It must be summer. It's chucking it down with rain, and the words 'Big Brother' have returned to the front pages of the tabloids squatting soggily in newsagents' stands. As far as American network television is concerned, however, summer is already over: the autumn schedules have been put on lavish display so advertisers can decide where to bestow their munificence. And of the 38 brand-new programmes on the six major channels, none is a 'reality' show. This doesn't mean, however, that the slough of degeneracy has at last been traversed and civilisation is advancing to the sunlit uplands; nor indeed that, waist-high in sludge, civilisation has wisely decided to turn back and return to the sunlit uplands it thinks it left behind. Survivor will return, so viewers can gloat over Joe and Jo Public struggling through swamps and stabbing each other in the back as they strive after wealth and celebrity; also gracing America's screens for a further season will be American Idol, Joe Millionaire, Fear Factor and The Bachelor, the other most successful examples of what Salman Rushdie has called the 'unashamed self-display of the talentless'. On US cable, moreover, there is Reality Central to look forward to, a 'new 24/7 cable television network devoted solely to the reality television programming genre and its shows, news, stars and fans', which has been set up and even funded by the has-beens of the 'genre', its soi-disant stars who have clubbed together to enable themselves to remain on TV.
LRB 5 June 2003 | PDF Download