Reality TV with a heart
Those shows that people watch with train-wreck interest have remarkably taken an altruistic turn.
I JUST don’t have the constitution for reality TV shows. I don’t know how you guys do it, but watching them turns me into a ball of nerves.
Seeing those singers on American Idol stand in line waiting for the vote that will squash their musical dreams? Stressful!
And surely there’s something better for the nerves than Amazing Race, where jet-lagged contestants race from one continent to another, sniping at each other while they’re at it. I feel jet-lagged just watching them.
How about a show about a bevy of women trying to win a bachelor’s heart by saying what he wants to hear? Yuck. Watching Type-A personalities win Donald Trump’s favour by outscheming each other? Hey, the last thing I want to do after leaving the office is to witness more backstabbing and office politics.
Okay, I’m a marshmallow. Looking at people’s dreams being dashed on TV reduces me to tears, and nasty people on TV, like the ones in real life, make me ill. Why are reality shows entertaining, again?
For the sake of my mental health, I’ve resolved to steer clear of any reality TV show.
But all that changed after a working trip to the United States last year. There I was in my hotel room, bleary-eyed from reading notes for the next day’s interview, when a show called Extreme Makeover: Home Edition came on.
I scowled and reached for the remote control, but not before the host Ty Pennington came on to explain the week’s episode: a poor family is in need, so the crew and a bunch of volunteers are going to build them a house for free.
That caught my attention. Going against my reality show-hating instincts, I continued watching.
Forty minutes later, I sniffed happily when the tearful family, overjoyed and overwhelmed, finally saw their new, beautifully decorated home.
Could this be …. a reality show that I can stomach? And, remarkably, one that highlights the good that human beings can do for one another?
Apparently, while I was stoically looking the other way, Hollywood realised that shows promoting good deeds that change people’s lives can not just be entertaining, but be a ratings magnet as well.
The new series Undercover Boss (trailer: bit.ly/agIWol) is a case in point. The reality show, which premiered in the United States on March 9, shows CEOs going “undercover” as a low-wage worker in their own firm.
Apparently, seeing high-powered suit types swabbing toilets, serving tables and scooping horse manure gives viewers a visceral thrill, and leaves them feeling vindicated as the CEOs come to realise how tough it is to be the little man.
At the end of the show, the CEO gets to reveal his identity to the people he’s worked with and makes company policy changes that affect their lives in a positive way.
Unsurprisingly, Undercover has become a ratings hit for US network CBS. In these economically challenged times, many assume that CEOs have lost touch with the common man – many are moved to see some CEOs who care enough to experience what it’s like to be in their shoes.
Meanwhile, British celebrity chef/author/presenter Jamie Oliver crosses the Atlantic to start Jamie’s Food Revolution (bit.ly/5MhxUe). The series tracks his efforts to transform the way America eats.
He has done this before in his homeland with Jamie’s School Dinners, the 2005 TV series that famously prompted British authorities to revamp school meals. But will America respond the same way?
His first stop is the country’s unhealthiest city: Huntington, West Virginia.
There, to Oliver’s horror, schoolchildren are served pizza for breakfast and chicken nuggets for lunch.
The Naked Chef tries to get the “lunch ladies” to prepare meals his way – using fresh ingredients – and to teach the folks at Huntington the healthier way to feed themselves. But not many liked being told they were wrong, so Huntington gave the Englishman a very hard time. A local radio deejay even told Oliver that they didn’t want to “sit around eating lettuce all day”. Poor Oliver was even reduced to tears, at one point!
Food Revolution, a ratings winner for US network ABC, has its heart at the right place. Eating healthily is necessary for all, and Oliver is the crusader of the cause. Too bad some of the folks he’s trying to save have no appetite for his good intentions.
Now, I wouldn’t call myself a reality TV series convert just yet, but I can say that if these shows ever do come to Malaysia, I’ll definitely park myself in front of the TV when they air. And I’ll do it without a scowl too.
> Elizabeth Tai also recommends ‘Dog Whisperer’, where dog trainer Cesar Millan teaches misbehaving canines proper manners.