found partner, and starting the process all over again at the beginning of the next season.
- Offspring, friends, and/or employees looking for the romantic soul mate of a singer, actor, former child star, athlete, or gazillionaire. The premise is that they are acting out of love. It’s quite possible; however, they are seeking someone else to be the one feeding the French poodle poolside at the multi-million dollar Beverly Hills mansion.
- Lastly, viewers are treated to people from all over the world auditioning to be the next big singer, actor, former child star, athlete, or gazillionaire. The hope is that, within a five year turnaround, the winner can start their own reality show where they are searching for a romantic soul mate with whom they can share a life feeding a French poodle poolside at a multi-million dollar Beverly Hills mansion (which was formerly owned by a reality show celebrity who lost the house during a bankruptcy hearing).
Alas, the reality TV viewing surface has barely been scratched in the aforementioned list. Napoleon Bonaparte once stated: “There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous”. This provides a gross understatement in regards to reality TV. One cannot help but amazed at the hair-splitting differentiation that defines this sometimes senseless sub-genre of entertainment brings forth. If one sits in front of their TV watching a celebrity family having dinner, one is defined as a “reality TV viewer”. If the same person is watching a neighbor’s family have dinner from outside their window, they are defined as a “stalking voyeur”. The former requires little more than a TV remote and maybe some popcorn. The latter requires a good lawyer. In case you’re wondering, the charges were eventually dropped.