All Reality Shows Should Be Like 'The Real World'

Or How To Turn Back The Decline Of Modern Civilization

May 18, 2011 at 5:32pm | Leave a comment

I'm a reality show addict. I wish my tastes tended toward the high-brow, which is why I dutifully DVR’d every episode of Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey," but I finally just deleted them in an act of honesty with myself.

I wish I wanted to watch Suze Orman’s PBS special, also still sitting there in my queue, because what’s good for Oprah is good for me and I could learn a thing or two about money management. But, no, I'd rather watch “Keeping Up With The Kardashians,” which I refuse to DVR on principle (what garbage!) but I’m (now not-so-) secretly delighted when it’s on (Khloe is hilarious!).

Nevertheless, I’m here to make the argument that no reality show should repeat a cast past one season, lest the producers create tacky celebrities of people who don’t have training in the pitfalls of tacky celebrity.

Let’s use “The Real Housewives Of New York” as a case study. The first season was well-cast: there was Jill Zarin, the queen bee with a mother hen side, Countess LuAnn, back when she actually had some class and didn’t have to sing about it, Ramona Singer, who was zany but not bonkers, Alex McCord and her husband Simon van Kempen, who were still the misunderstood outsiders and the ever-delightful Bethenny Frankel*, who at the time was the vulnerable single girl who squatted with her wealthier friends in the Hamptons and curled up in bed with Jill Zarin for girl talk.

Cut to many catfights later with the reunion episode of Season One and the kick-off of Season Two.  Suddenly these women were quoting Page Six items, posing for the paparazzi, accusing each other of talking to the press, and quoting blogs like passages of Scripture. Even Rosie, Countess LuAnn’s loyal but recently departed housekeeper, had gotten plastic surgery.

It’s now Season Four and these women feel like family. I rode the subway with Alex McCord the other day and constantly see Simon around the neighborhood we share. (They don’t do a very good job of masking where and in which building they live, which I might be a little more private about if I had two children, but that’s a different post.)

However, I can’t help but be a little disgusted by fights that have gone from semi-legit -- the things Ramona says! -- to downright catty and camera-ready. And don’t even get me started about how the Countess and now Simon are punishing the world with their dance music. How have people who had no primary talent suddenly become hyphenates? It might be time for the show to get a face-lift…in the form of a new cast.

“The Real World” is certainly no model of quality programming at this point, but I appreciate how it still has a rotating cast of fresh and surprising characters each season. There’s some mystery to them in the beginning, which unfolds with each episode as you get to know them. Those kids might always be recognized as “Real World” cast members, but some of them can just fade back into obscurity. Or, like Sean Duffy of “The Real World: Boston,” even enter politics.

*Bethenny Frankel gets a pass in this argument. She has the entertainment value of Lucille Ball and has never compromised who she is in the name of fame. Plus, she had the good sense to leave "RHONY." I hope she makes reality shows forever. America needs her.