The unexpected success of ABC'ês breakout reality megahit, "The Senate," may precipitate a torrent of copycat shows.
In "The Senate," 100 aging windbags are divided into two tribes, placed in a muggy swamp, and challenged to solve problems through cooperation.
ABC was initially disappointed. Instead of cooperative problem solving, the tribes engaged in juvenile name-calling, sanctimonious posturing, and pompous bloviating. While the tribes failed to achieve anything, viewers were oddly attracted.
"Like a ten-car pileup, you have to look," Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times TV critic, explained. " 'The Senate" is even more riveting. It is a ten-car wreck where the uninjured drivers ignore the dying and the damaged. Instead of calling an ambulance, they pontificate, fulminate, and blame the other tribe for the crash."
"The Senate" has become the show you love to hate. Each week over 45 million American tune in to see which tribe can be more hypocritical, demagogic, and inane.
Network executives believe that viewers want more 'êfutility TV'ê — reality shows where nothing happens and everyone acts the fool. "What America wants is Seinfeld with only Kramers," CBS CEO Les Moonves concluded. "They want to watch blathering, incompetent fools accomplishing nothing."
At CBS Moonves has four futility TV reality shows under development:
- NASCAR is the ultimate in futility TV. Cars, plastered with advertisements and corporate logos, go round and round and round and round and round a racetrack. The ennui is relived only by commercials and occasional crashes.
- "The Real Unemployed of Dayton, Ohio" follows depressed, out-of-work journeymen as they fruitlessly hunt for jobs, suffer surly teenagers, and receive foreclosure notices. "If Americans want futility TV, we will give them futility TV," Moonves promised.
- "Wall Street" follows the lives of a dozen rapacious bunko artists, aka managing directors, as they compete to enrich themselves by snatching mega-bonuses while ruining the economy. Each week, one contestant is voted 'êoff the street'ê and receives a lump sum $25 million 'êgolden parachute,'ê an annual $6 million pension, lifetime health and life insurance policies, access to the company-owned luxury apartments, unlimited use of a corporate jet, a grand tier box at the Metropolitan Opera, membership at country clubs, court-side tickets to New York Knicks games, and box seats at Yankee Stadium.
Court shows, beginning with "People's Court," were the grandfather of reality shows. In CBS's "Supreme Court," two tribes — The Tight Ass Catholics and The Diversity Ditherers — decide complex constitutional cases. Since the sphinchterly challenged Catholics outvote the Ditherers 5-to-4, the outcome is never in doubt. The drama of "Supreme Court" lies in the Tight Asses betraying their legal principles and employing twisted logic to achieve the result they want.
In the pilot, using legal reasoning that would embarrass a first-year law student, the Tight Asses granted corporations the ability to corrupt democratic elections through unlimited campaign spending. Since this absurd result could never happen in real life, one questions if Supreme Court deserves the label "reality show."