On a recent episode of a TV show, a doctor in 19th century New York had a man arrive on his doorstep who was obviously in some sort of distress. The doctor had no way of knowing, but the man had lost quite a few of his toes after an interlude with a rather sadistic shoe salesman. The diagnosis didn’t matter as the doctor knew just what to do.
The man of medicine turned to his wife and yelled, “Get me plenty of clean towels and hot water!”
Viewers like myself were amazed that despite the patient’s having no outward sign of having endured a nasty bunch of amputations, the doctor inherently knew the treatment would require clean towels and hot water. Viewers unlike myself probably didn’t notice and just wished they could enjoy the show without my constant piping up and taking issue with the dialogue and continuity.
There’s an interesting fact: TV doctors only have one of two choices when it comes to addressing any medical emergency. The first and most popular choice is the old standby of clean towels and hot water, or as it’s also known, the shave-and-a-haircut treatment option. Even the worst doctor would not treat a patient with dirty laundry and cold water, (there were exceptions made during the Tide epidemic of the late 1950’s).
The second treatment choice for TV doctors is a more recent development. TV physicians turn to whoever is helping them and urgently ask for something really technical, including a couple of medical abbreviations to jazz it up. Any modern TV doctor worth his salt will assess a situation and quickly demand something along the lines of “100 cc’s of epi and a goniometer, stat!”. Viewers will instantly recognize the authenticity of the dialogue because it was filled with stuff they don’t understand.
The last mandatory ingredient for successful treatment in TV medical emergencies then, is the third person. When clean towels and hot water are all that’s needed, the third party can be almost anyone, even a child or a well trained collie. In the case of more technical orders, the third person needs to have enough medical training to know what the doctor’s talking about, but not enough expertise to question he’s going to do with two speculums, an enema bag and a syringe full of morphine when the patient appears to be suffering from nothing more than a really bad hair day.
If no third party is available, the patient will most certainly die. Lacking clean towels and hot water, the doctor’s only choice is to reach out and gently close the eyelids of the deceased. In the event of a closed-eye death, he or she can pull a sheet over the face. In either case, it’s then time to say something really meaningful.
[The opening song and dance number is over, the audience shifts nervously in their seats, ready for the important part of tonight’s show. 1 Point Perspective, looking awkward in an ill-fitting tuxedo and shiny shaved head, struts onto the stage, with a willowy, clueless supermodel on his arm, teetering in her heels to keep up with his long strides. He reaches the podium and waves to his adoring fans, who are giving him the standard standing ovation and wolf whistles. The audience finally stops fawning over him and sits down. He adjusts the microphone to accomodate his gawkish height]
“Before we get started, we’d like to take a moment and to send out Get Well wishes to a former M.A.T.P. winner, Mr. Alex Trebek, who’s reportedly resting comfortably after suffering a mild heart attack. Alex, hopefully you’ll be back on the set soon, looking like a big-shot brainiac when we all know damn well that you only have the right answer because it’s printed on the card you’re holding. Hopefully, when you get back, there will be a generous number of answers in French so you can over-annunciate and remind us all that you speak a foreign language – not because you’re so darned smart, but because you’re from Canada and they speak French up there.”
“OK, that’s out of the way. Now, let’s move onto this month’s nominees and name the winner.”
“Nominee Number 1: Jeff Probst of Survivor, Jeff Probst Producer. Where do we begin to categorize Jeff’s annoying qualities? His self-righteous, condescending tone when dealing with the character shortcomings of his contestants, when those very personality flaws are what got them on Suvivor in the first place? His Banana Republic wardrobe? Actually, the judges have determined that the most annoying aspect is Jeff’s habit of saying the same things, season after painful season. Quotes such as “On my go“, “Survivors ready!?”, “In this game, fire symbolizes life..“, and so many more. Jeff, we know it’s a formula and you don’t want to kill the goose that layed the golden egg, but you’ve tweaked every other aspect of the game, why not change your dialogue once in a while? Sheesh! Unfortunately, Survivor is in hiatus right now, so Jeff doesn’t qualify – but it’s an honor being nominated, right? Now get off the island, pretty boy!”
