Happy 2008. This is likely to be the year in which there is no escape from reality. Not necessarily in life — heaven knows it took long enough for a critical mass of the population to face the reality of corruption in the Howdy Doody Administration — but on television. Unless some microwave-speed miracle happened between my deadline and your reading this, the Writers Guild strike lumbers into its third month. With all the striking writers go all the scripted programs, and the only sentient beings in a good mood are the producers and performers of reality programs (if “sentient” isn’t too strong a word).
Ah, the reality show: The embodiment, in all its lurid glory, of Andy Warhol’s proclamation regarding 15 minutes of fame for everyone. Taken in small doses, these shows can be intriguing, possibly even occasionally enlightening. But just like NyQuil, more than the recommended dosage becomes an invitation to incoherence and drooling. (I’m speaking now of viewers, not participants.)
Remember how it was explained, in one of the Planet of the Apes sequels, that the takeover of the planet started with apes becoming the pets of choice after a plague destroyed all the dogs and cats? (It’s okay if you don’t remember this; no sentient being should.) Well, I was just thinking: What if something analogous is unfolding, with writers becoming the endangered species and the reality-TV apes glutting the media? Will all humans eventually fall victim, ultimately going mute — the next step after dumbfounded? Or perhaps we won’t follow the Apes story that closely, and instead of going mute we’ll all just become as imprudent and undergarment-challenged as Britney.
The societal implications are too painful to ponder, so instead I’ll just consider the scheduling ramifications. For if there are no scripted series available to fill all the broadband hours on the cable box, then new reality shows must be spawned. In the coming months, I foresee the following programs:
Who Wants to Marry Rick Salomon? is The Dating Game and Project Greenlight blended into one exciting new package. Rick Salomon, who not only married Shannon Doherty and Pamela Anderson but also produced and costarred in a porn tape with Paris Hilton, will agree to marry one young woman (or man — it’s up to America!). (Note: In the unlikely event that Salomon remains married to Pamela Anderson, the show will be retooled with a sizzling Mormon slant and renamed Who Wants to Marry Big-Love Rick Salomon?) But the marrying is just where the fun begins, as 12 budding filmmakers compete to create the best new sex tape of Rick and his blushing whatever.
Britney Slept Here features all the little people who have crossed paths with Ms. Spears on her dysfunctional trek across the borders of taste. Featured will be vocal selections from the salon owner who watched Britney shave her head, an interpretive dance from the paparazzo whose foot B. ran over, and a gripping monologue from “Fat Like Me” by the reporter who Britney said should lose some weight.
America’s Next Top Hermaphrodite Survivor Has Talent while He/She Amazingly Races to a Runway with the Stars will feature gender-nonspecific contestants who sing, dance, model and cross-dress in couture of their own design while racing around the world looking for Heather Mills’ leg until they are stranded on a desert island and voted off by a bachelor/entrepreneur who tells them they’re fired unless they are smarter than a fourth-grader. Or Paris Hilton. Hosted by Britney Spears.
And because the Writers Guild doesn’t have purview over the classics of literature, we will see new, “hip” productions of vintage masterworks. The pinnacle will be Sense and Sensibility — The Britney Edition, in which our besmirched heroine lip-synchs to Emma Thompson’s reading of the Jane Austen classic. The costume drama will be updated, with all cast members wearing only thongs and/or bras.
Ultimately, ideas as creative as these will give way to more desperate programming. The low point will be reached with the debut of Bowling for Britney, a five-hour-per-day show in which Ms. Spears is shown simply eating hot dogs and drinking beer in a bowling alley. The daily highlight will be when she bowls, though interest and suspense is cultivated by the fact that days may pass in which she forgoes bowling altogether to focus on the beer and hot dogs. Taped features will interrupt the action with segments of Britney’s court or concert appearances, whichever are better paced.
Writers, inexplicably, have always been considered low man on the entertainment industry totem pole. It’s not surprising that the producers on the other side of the bargaining table are prolonging these proceedings with their hubris-as-usual. But it is respectfully suggested that they rethink their attitude toward the “lowly” writer, lest the most imaginative thing to come out of the mouths of their talent becomes, “It’s Britney, bitch!”