February 03, 2012
When MTV’s The Real World debuted in 1992, people saw it for what it was: a silly bit of voyeurism for a bunch of stupid kids. Twenty years later, the genre it hatched is dominating prime time, and the audiences are a helluva lot older than 18. VH1’s Mob Wives owns the female 18-49 demographic, but with 3.5 million combined viewers for this season’s debut (including the encore performance), that has to include some stupid old men. Anthony Hopkins has admitted he’s one of them.
Shouldn’t Hopkins be joining the 4.2 million people who watched the debut of Downton Abbey? It hurts when we lose a BAFTA Fellow to the hordes. How can grown men watch this program? It’s a curse-laden freak show of foul sluts attacking each other, gossiping about their inconsequential lives in bastardized English, and spewing inanities such as, “Archenemy is a highly educated word.” When did this become an adult’s idea of entertainment?
Former VH1 impresario, reality-TV scion, and current Atlantic contributing editor Michael Hirschorn tries to defend the genre, saying it’s an affordable and “real” way of unapologetically dealing with uncomfortable topics. He claims his The White Rapper Show “turned into a running debate among the aspiring white MCs over cultural authenticity—whether it is more properly bestowed by class or race.”
What’s really driving reality television is the price tag. Following cougar Guidettes around Staten Island with a handheld camera has to be cheaper than recreating WWI England in all its aristocratic glory. Hirschorn claims that reality TV is anywhere from 50% to 75% less expensive to produce than scripted TV. Where scripted television requires writers and editors and plots that must be tied up in a bow at the end of every episode, unscripted television is a malleable ball that can turn on a dime. That’s not to say it is strictly unscripted. I know people who work on Mob Wives and many other reality shows, and they claim the major players often have earpieces on them and are fed dialogue to help ramp up the drama when things get dull. (Sources say the show’s creator and executive producer Jenn Graziano is one of these Svengalis.)