by Ann Byle and Dick Rolfe
Day weekend was a revelation to me. I discovered the reality show American
Pickers on the History Channel. As a long-time garage saler, I was
immediately drawn to the tales of sifting through junk to find treasures.
Pretty soon my ten-year-old son was watching
with me, then my husband. At one point, the entire family crowded around the TV
to watch Frank and Mike climb through dirty barns and crowded warehouses looking
for that one treasure that would make their efforts worthwhile. We were ready to
begin digging through our junk for money-making treasures, drawn by the
possibility of a cash payout.
What drew our attention to American Pickers
is what draws huge numbers of viewers to the proliferating number of reality
shows that fill cable and network television: fascination with others’ lives.
Reality television answers that need to step
into others’ lives by living vicariously through them. It’s the
art-imitating-life perception that draws us in. The problem comes when we become
more than watchers; we become voyeurs, peering into others’ lives that are often
unhealthy, dysfunctional, and sometimes downright crazy.
Is this where we want to put ourselves and our
children? We must ask the tough questions when it comes to reality television:
Is the program modeling physically and emotionally healthy living? Does it
infringe on my moral and ethical boundaries? Is its content uplifting, or does
it promote selfishness, violence, or promiscuity? Am I willing to turn off the
television if the shows don’t meet levels of common decency?
The answers to these values-oriented questions
are as diverse as the program topics that fall within the Reality Show genre’.
Entertain You: American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and The Voice
draw millions of viewers eager to watch previously unknown performers break into
the big-time. We love to see a truly talented person recognized for their gifts.
On the other hand, much of the “realty” is focused train-wreck performances by
sincere contestants with no other talent than to humiliate themselves so we can
all enjoy a good laugh at their expense–all in the name of entertainment. And we
wonder where our kids go to learn about bullying.
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is the mother all fixer-upper shows with
its complete home transformations. HGTV has shows such as Divine Design
and Secrets from a Stylist. Homeowners can find reality shows on
revamping single rooms to gardens, front porches to basements. Viewers can learn
much, but can also get caught up in the “mine isn’t good enough” mentality.
Wild Adventures: Survivor reigns
supreme, but who doesn’t love Bear Grylls fighting his way out of wilderness
spots on Man vs. Wild, and Jeremy Wade searching out the most dangerous
fish in River Monsters? We can visit places we’ll never see and watch
others do things we’ll never do. Care should be taken, however, in becoming
discontent with where we are in life.
Something’s Cooking: Hell’s Kitchen
brings viewers to FOX, while foodies flock to the Food Network with its many
programs such as Barefoot Contessa, Extreme Chef, and Aarti Party.
Viewers also enjoy programs such as The Originals with Emeril on the
Here Comes the Bride: TLC is full of
shows such as Four Weddings, Say Yes to the Dress, and Say Yes to the
Dress: Bridesmaids, and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, plus Amazing
Wedding Cakes on We TV. Bridezillas on WeTV is enough to send parents
through the roof. Do we really want our daughters to model these demanding,
self-centered, loud-mouthed wives-to-be?
the Family: I think I know why “The Learning Channel” changed its brand to
TLC. The lessons learned on this reality/variety channel are a mixed bag. Who
doesn’t know the Gosselin family, thanks to Jon & Kate Plus Eight, later
Kate Plus Eight? Viewers also enjoy the much healthier relationships seen
on 19 Kids & Counting (left) with devoted parents, Jim Bob and Michelle
Duggar, contrasted with the polygamy-inspired Sister Wives, all on TLC.
For alternative family life MTV offers
the self-made, self-loving celebs Pauly D, Mike the Situation, JWOW and Snooki
of Jersey Shore (right). This program has given new meaning to “extended
Expect tears with the moving stories if
Coming Home (Lifetime), which reunites military families. Key to healthy
viewing in this category is watching the behavior modeled on each show.
Health and Beauty Aids: Physical and
emotional health topics enter our homes thanks to programs such as Hoarders
(A&E), The Biggest Loser (NBC), and Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss
Edition (ABC), but also shows such as The Doctors, which appears on
local networks at a variety of times. Good information and healthy living takes
precedence. Be aware, however, that this can also reinforce self-loathing for
viewers who already have body image issues and are unable to hire personal
trainers like the guests on these shows.
The CW Network is top of the line with
America’s Next Top Model, featuring Tyra Banks, but fans also love Plain
Jane on the CW, What Not to Wear on TLC, and Tim Gunn’s Guide to
Style on Bravo. Too much of a good thing, however, can backfire when viewers
become obsessed with wearing/looking/weighing to Hollywood standards. I’ve taken
heart, though, seeing less-than-perfectly-shaped women improve their style and
Some reality shows are crazy, bizarre, and just plain wild. World’s Dumbest
(TruTV) is self-explanatory. Dog the Bounty Hunter (A&E) blends bad buys
with dysfunctional family dynamics. Nail Files (TV Guide Channel) sheds
new light on an LA nail salon. LA Ink (TLC) s a show featuring tattoo
Kat Von D (left), current
love object of Jessie James who was recently divorced from Sandra Bullock.
Parents Television Council, an education
organization advocating responsible entertainment, sees one primary reason
behind the growth of reality shows. “I think cost is the biggest factor behind
the explosion. Scripted shows are expensive to produce with having to pay a
staff of writers, production costs and the salaries of the stars,” said PTC
spokesperson, Melissa Henson. “Reality shows are inexpensive to produce, and if
a show fails the channel just pulls it and replaces it.”
Reality shows are here to stay. They are the
go-to programs for content providers looking for original shows at relatively
low cost. And, contrary to what most individuals will admit to, they are wildly
The Nielson Company recently rated audience
preferences for television program types. Reality television took first and
third place with America’s Got Talent (Tuesday and Wednesday nights,
CBS), fourth place with The Bachelorette (ABC) and ninth with Big
Brother 13 (CBS). Cable television saw Pawn Stars and American
Pickers on the History Channel at third and fifth place, Swamp People
in seventh (HIST), Storage Wars (AEN) in ninth place, and WWE
Entertainment in tenth place (USA).
At The Dove Foundation, we continue to monitor
movies, including movies made for television. Our role is encouraging Hollywood
to make clean entertainment while empowering families to make wise choices. The
same moral standards that we use to evaluate movies apply to television
As humorist Erma Bombeck, once said,
“Television allows us to be entertained in our living room by people we would
never permit to set foot in our home.”
As parents and grandparents, we must be aware
of one indisputable fact; we are being watched! Our little ones are learning to
apply our standards in forming their worldview. A favorite poem of mine begins,
“I’d rather see a sermon, than hear one any day.”
Tell us what you think:
value your opinion. Please share with us your favorite reality television show,
as well as least favorite reality show. You can post your comments on our
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