Q. Now that Patti Blagojevich is on a reality show, I would like to write about it… but I don’t want to be part of the problem. Is there a good model to learn from?
A. I’m glad you asked. Turn your pagers back to 2000, when – and this may seem hard to believe – Americans didn’t really understand “reality television.” So CBS decided to import Big Brother, placing a bunch of people who didn’t know each other into a bland house, remarkably like an IKEA showroom, with no contact with the outside world.
The idea, one assumes, is that a group of people with nothing to do and completely isolated from anything interesting would fight or screw like feral animals. They did not anticipate that a group of people with nothing to do in a very boring place would get very, very bored. The result was a sui generis failure of American entertainment as exquisitely dull as a Warhol film. At least until the rebellion.
Anyway, Salon wrote a 69-part account from the innocuous beginnings of the six-night-a-week show (not to mention a live Web feed) to the shallow ending, all the way through the Bay of Pigs of American television: the show got so oppressively boring that CBS attempted to fix the matter by buying out a cast member for $50,000 and replacing him or her with someone more interesting. Inexplicably, and perhaps eloquently, this actually fomented rebellion and the whole cast nearly walked, before the network managed to crush the, um, outsurgents.
The result was a high-water-mark in the shallow ocean of television writing that, to my mind, hasn’t been topped, even if it’s sort of been forgotten.