“Nominee Number 2: The entire cast of Pawn Stars, History Channel Producer. Sadly, award rules clearly stipulate that only one cast member of a given show can be granted the award. Any number of characters from this crack-like addiction of a show could easily qualify. For instance, Rick can’t possibly be that smart and yet rely on experts so often. Despite appearances, Chumlee can’t possibly be that stupid, even if he does spell his own name wrong. Finally Corey goes by the name “Corey” in every episode despite being referred to as “Big Hoss” in the opening of each show. After long deliberations, the nomination goes to handwriting expert Mr. Drew Max. Loyal viewers will know that Mr. Max is regularly called upon to authenticate signatures. He strides confidently into the shop carrying a giant briefcase, like he’s got equipment in there to diffuse a bomb or stock a small bar. Each and every time, he opens the briefcase and pulls out…drumroll please…a Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass! That’s it! A 4 cubic foot monster-briefcase to carry one dopey magnifying glass!? If I had to guess, I’d wonder if he has some sort of compensatory issues.”
“Nominee Number 3: Mike Rowe of The Deadliest Catch, Dirty Jobs, Ford Commercials, Wrangler Jeans Commercials, Little Debbie Snack Cake Commercials, Public Service Announcements regarding The Risks of Bath Salt Abuse, etc etc- Too Many Producers to List. Mike, we know that actors can go their entire careers without scoring a single regular gig. Your rugged good looks and affable personality are obviously very much in vogue today, and taking full advantage of that fact is a good idea. As fickle as the viewing public can be, you might not have any of those 36 jobs by this time next year. That being said, it’s getting difficult for some of us to take you all that seriously. Your goofy Ford commercials are taking away from your serious voice-overs on The Deadliest Catch, and visa versa. Your Little Debbie Snack Cake commercials, while gritty and tense, take away from the light-hearted fun of your working for a day cleaning out septic tanks. Perhaps you should consider wearing a Halloween mask or affecting a wacky Dutch accent in some of the ads.”
[1 Point drops his smile and squares his shoulders to the podium as yet another supermodel has arrived at his side, carrying an envelope which appears to contain either the name of the winner or a really nice card from Hallmark, despite the fact that his birthday is months away. He begins fumbling with the envelope, as the supermodels flank him smiling like mental patients, oblivious to all but the cameras. The envelope finally open, he pulls out the enclosed card, glances at in obvious surprise the turns to the microphone.]
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is unprecendented. The winner was not formally nominated, but has won nonetheless. The winner of the coveted Most Annoying Television Personality – Summer 2012 is….Mr. Phil Liggett, Commentator on the Tour de France, NBC Sports Producer. His British accent and thorough understanding of the world of competitive cycling is unparalleled. After watching any two stages of the Tour and listening to Liggett, even the most intellectually compromised will know that the breakaway leaders will eventually be caught by the peleton. The gallant efforts of the breakaway group of 4 riders will not amount to a hill of French Green Beans, despite their persevering to remain clear of the main pack for the first 135 miles of the day’s stage. Mr. Liggett will take great pains to explain who is wearing the yellow, green, white and polka dot jerseys, despite viewers only really caring about who won the race.”
[The music swells and the audiorium lights fade as the giant screen shows Phil Liggett holding his trophy and scowling in the dark, live via satellite from some resort town at the foot of the Alps. It’s obviously very early in the morning there and the remote producers have pulled Liggett out of bed to give him this dubious honor. Roll credits…and fade to commercial. Ironically, the commercial features nominee Mike Rowe hawking Ginsu Knives.]
As an avid TV watcher and student of popular culture, I’ve noticed a few things about advertising over the years. It really doesn’t matter what the product is, advertisers have any number of wily ways to coddle and woo the customer.
One proven method involves subliminally suggesting that if you buy a given product, you will magically inherit the traits of the people in the commercial. Using the right shampoo will make your hair look luxurious and full of body, and if you read the subliminal messages, it will also take care of that crooked nose, unsightly warts and as an added bonus, you’ll shed those 35 extra pounds you’ve been carting around since the late 90’s. For obvious legal reasons, no shampoo manufacturer is going to actually promise you much of anything beyond clean hair. Still, the models in their ads never have crooked noses, warts or thunder thighs. A coincidence? I think not.
