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BRIAN READE'S COLUMN: The sad reality of trashy television.

Byline: BRIAN READE

SCIENTISTS have found prehistoric human faeces in Asian caves which could throw up vital clues about man's earliest evolution.

Analysing the stools that Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals dropped in their homes to see how they ticked is an interesting concept. But it could prove quite embarrassing.

Imagine if in 50,000 years' time scientists study the endless pile of crap deposited in today's living rooms, otherwise known as Reality TV, to see what we all evolved into?

A species so bereft of imagination we spend our spare time watching uglier and more desperate versions of ourselves do nothing other than "show there's another side to them" in the hope we will allow them back into our living rooms to sell us furniture and DIY goods.

I loved the latest I'm A Celebrity, mainly thanks to Johnny Rotten showing how corrupt and shallow the concept is, but it was a disaster for television that 16million watched the finale.

The message to the accountancy-led programme-makers was stark. Put that drama/documentary/sitcom in the bin, and find a new humiliating format and a new posse of desperate nonentities to fill the gaps between the adverts.

This week three new reality shows were aired, and we learn of more daily. That elitist drain on the tax-payers, BBC3, is recruiting washed-up Oxbridge graduates such as Jonathan Aitken to re-stage The Boat Race.

Cable channel Living TV (so-called because living is what everyone who appears on it used to be) is locking tragic has-beens like Keith Chegwin and the gormless one from Bucks Fizz in a supposedly haunted castle.

Channel Five has leapt in with Back To Reality to find the "ultimate reality star". It's like watching your telly die and seeing its life flash past it en route to TV Hell.

Its point is to throw together the dregs from past reality shows, such as Jade Goody and the Lady Boy from The Salon, in the hope that those who were transfixed by their ordinariness will now be transfixed by their extra-ordinariness. Because, hey, these guys are now famous.

Everything about it is achingly sad, but saddest of all is the exploitation of the woman who started the whole reality craze, Driving School's Maureen Rees.

Maureen was always a bit loopy, but since her battle against cancer she now looks like Wales' Champion Gurner and spends her day hallucinating about colours, so no surprise that she is endlessly ridiculed by the camera.

To see her telling Lard of The Rings Rik Waller, through wine-induced tears, that they are all special individuals, while chain-smoking benefit-scrounger Lizzy Bardsley joins in, is to watch a genuine freak show. This is bear-baiting passed off as a charity fund-raiser.

Every reality contestant's mantra is "we're all winners", and they may indeed be one DFS advert away from happiness. But if this dross is allowed to multiply across the schedules we all become losers.

Programme-makers have scraped the barrel so low we are going through concrete. Scrape any lower and it will get scary.

Not least because everyone involved is pretending it's a game, while right up to the chief execs who publicly salute their ratings-pulling genius, it is taken deadly seriously.

But I wonder how visible these chortling chappies will be when the ultimate happens and the joke pushes a troubled old woman like Maureen Rees over the edge.

The reality then will be that you won't be able to see their pin-suited behinds for dust.

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TEARS OF A CLOWN: Mo
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 19, 2004
Words:586
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