LAST EDITED ON 08-26-01 AT 05:04 PM (EST)
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Everyone's offering a dose of reality
DATE FROM HELL?: The 5th Wheel, one of a slew of reality shows slated for the new television season.
See what the success of Survivor has wrought? It was a year ago this week that the original out-of-the-box phenomenon came to its $1-million conclusion, attracting millions of viewers and changing the face of television. And now look at the result: a second, and soon a third Survivor series, and another half-dozen new so-called "reality" shows hoping for the same kind of success this season.
You can't blame Survivor alone for TV's current reality glut. For one thing, in the broadest sense, the concept of "reality" TV goes back beyond the earliest documentaries. Even further, if you want to count game shows (and, thanks to that other pop phenom, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, game shows do very much count, indeed).
Here's a quick preview of some of the prime-time "reality" shows headed your way this coming season. These, of course, in addition to the returning hits, The Mole 2, Temptation Island 2, Popstars 2 (boys and girls together this time) and the Kenya-set Survivor: Africa, which hits the air Oct. 4).
Some of the new shows are quite intriguing, others just annoying — but the one thing they do all have in common, and the one thing that most people seem to forget, is that their relative "reality" cannot help but be heightened by the omnipresent sound and camera crews.
You try acting natural surrounded by a dozen grizzled techies, shining bright lights in your face and dangling microphones from sticks.
As I always tend to say on these occasions, "You want reality? Turn off the TV!"
And now, the new shows:
The Amazing Race (CBS and CTV, Sept. 5): Put any couple together in a car, and you know they will start bickering within three minutes. This show takes that fractious dynamic and pushes it past the nth degree. Produced by action movie mogul Jerry Bruckheimer, the month-long race uses every conveyance imaginable to send 11 couples around the world in pursuit of a $1 million (all amounts in U.S. dollars) prize. And they're not just typical couples, either — there's a mother/daughter team (you want to talk bickering?), a pair of college roommates, a gay couple, some grandparents and a separated but reconciling husband and wife.
Lost (NBC, Sept. 5): Essentially, the same idea in reverse. The six-part series takes three two-person teams — none of whom have ever met before — blindfolds them and drops them by helicopter in the remotest corner of nowhere. The first pair to make its way to the Statue of Liberty splits $200,000. With TV talk-show host Conan O'Brien as its producer, one can at least hope for some laughs along the way.
Love Cruise (Fox and Citytv, Sept. 11): The opposite of last year's Temptation Island (itself back with an all-new edition), this one sends 16 singles out on a luxury cruise in the hope of hooking up with that one special someone. Not nearly as tacky as it sounds, nor as mean-spirited as most of these dating game shows, thanks to the casting savvy and much more upscale esthetic sensibilities of its producers, the same team who created the reality benchmarks The Real World and Road Rules.
Supermodels (Global, Sept. 30): The latest thing in star-making showcases, from the folks who brought you Popstars and will bring you Popstars 2. An eight-part chronicle of the Canadian contingent at the Ford Supermodel Of The World competition. At stake, a $250,000 two-year modelling contract with Ford in New York. Second prize, a lifetime of therapy.
The 5th Wheel (Citytv, Oct. 1): Yet another dating show, but with a fairly novel twist — a double blind date in a luxurious stretch limo is thrown into chaos by the sudden introduction of a fifth party (either sex) who's hot enough to disrupt whatever good vibes have already been established. Could get ugly. Helping to keep the proceedings light is comedian and Talk Soup host Aisha Taylor, and Pop-Up Video-style graphic enhancements to suggest what the participants are thinking. The show will be shooting in Toronto in the new year.
ElimiDate Deluxe (WB, Oct. 11): A ritzier version of the syndicated game show, also new this year, with classier locations and better prizes. The name of the game is still the same — this is basically Chains Of Love without the chains. A male or female "picker" (this is the best they could come up with?) goes off on a four-on-one date, and then starts eliminating aspiring mates one by one. Public humiliation is apparently still a big crowd-pleaser.
No Boundaries (Global, Dec. 2): Billed as a combination of Survivor and the Eco-Challenge — do we hear Mark Burnett threatening to sue? (Like he needs the money.) Fifteen Canadian and American contestants scrabble around the B.C. hinterland in this apparently generic contest, braving nature and eliminating each other as they go along. Whoever's left at the end of 13 episodes wins.
The Runner (ABC, Jan. 7): Producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are being tight-lipped about the details of their mid-season reality-based contest. This much is known: A designated "runner" will be professionally trained and sent off on a "mission," pursued by similarly prepared and trained "agents." The tricky part is, the show is designed so that viewers can participate, either aiding or hindering the runner's progress. Given that there are cash rewards for the latter, but not the former, I can't see this guy getting more than a mile or so before he gets turned in. Or shot