- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

Recent lawsuits, protests and uneasy producers may indicate the luster has worn off reality TV. But dozens of strange scripts are still under wraps at networks, proof the genre is alive and well.
One Washington entertainment writer recently suggested that a good plot device could feature a conservative reporter trading places with a liberal reporter at some national publication with cameras chronicling the ideological wars.
"I'm kidding," he says.
Some shows are built on less, however.
ABC, for example, is looking for married couples to compete in something called "Wife Swap." Despite its titillating title, the new series is all about "how couples run their lives," according to Los Angeles-based RDF Media, which is producing the show.
Two families will exchange mothers for 10 days.
The drama revolves around parenting, shopping, housework, finances and social outings in "a rare opportunity to witness what it is like to live in someone else's life."
Meanwhile, Viacom's TNN cable network is producing "Weekend Without Mom," featuring two-parent families with at least two teenage children. Mom is packed off to a fancy spa and replaced by comedian Adrienne Frost for two days, who will "run your household her way."
The search goes on.
For "24 Hour Pass," NBC wants "attractive and compelling couples" who argue. The show sends the troubled duo off on a fantasy date to solve their woes.
HBO also is looking for couples who don't get along but stay together, the network advises, "because their sex life is good." That is, in fact, the proposed name of the show.
Fox, on the other hand, needs singles eager for a quick marriage they must be "good catches," at least for a new show called "Married by America." The couple can marry only with the approval of the studio audience.
Michael Darnell, who dreamed up that idea along with "Joe Millionaire" and "Man Vs. Beast" is convinced that the world's taste for such things will never grow cold, even during crisis.
"A war may interrupt some network programming," Mr. Darnell told the New York Times this week. "It won't affect people's appetite for these shows. You don't want to live the thing that is most bothering you, you want a reality show to provide escape."
The variety just keeps on coming.
One popular fan Web site lists multiple categories that include medical, music, combat, crimes, challenges, documentaries, pop stars, jail breaks, shopping, hidden cameras and parodies.
The clarion call for talent still sounds.
This week alone, the casting notices are out for chubby women, surfers, people with weird tattoos, people interested in getting weird tattoos, action star hopefuls, stage mothers, mechanical engineers, nervous 29-year-olds about to turn 30 and those who have shared "a meaningful experience" with a rock star.
Bad hair is also a draw at least in England.
Producers of British network Channel 4 hope to cast TV fans on "The Salon," broadcast from a chichi beauty parlor in South London that offers deft blow dries and botox injections, among other things.
The live, daily show is intended as a ringside seat to stylish shenanigans.
Then there's always 1987 world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson.
The Hollywood Reporter announced Wednesday that Tyson is mulling over an offer from producers at Los Angeles-based Triage Entertainment for a new reality series that pits an amateur boxer opposite the former champ.
"It's Rocky Vs. Mikey," the Reporter notes.
The show would chronicle the hopeful's rigorous training and culminate with a dramatic bout, with some interesting underpinnings. The show will be produced by the team that crafted the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show," which brought scantily outfitted models to CBS prime time last year.
Despite the endless parade of willing talent and unusual situations, networks still squabble over ideas. In November, CBS sued ABC, claiming that ABC's new "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here" was too similar to CBS' "Survivor," now casting for its seventh version.
ABC won the case in federal court on Monday, with the judge ruling that reality TV was "a continual evolutionary process involving borrowing frequently from what has gone before."
Indeed.
Yesterday, ABC announced its new "celebrity" lineup for the show, which includes former model Tyson Beckford, former MTV star "Downtown" Julie Brown, former Olympian Bruce Jenner, gossipmeister Robin Leach, Joan Rivers' daughter Melissa Rivers, rocker Rod Stewart former wife Alana Stewart and Stuttering John, sidekick of shock jock Howard Stern.
Network executives fret about the longevity of the unscripted genre, however, which often can yield high ratings for relatively little production cost.
"It is a short-term gain and a long-term problem," said Jordan Levin of the WB network, which recently aired two new reality shows based on show business has-beens and high school reunions.
Mr. Levin said such programming "will never overtake the network."
Reality TV has had a longer shelf life than expected. Some critics predicted its demise last year when some shows were found to be either rigged, dangerous or offensive.
"With the amount of reality shows announced, I'm sure this spring and next fall [networks] probably will have overdone it," CBS President Les Moonves predicted at a press conference Monday.
Perhaps. The novelty of the reality TV genre has worn off, given way to righteous indignation in some corners. Last week, a rural advocacy group protested CBS' plan to base a reality show on the old 1960s sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies," training their cameras on an actual poor family living in a Beverly Hills mansion.
But the idea can't be too bad; Fox already is planning a rival show based on "Green Acres," which features a rich family trying to make a go of it in a rural cabin.
"Everybody's looking for that quick fix, and a lot of times these shows do give you that," Mr. Moonves observed.


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