- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

Once there was “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour,” back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Well, in 1948 anyway.

In prehistoric television, the aforementioned Mr. Mack showcased the efforts of baton twirlers, elocutionists and crooners, feeding the American instinct to cavort for better or worse before cameras and large audiences.

Needless to say, that instinct is alive and well in reality-based TV, though twirling and crooning have given way to whining and swooning.

Do you have an obnoxious friend?

Do you have a secret crush?

Is he cheating?

Are you an overpacker?

Well … Do you? Is he? Are you?

Tyra Banks wants to know. She seeks the answers to these questions — and luggage tips, apparently — for the brand-new “Tyra Banks Show,” which borrows content from real life, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Now, everybody knows that reality TV is supposed to be doomed, what with all its bug-eating and angst. An Associated Press/TV Guide poll released last week reveals that 82 percent of us are reality TV weary. Please, please. Make it stop.

That sentiment has yet to register with Miss Banks or the networks.

MTV, for instance, is shopping around for pranksters, headbangers and metrosexuals to populate 51 shows. Yes, 51. The Food Network wants unknown cooks to compete for the right to host their own culinary tableaux.

And there’s always the Horse Channel.

The Horse TV Media Group in where-else-but California will begin broadcasting 24 hours a day in a few weeks as “the destination of choice for everyone interested in horse programming,” according to chief horse guy George Greenberg, who also is behind the Golf Channel, Tech TV and the SciFi Channel.

Surely the Horse Channel will offer “BarnCam,” “Cooking With Seabiscuit” or perhaps “Trigger Point” — that is, if ABC News will free up George Stephanopoulos and maybe a big palomino to host it.

Indeed, the channel seeks “amazing real life stories” of horses and will feature equestrian competitions, famous horse movies and horse home videos, presumably shot by humans. Those humans, by the way, spend $39 billion a year on their horsies, so Mr. Greenberg may be on to something.

Meanwhile, NBC has augmented the bug-eating it made famous on “Fear Factor” with the down-home appeal of “Three Wishes,” which debuted Friday and aspires to fulfill folks’ fondest dreams. NBC sent promotional DVDs to 7,000 ministers and clergy around the nation to witness its newfound “faith in action.”

ABC is recruiting for 10 reality shows, including “Fix My Husband,” in which “wives send their husbands to us for a friendly kick in the butt,” according to producers.

The network is in uncharted territory as well, seeking cancer survivors, rescue workers, librarians — librarians? — and those with prosthetic limbs or troublesome birthmarks for “Extreme Makeover.”

Not to be outdone, Random House has just published “How to Get on Reality TV,” in which we discover that 100,000 people auditioned for Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” last season and that the application for bug-eating hopefuls on “Fear Factor” was 60 pages long.

“Over 90 percent of the people who show up to audition for ‘American Idol’ never lay eyes on Simon, Paula or Randy at all,” advises book author Matthew Robinson.

The mind reels.

“We now live in a world where every John or Jane Doe has the opportunity to realize his or her 15 minutes of fame,” Mr. Robinson says, observing that reality TV is not a “harbinger of the apocalypse” but simply cost-effective television.

That perhaps brings us full circle to Mr. Mack, whose amateur showcase ran for 22 years on four networks — illuminating the good will and dancing feet of thousands of Johns and Janes. It also launched the careers of Gladys Knight, Pat Boone and Joey Dee & the Starlighters, among others.

“Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” “The Gong Show,” “Star Search” and “Showtime at the Apollo” also have made their cultural marks over the years.

But wait. Even the mighty Mr. Mack is not the original. It was Depression-era radio host Major Bowes who came up with the show idea and title in 1935, when 30,000 auditioned for a moment before the microphone.

A big winner that year? Just some quartet out of New Jersey called Frank Sinatra and the Three Flashes.

Jennifer Harper covers media, modern life, bombast and more for The Washington Times’ National Desk. Contact her at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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