In the end, reality TV isn’t so real

By Sharon Harl
Sunday, February 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:00 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Since I became a couch potato a few years back, I consider myself somewhat of an expert TV watcher. I have never liked slapstick sitcoms, but I did enjoy watching “Friends” in its first few seasons. I stopped watching when all of the friends became too friendly and started bed hopping. I don’t know about you, but I never had friends like that! Ditto for “Sex and the City.” I never bothered tuning in when the title said it all. If shows like those reflect our modern-day morals, I think we’re in deep doo-doo.

My favorites are detective-, doctor- and lawyer-type shows. But within the last three years, they have become more like soap operas. The writers spend more ink talking about relationships than resolving the plot. I don’t care that detective Joe is secretly in love with Capt. Brown but she isn’t interested. I just want a good whodunit. I say bring back shows like “Dragnet.”

But it’s the plethora of reality shows that has me stumped. Why would I want to sit and watch Ozzie Osbourne walk around his mansion spewing profanities? Or stare at his weird kids as they curse each other or their mother?

The same thing goes for 10 people living together in one house or stranded on a desert island. Who cares? Apparently a lot of folks. These reality shows usually are the most watched and get the highest ratings.

Then there are the real-life medical shows where you can observe from your Barcalounger people being rolled into the ER with half an arm missing or a huge hole in the gut. Some of the stuff is so gory it’s enough to make me toss my taco dinner.

And then there are the ones that show women giving birth. I agree that every birth is a miracle, but I also think it’s a very private event. Most of my grandchildren’s births were caught on film, but we don’t pop some corn and crack open the soda and sit back and watch. Those tapes are for the immediate family only. I can’t fathom why these women want strangers watching them grunt, groan, and occasionally scream in pain.

This whole reality frenzy began with shows like Maury Povich’s. Everyone knows the people are actors who come on the show to confront their wandering lover or announce that the man sitting in front of the audience is the real father of their baby. But for some reason we haven’t shed the Roman Coliseum mindset. We sit glued to the tube hoping to see some excitement. And if watching people in pain — physically or mentally — is your thing, you have several channels from which to choose.

I do enjoy watching some of the makeover shows. A show called “Clean Sweep” is filmed in homes inhabited by pigs. The opening shot shows rooms so filled with crap that no one could possibly live in it. First, the homeowners shovel all the stuff into the yard and then separate it into piles. The couple has to defend everything they want to keep, at times breaking down into tears when they are forced to part with some of their stuffed animals.

While they’re outside sorting, there is a team inside painting and redecorating the rooms that have been emptied. In the end, the couple walks into the redecorated room where all their clothes have been color coordinated and their files alphabetized. What they haven’t done is change these slobs’ habits. I would love to go back into their homes six months later and see the new accumulation of junk. The most ridiculous of these redo-your-home shows is “Trading Spaces.” Two families who are neighbors trade homes for two days to redecorate one room. Armed with $1,000, a carpenter and a designer, the two rooms are totally revamped. Never mind that one family has asked that the fireplace not be touched or the coffee table not be painted. The wishes of the homeowners be damned, the designers have a “vision” and will not be coaxed otherwise. I must say that the result many times is amazing, but I don’t think I would want my bedroom wallpapered with cardboard, or worse, feathers!

The most fascinating of all these reality shows is “Extreme Makeovers.” And I mean extreme. These poor people are tucked and sucked, lifted and separated, buffed and polished. Their hair is cut, colored and curled. They are made up like movie stars, and then they make their grand entrance in front of friends and family (and a few million strangers.) The makeovers are astonishing! But no one has had a show where we can see the after. My question is, why not? Are they trying to hide something from us? Maybe it means that true reality doesn’t sell. After all, everything we watch on television really is make believe.

If you have a comment or know of a reality show I haven’t mentioned, please e-mail me at

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