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Harsh reality.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The ever-coarsening trend in reality TV programming may be another signal that the end of civilization is near. But if it is, rest assured that someone has already pitched a reality show concept documenting how a post-apocalypse millionaire bachelor named Adam will select his Eve from a dozen nipped and tucked former lingerie models, half of whom are lesbians only pretending to be interested in Adam, but he doesn't know that and will be thrown off a bridge into a Dumpster filled with African leeches if he picks the wrong woman.

This facetious scenario sounds outlandish only to the shrinking number of people who aren't already hooked on reality TV. But the millions who are addicted seem to need escalating doses of humiliation, degradation, shock and abuse to keep tuning in.

What other explanation could there be for the British reality TV show that depicts the dissection of human cadavers, or the new series called "Dust to Dust," which is currently advertising for a volunteer to donate his or her corpse to illustrate the decomposition of a human body in the legendary British damp?

Forget "Fear Factor" and "The Apprentice." Europeans invented reality TV, and they've moved on to the next level with shows such as Channel 4's "Too Posh to Wash," in which hygiene coaches scout Britain for "Right Royal Stinkers" nominated by friends and family members. While pantywaist Americans were watching the inane "Anna Nicole Show," Brits were passing the popcorn as German scientist Gunther von Hagens performed the first televised autopsy - two years ago!

Europeans may be pushing the taste envelope as far as reality TV concepts are concerned, but Americans aren't conceding in the race to the bottom. On the current edition of the U.S. reality TV favorite "The Amazing Race," contestant Jonathan Baker roughly shoved his sobbing wife as they finished a leg of the race in second place. The disgusting display of unrehearsed spousal abuse prompted a torrent of complaints and calls for Baker to be disqualified (misunderstanding that the show was taped earlier this year). Baker was dressed down by the show's producer and subsequently published an apology to his wife and the show's fans on his Web site.

And what discussion of the revolting excess of reality TV would be complete without at least a mention of the condescendingly classist adventures of millionaire heiress Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie on Fox TV's "The Simple Life"? How many more embarrassing ways can Paris and Nicole find to make fun of those dumb country bumpkins who'll never be able to make a Prada purse out of a sow's ear?

As much as most people realize how shallow and worthless reality programs are, the genre isn't likely to disappear anytime soon. The economics of television programming suggest that the dirt-cheap production costs of reality shows - which avoid the expense of writers, actors and often sets - mean they're here to stay, in some form.

It's true ratings aren't what they used to be. The "Survivor" and "American Idol" franchises are showing their age, and no subsequent reality show has reached the lofty No. 3 spot "Joe Millionaire" nailed down in the 2002-03 season.

But reality programming appears to be almost as adaptable as that metallic cop who stalked Governor Schwarzenegger in "Terminator." It is an international phenomenon - almost 500 new reality shows were aired this fall season in nine countries. Reality TV makes up 39 percent of all new programming in the United States, Britain and Germany.

Even if viewers won't admit it in public, behind closed doors they're suckers for seeing real people doing stupid, scary, odd, humiliating things for a few weeks of hard-earned fame. At least it beats the 15 minutes Andy Warhol thought everyone would get before the advent of reality TV.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Get ready for even weirder TV programming
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 30, 2004
Words:634
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