Reality TV Pitch: Mainstream Media Rehab
Like many college students back in the early 1990s, I found MTV's The Real World to be an entertaining novelty that was interesting to watch. However, I never would have expected it to spawn a wildly-popular television genre that has claimed a lasting position in our pop-culture for the past twenty years.
Yes, realty television is here to stay, and it has evolved far beyond diversity projects and juvenile silliness. These days, we follow cast members through elimination contests, offbeat occupations, and drunken slug-fests. Many of the shows don't exactly reflect reality, but rather the knack of the programs' creators to incite conflicts and manufacture spectacles. Ironically, the more true-to-life reality shows are the ones that feature content that we, as a society, really shouldn't be exploiting for the purposes of entertainment. I'm talking about shows like Hoarders that showcase people with mental-disorders, and Celebrity Rehab that deals with serious substance-abuse issues.
Tasteful or not, there's a huge market for reality shows, and I'm guessing producers probably consider a few dozen ideas for new ones each year in their search for the next successful juggernaut like Survivor and The Apprentice.
In the interest of the marketplace of ideas, I'd like to take this opportunity to throw out my own idea for consideration: Mainstream Media Rehab.
The Synopsis: Acclaimed journalists and commentators from the world of the mainstream media are put through a series of challenges designed to help them recognize their liberal biases and learn to suppress those biases in the performance of their jobs. The rehabilitation program will last for four weeks, and whoever shows the most progress by its end is declared the winner and presented with the prestigious "Retired Cheerleader" award.
Now, I readily admit that I'm being a bit of a hypocrite in proposing this idea right after I condemned the exploitation of people's substance abuse problems... But in this case, with the substance in question being President Obama's Kool-Aid, I'm willing to make an exception.
Here's a breakdown of some of the challenges contestants will participate in: The OWIO Q&A
The OWIO ("Okay When It's Obama") Question and Answer challenge consists of each contestant being presented with a video montage recapping the vast amount of time and passion the news media invested in covering what they deemed highly controversial policies during the Bush administration. To the backdrop of the classic Mary Poppins song, "Spoon Full of Sugar", they'll then be prompted to explain why those exact same policies ceased to be both controversial and newsworthy once they were adopted by the Obama administration.
The Guantanamo Bay detention camp, the Patriot Act, the use of rendition, warrantless wiretapping, and collateral damage from drone strikes will start things off. The contestants' progress will be measured by how long they stutter and stammer before begrudgingly conceding that there is no logical explanation for the discrepancy.
Those who can't bring themselves to make that concession will be subjected to an over-time round in which they'll be forced to explain what happened to all of those news stories the media ran during Bush's second term, highlighting single mothers and lower-income families who were struggling with crushing gas prices that were cheaper than they are now.
The 'Which Story Is More Important?' Game
Contestants will go through an exercise in which they are shown two flash-cards simultaneously. Printed on the cards will be actual news headlines. The contestants will determine which of the two headlines represents a more newsworthy story, thus warrants more media coverage. The penalty for getting an answer wrong will be a small electric shock administrated through wires attached to the contestant's thigh, while Chris Matthews' "thrill up my leg" sound bite is played in their ear.
Some examples of the flash-card selections:
"Obama Administration Misleads American Public On Benghazi Attack" vs "Marco Rubio Awkwardly Reaches For Bottle of Water".
"Entitlements to Account for 53% of All Federal Spending Over Next Decade" vs "What Mitt Romney's Tax Rate Says About Him".
"Obama Understates Cost of Obamacare by $2 Trillion" vs "Michelle Obama Says Bangs Are Her Mid-Life Crisis".
"U.S. Senate Hasn't Passed Budget in Nearly 4 Years" vs Anything About Sarah Palin.
Grace Under Fire
Contestants will be put though an elaborate simulation that places them alone in a fake newsroom with only a television set, phone, and computer (with simulated internet access) at their disposal. All methods of communication will be controlled by the show's producers. A fabricated breaking news report will suddenly appear on the television screen with vague information on a mass-shooting that just took place somewhere in the American Midwest. Contestants will be given thirty minutes to use all means available to acquire additional information about the shooting and relay that information to a fake news-producer with the understanding that the information is relevant and worthy of being reported on-air. During that thirty minutes, new details on the shooting will be sporadically reported on the television screen to help with the contestants' efforts.
Contestants will be told that they are being judged by the information they are able to collect, but they will actually be judged on whether or not they can resist the temptation to do any of the following:
Perform a Google search on the suspected shooter's name in conjunction with the key-phrase "Tea Party".
Call the office of New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, for comment.
Visit Sarah Palin's Facebook page or Twitter feed for any recent remarks she's made about guns.
Research the political party affiliation of the suspected shooter, and then fail to mention their findings to the news producer once it's discovered that the suspect is a Democrat.
Suggest the network run another story on the merits of a national semi-automatic rifle ban, despite the information that the suspected shooter used a pistol.
Other challenges will include:
The Six Degrees Bush, in which contestants will be given the opportunity to link every major global and domestic problem ultimately back to George W. Bush, before they're verbally berated for their idiocy by actor and former Marine Sergeant, R. Lee Ermey.
The Dog Whistler, in which contestants are presented with a reading of racially-insensitive quotes they are told were made by notable conservatives. They're then allowed to discuss why those remarks are repugnant and indicative of today's Republican party, before being enlightened to the fact that the quotes were actually all made by Vice President Joe Biden throughout his political career.
Party Shmarty, in which contestants are instructed to come up with the most creative explanation for why party-affiliation is only relevant in reporting on a political scandal when the politician at the center of the scandal is a Republican. After delivering that explanation, they'll be forced to look at themselves in the mirror for thirty minutes straight. The first one to look away, or break down into tears, wins the challenge.
The 'He's Just Not Into You' Awakening, in which a professional relationship counselor will spend an hour with each contestant, convincing them that President Obama has no interest in being their friend, regardless of how softball the questions are that they ask him during press conferences.
A show like Mainstream Media Rehab has the potential to become a huge ratings success, and much like other reality shows along the lines ofThe Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover, it could have a positive, life-changing impact on each of the contestants. Imagine the heartwarming personal stories, like reunions between the rehabilitated contestants and their estranged, conservative parents who can finally respect what their children do for a living. Audiences would eat this stuff up!
Sarcasm aside, I think we all know that a show like this would never, ever come to fruition... But it sure is fun to imagine, isn't it?
And if I'm wrong, Mark Burnett, feel free to give me a call!