For many advertisers, there is an implied promise which is even more alluring than that of physical beauty, and that is making your child into a sports superstar. Take for example, the notion that if you buy a certain brand of minivan, your child will score the winning goal in the soccer game, and will be carried off the field on the shoulders of his or her comrades, to the waiting luxurious comfort of your shiny, stain-free mini-van. It might be the winning run of the baseball game or the winning shot of the basketball game instead of soccer, but make no mistake about it, if you plunk down 30 large for this incredible mini-van, your son or daughter will win the game (As a point of clarification, scoring the winning touchdown in football games is usually reserved for laundry detergent ads).
Parents have no bounds when it comes to doing anything and everything they can to ensure the success and popularity of their children. Trust me on this one, I have kids. OK, you got me, I had kids. They’re all young adults now, but I have my memories. If some slick huckster on Madison Avenue implanted the germ of an idea in my head that buying the right mini-van would improve one of my kids chances of scoring a winning goal, you know damn well I would have bought it. Crash rating? We don’t need no stinking crash rating!
Now that my kids are older, I can look back with some degree of objectivity on all of this subliminal advertising insanity. While I wrote that any number of sports could suffice, I’ll stick with soccer for this hypothetical discussion.
On any given weekend day, there are easily a hundred thousand little league soccer games being played all across America. A standard soccer game will have 11 players on each team. Only one team can win – there are no ties in mini-van commercials, so we’ll eliminate the 11 players on the losing team. One of the players on the winning team is the goalie, and unless they make an incredible kick, the goalie is highly unlikely to score the winning goal. The goalie, especially in little league soccer, would be much more likely to score the winning goal for the other team, however this would probably not result in his or her being carried off the field a hero.
Another factor is that, despite the best efforts of league organizers at spreading the talent evenly among the teams, there are often powerhouses and cellar dwellers in many soccer leagues. The disparity of talent will result in lop-sided wins or losses. It’s a simple fact that no one will carry you off the field for scoring the winning goal if it happens 3 minutes into the game in an eventual 10-2 blow out. Therefore we can safely eliminate half the games being played because they’re blow outs.
Yet another issue is the incidence of overly involved parents. In a few of these games, despite the outcome, some Dad will go berserk and charge onto the field to assault the referee. This will result in the game being called on account of boorish behavior, and no one will be carried off the field with the possible exceptions of Dad being carried off in hand-cuffs and/or the referee on a stretcher. This may present an opportunity for police car or ambulance advertisers, but admittedly these are niche markets at best.
Of the remaining eligible kids who could possibly score the winning goal, still more must be ruled out. In commercials, it will be the smallest, scrappiest, cutest little goomer. He or she will have a small scuff of dirt on their little determined cheek, and they’ll make a face of utter surprise and delight after scoring. Therefore, none of the bigger kids on the team can score the goal, because they would appear to be a bully or a ringer. None of the clean faced kids can score it, that just wouldn’t look right. Finally, none of the really incredibly talented kids can score it because they would never be able to fake the look of surprise and delight, because as an elite 3rd grader, they knew that shot was going in.
I know I’ve lost some of you by now, so allow me to lose the rest of you by introducing a summary in mathematical terms:
100,000 soccer games X 2 Teams of 11 players = 2,200,000
2,200,000 players minus 1,100,000 losing players = 1,100,000
1,100,000 players minus 100,000 goalies = 1,000,000
1,000,000 players minus 500,000 players in blow outs = 500,000
500,000 players minus 50,000 players in games called due to Dads = 450,000
450,000 players minus 400,000 players who are
too big, too talented, and/or too clean = 50,000
50,000 players minus 40,000 players who’s parents
missed the game due to work or other obligations = 10,000
10,000 players minus 6000 players who were distracted by
planes overhead = 4000
4000 players minus 2000 players who fell down or burst into tears
for no apparent reason = 2000
2000 players minus 925 players who were called offside
by that idiot ref = 1075
1075 players minus 274 who stopped to tie their cleats = 801
801 players minus 211 who missed the game due to dance recitals = 590
590 players minus 562 who are in sportsmanship leagues which forbid
gloating or being carried off the field by teamates = 28
So there you have it. By my highly scientific calculations, 28 players out of 2.2 million will score the winning heroic goal as portrayed in mini-van commercials. Not exactly Mega-Millions long shots, but far from a slam dunk.
Maybe those crash ratings are worth a second look after all.
