There's only one way I can think of to stop the tsunami of reality shows flooding and muddying broadcast primetime TV. There ought to be a law—from the FCC, NAB, PTA, somebody—demanding one simple prerequisite before a new reality series can appear on television. That requirement: Make TV programmers do it first.
Every unscripted competition program, every season, would have to begin with a special cycle of shows. Forget the Celebrity or All-Stars editions. And no more Fans vs. Faves edition. It'd have to start, each year, with a special TV Executive Edition.
If you don't think that would cut down drastically on broadcast TV reality shows, then you haven't been watching…and you don't know much about network executives.
The benign reality shows, the best of them, would survive, because executives would get through them, and there's at least one good fit at each network.
Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly could audition for American Idol, sing a few off-key notes for the early reject shows, and be turned away for being too old. At CBS, Nina Tassler and her colleagues wouldn't face much embarrassment by competing on The Amazing Race, except for those moments of confusion emanating from not having a chauffeur with a sign meet them at the airport.
Similarly, NBC's Ben Silverman would feel right at home around the giant boardroom table in an executive edition of The Apprentice. (How quickly Donald Trump would jump at the chance to fire his network boss!)
And ABC would have the snuggest fit of all. Entertainment President Stephen McPherson would not only compete eagerly on Dancing With the Stars, but given his nimble-footed, frighteningly well-rehearsed performance at the ABC upfronts a few years back, he'd probably be angry if he didn't win the thing.
But that's the cream of the reality TV crop. Dive in deep, reach toward the bottom of the barrel, and you can picture great embarrassment and discomfort.
Imagine TV executives, any of them, sitting in the hot seat on Fox's Moment of Truth. The show wouldn't be able to get on the air unless they play the game on camera, responding to the same questions they've asked “regular” contestants to endure, all while strapped to a lie detector. Questions like, “Have you ever regretted marrying your husband?” and “While at your current job, have you ever touched a female co-worker inappropriately?”
Moment of Truth, I'm guessing, never would make that cut. And though execs tend to be inordinately fit, at least compared to the normal TV viewing population, would any of them sit still for the rigors or mortifications of Biggest Loser or Fat March? No. If they wouldn't subject themselves, why force it on viewers?
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Think of how many shows we would be spared. (In some cases, I'm not even convinced execs themselves tune in.) Would we have a Big Brother if network execs had to first cram themselves into enforced living quarters for months? And if we did, would host Julie Chen have to give the boot to her own husband, CBS CEO Les Moonves?
Five years ago, would ABC have presented the horrendous I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! if it were preceded by an I'm an Executive… edition, with network programmers needing to climb into the water tank with leeches? (No jokes, please, about professional courtesy.) And right now, would we have Secret Talents of the Stars if we, and they, first had to endure Secret Talents of the Executives?
EXECS VS. WRITERS
True, this proviso does open up possibilities. Given the lingering ill feelings over the writers' strike, an executives vs. writers edition of Survivor would be a natural. Imagine, instead of Wife Swap, an Executive Swap, where programmers traded jobs temporarily at rival networks. (At ABC, Ben Silverman could revive Land of the Giants.) Given that cable's Project: Runway is in the midst of changing homes anyway, why not mount a broadcast equivalent, about the competition to sell a broadcast TV fall schedule, called Project: Upfront?
Or, instead of a pitchfork dating show called Farmer Wants a Wife, imagine a pitch-session network programming show called Network Wants a Hit.
It could happen. You might even mount a show that, in essence, sums up every network executive's driving focus: Deal or No Deal.
Just don't serve us stuff unless you're prepared to eat it, and wallow in it, yourselves.