PAPER CUTS: Non-Entity Deathmatch
Not to reflect badly on Moses, but I think when he came down from Mount Sinai, he left a few commandments behind.
Thou shalt not eat fish in a restaurant on Monday, nor order the Soup Du Jour, which is always yesterday's leftovers. Thou shalt not repeat the entire plot of a movie to those who have not yet seen it. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's lawn, nor his John Deere riding lawnmower, nor shalt thou throw dandelion heads over on his side. When driving a car other than thine own, thou shalt not change the pre-sets on the radio. Or return it with the gas tank empty.
And thou art condemned to search in vain for a TV show worth watching in the summer. In fact, thou shalt wander for one hundred and forty days and nights in a vaste wasteland, without finding intelligent life on television.
From May to September, the small screen is clogged with wall to wall re-runs. If there is any original programming at all, it is based on the assumption that temperatures above 70 degrees cause the brain to melt and the IQ to dip into the single digits. Granted, the advent of warm weather brings out the child in all of us, but that hardly explains the pre-literate quality of summer entertainment.
High on my list of "Mustn't See TV" is the new ABC series "Making The Band", an illconceived marriage of "The Real World" and "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". Eight vapid teenagers, selected from a large group of equally untalented hopefuls, compete against each other week after week in a blitzkrieg of Menudo imitations. The five of the original group who most successfully exhibit the perfect synergy of bad dancing and worse singing will be allowed to sign ironclad 10 year contracts at significantly more than they could possibly make bagging groceries at the Piggly Wiggly.
Thenceforth, Lou Pearlman, the genius who inflicted The Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync upon a tone deaf world, will take this make believe band on the road, and promote their pre-pubescent harmonies to an audience of record buyers too young to know any better. If you love song stylings with a heavy emphasis on falsetto, backbeat, and stage moves lifted from the Four Tops playbook, by all means, tune in on Fridays nights. The rest of us might consider turning off our hearing aids.
For the outdoor enthusiast, CBS is offering "Survivor", a real life version of "Lord Of The Flies", in which sixteen purportedly normal individuals are airlifted 10,000 miles, to a snake infested speck in the South China Sea, one of the few exotic locales not yet overrun with jaded Hamptonites. Once stranded on Pulau Tiga, Malaysia, a tiny island of coconut palms, jungle rats, and less than first class toilet facilities, the castaways are left to fend for themselves, all evocatively captured on videotape. The last one to survive the 39 day camping trip wins a million bucks.
This isn't as farfetched as it might seem at first glance. Television has a long and proud history of encouraging people to make fools of themselves in public for money. Beginning with the heartwrenching "Queen For A Day", in which housewives vied with each other to see whose life was more pathetic, the stakes were raised with "Let's Make A Deal", and ratcheted up considerably last season on "Greed", presented by the Fox network without even the slightest blush of embarassment.
What "Greed" spawned was a whole new attitude in game shows, in which being clever, resourceful, or having an eidetic memory for trivia, was no longer good enough. What we are presented with now are elmination contests, gladiatorial deathmatches, in which in order for someone to win, someone else has to be forced into losing.
So while the sixteen "Survivor" contestants, selected from among 6000 applicants, presumably do not break each other's glasses, push each other off cliffs, or worship feral pigs, they do get to blackball one member of the group every 3 days, and expel that individual from the island. With a retired Navy Seal and a former Air Force survival instructor among them, and all that money on the line, any Gilligans, Gingers, or Thurston Howell IIIs in the group aren't going to be around for long.
The schedule of daily activities eschew the traditional shuffleboard, mambo lessons, and Simon Says, for a series of stunts resembling drunken fraternity hazing. The survivors vie with each other in feats of derring do for such treasures as knives, can openers, waterproof matches, and the ultimate luxuries, a can of beer and a bar of chocolate. The highlights of the show are watching the reeking, mosquito bitten, and jungle rot infested contestants gradually become reduced to eating fish heads, canned dog food, and rat shish kebob.
If "Survivor" pulls in the big Nielsen ratings, television programmers will be hard pressed to come up with a show more venal and exploitive. Dare we hope that they might abandon the cast of "Friends" on Devil's Island and film the hilarious results? Now that's a show worth watching.