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Get Real

Blurring the reality-TV edges with NBC’s Downer Channel and Fox’s Murder in Small Town X.



There I was last week, fresh off my high of calling the end of VH1’s Bands on the Run absolutely on-the-money (Flickerstick won, just as I said they would—inyerface!), when I found out another vaguely music-related reality-TV fave of mine, ABC’s Making the Band, wouldn’t be airing its season/series finale on Friday the 13th. Actually, it was local affiliate KTVX 4 that wouldn’t be running it. For the second time in the space of a month, KTVX had unceremoniously bumped Making the Band, this time for … a boat show.

Man, it was not a good week for boy bands—first, Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean was tossed into rehab, then the already-floundering Making the Band (starring the ever-floundering O-Town) gets yanked off the schedule in the very market where it has at least one viewer who writes a highly-influential TV column that’s read by dozens of people.

I realize that Making the Band was clinically dead in the ratings, but a boat show? KTVX has no heart—isn’t it enough that O-Town will be performing at boat shows by this time next year just to keep themselves in hot wings and headbands after the teen-pop crash? This was heaping insult onto injury, and now I’ll never know if dreadlocked rebel Jacob finally beat up a record exec (I’m guessing not) or if evil ex-svengali Lou Perlman ever made any money off O-Town (ditto). However, I’m sure Boatworld delivered some kick-ass ratings, because there’s nothing better than coming home on a Friday night and watching a 60-minute infomercial for pricey watercrafts you’ll never be able to afford. (As per journalist-speak, KTVX programming would not return repeated calls for this story, yadda yadda yadda.)

In actuality, it’s just another sign that no one really cares about summer programming—ABC left Making the Band to die in the hot months, so why should KTVX have an ounce of confidence in it? There’s never an excuse for putting a boat show on in prime time, mind you, but it makes sense in principle. Likewise, summer replacement sitcoms Kristin and Go Fish (NBC), as well as Ladies Man (CBS), have just gone through the predictable tank ‘n’ yank cycle, while NBC’s gawdawful Fear Factor and slightly-less-gawdawful Spy TV are pulling in boffo ratings, kind of disproving that whole “no one cares about summer TV” theory. What in the hell do people want?

Naturally, the answer is reality TV—but not “real” reality TV. CBS’ boring-people-in-a-boring-house series Big Brother 2 is choking, but not because the viewing public suddenly wised up and said, “Hey, this is shit! Let’s watch something that involves actual talent and production values” or anything. They want possibly-injurious “reality” inflicted on stupid people, which is exactly what Fear Factor and Spy TV are all about—they’re mean-spirited, but who wants to watch a “nice” show anymore? I’ll admit that I always catch MTV’s Tough Enough, wherein self-absorbed twentysomething whiners are bullied and pummeled into submission by WWF training goons, just to delight in watching self-absorbed twentysomething whiners bullied and pummeled into submission by WWF training goons.

The point of all this exposition is two-fold: Reality TV is mutating, and the two new reality shows debuting this week aren’t quite worth a full page of in-depth analysis—you call it filler; we professional writers call it “exposition” and qualify it by tossing around fancy terms like “two-fold.”

The first is a something from executive producer Steve Martin called The Downer Channel (NBC, Tuesday July 24, 7:30 p.m.), a zero-attention-span-required hybrid of sketch comedy and reality TV that splices found footage and on-the-street interviews with skits that take off on the same things-that-piss-you-off topics into a psychotically fast-paced collage. The cut-off point for segments is 90 seconds, and the players (Norm’s Jeff B. Davis, Chris Rock’s Wanda Sykes, Larry Sanders’ Mary Lynn Rajskub and Cindy Margolis’ Lance Krall) are, for the most part, up to the show’s SCTV-on-meth challenge. It’s as funny as it is doomed, unfortunately—stay tuned for more Spy TV repeats.

Debuting opposite that is Murder in Small Town X (Fox, Tuesday July 24, 7:30 p.m.), a pseudo-reality “game” that posits 10 pretty people (been there) in the unfamiliar surroundings (done that) of a fake town full of actors (no, not Hollywood) to solve the “murder” of a local family—complete with strategically-placed Taco Bell products, because nothing says “the next generation of reality TV” better than dead folks and Chalupas.

Part of the show’s “suspense” comes from the implied threat that the “killer” (who may or may not be the knife-wielding whack-job from Big Brother out for post-eviction revenge) will be taking out members of the ersatz Scooby Gang as the investigation goes on, leaving only one or two … yawn … players. Wonder if Fox 13 has any good boat shows they could run instead.