I’m sure if someone told you ten short years ago about what would pass for entertainment in 2012, you would have looked at them as if perhaps they’d lost their mind.
“There’s going to be a show about an exterminator, OK? The camera follows him around while he gets raccoons out of attics and knocks hornets’ nests down from porches. Sometimes he gets stung by the bees and possums try to bite him. He wears a funny hat and he’s like..a rocker dude? Then, there’s gonna be this other show, OK? where they follow meter maids around in Philadelphia while they give parking tickets and put boots on cars. It’s gonna be really funny because it makes Philly look even worse than usual. Cool, right? There’s all kinds of people screaming and yelling ’cause you know, nobody likes having their car towed and stuff. Then, there’s gonna be this other cool show where you watch people make cakes, but wait, don’t make that face, cause they’re really cool cakes that don’t even look like cakes man, and the bakers are all like these kind of Soprano-talking dudes and then…”
By this point you’d have tuned the person out and tried not to roll your eyes at their insane rambling. He’s off his meds again – hide the pets.
Of course, as we know all too well, these are all shows which have actually come to life in these strange times.
Now the obvious question: What next? What could possibly be more interesting than watching inept, out-of-work loggers trying to mine gold in Alaska? What in the world could compare with the trials and tribulations of rich, suburban housewives from Atlanta, Orange County or New York? Hold on to your hard-hats and/or breast implants people, because I’ve figured it out!
Several of these shows have already given us hints as to the future of reality entertainment. “The Deadliest Catch” stepped away from showing the gritty, tough lives of crab fishermen in the Bering Sea and focused instead on their own difficult job of recording the gritty, tough lives of crab fishermen in the Bering Sea. That’s right – they showed the cameramen, sound guys and producers of the show as they worked in challenging conditions to film the fishermen. On a special episode of “Gold Rush”, the emphasis was on filming the film crew running around to catch all the action as miners threw tantrums and pick-axes (OK, I’ll admit, I didn’t see anyone threw a pick-axe – it’s called poetic license).
A brief, but necessary detour from our topic: It’s a fact that nothing is more appealing to show-biz people than shows about show biz-people. You can see it now and way-back-when in entertainment from sixty or seventy years ago. The black and white movie flickers on the screen, some freckle-faced young actor calls out “Hey kids! Let’s put on a show!”. Soon the whole gang is building scenery and practicing dance numbers. There were notably fewer movies where the freckle-faced youngster calls out “Hey kids, let’s open a veterinary clinic” or “Say fellas, wouldn’t it be swell if we started our own full service nail salon right here on Main Street?!”
In the years since, there’s been plenty of narcissistic examples of show biz focusing on itself. Movies and TV series like “Fame”, “A Chorus Line”, “A Star Is Born” and more recently “Smash” all tell the stories of people acting and singing all about their lives acting and singing.
I know what you’re thinking: “Dave, what the hell does ‘Smash’ and ‘A Chorus Line’ have to do with reality TV?” Keep your pants on, I told you it was a brief detour, didn’t I?
Show biz has waited patiently for America to get through this awkward phase of infatuation with reality TV. Now they have found the gateway back into our viewing hearts. Drum roll please…The next phase in reality shows is:
Reality shows about the making of reality shows! The reality show will have less emphasis on the subject of the show and increasingly focus on the people who make the reality shows. After the new “show about a show about a baker” phase runs its course, the logical evolutionary step into the future will be “a show about a show about a show about an exterminator”. There will be a brief period where cameramen and sound engineers will be as famous as Kardashians.
As the number of people on-camera swells, it will be increasingly difficult for producers to count on so many people who have traditionally been on the opposite side of the lens to act naturally. Since the 1st and 2nd camera units will no longer be shooting any actual footage, the producers will eventually replace them with good looking young actors and actresses.
Within a few additional years, the viewers, who aren’t all that bright to begin with, will not be able to tell reality TV from scripted TV. Television will once again be in the business of telling stories. Writers, long thought extinct, will creep back into brainstorming sessions. Actors, who were already confused by all of this, will settle back into the simple job of pretending to be a fictional character in a scene, rather than posing as a cameraman in a show about a show about a show about people who buy abandoned storage lockers.
I didn’t think so. Don’t worry, just keep watching TV and it will all be explained to you in due time.