Sunday, July 09, 2000

Making Reality TV Relatable

Last year, the success of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" bred copycat shows like "Greed," "Twenty-One," and "Winning Lines." Only "Millionaire" still thrives.

This year, reality TV is all the rage. “Survivor.” “Big Brother.” “The Real World.” The networks are falling over themselves trying to create similar shows for the fall, though the vast majority of them will likely fail, too.

The problem is that none of these shows is about reality -- they're about voyeurism. They're not really real, nor are they really relatable. That’s why, with the help of my radio show listeners, I have created the ultimate relatable reality show.

It’s called “Family Life.”

Here’s the premise. We lock five families in a house together for an indefinite period and see which one lasts the longest (we were going to call it “The Five Families,” but didn’t want viewers to mistake it for yet another mafia miniseries).

Winning won’t be simple. The entire family has to stay or leave together. No single member can quit or win on their own. Last family out as a complete unit wins.

Like “Big Brother,” there will be no -- or very little -- contact with the outside world. The family members will be forced into interpersonal communication, all day, everyday.

That will be especially hardest on the teenagers, of course. They won’t be permitted to speak with their friends in the outside world, because there won’t be any phones. And no online chats, either. The teens will actually have to talk with their own families, which will be total torture for them. To ease the pain, they can watch an hour of television each night, but no MTV and no wrestling – only the Discovery Channel or some opera on PBS.

Now we have to develop some things to drive the adults a little nuts.

We’ll start with at least two infants under one year old, preferably screamers, but there will be no pacifiers allowed. There will also be no disposable diapers permitted. Just cloth diapers, which must be washed and re-washed after each wearing.

Remember, we want to create a little more tension than simply watching squabbling siblings being separated.

How about letting the pre-teens have a slumber party? Not bad. The squeals late into the night should keep everyone up.

How about letting one teen each week have a date with a boy/girlfriend from the outside – but only if the boy/girlfriend has several tattoos and at least two body piercings, preferably including a nose ring or tongue stud. Now we’re talking!

What about food? Since there’s no contact with the outside world, that means no pizza delivery or anything else brought in. Every meal will have to be prepared in the house, AND everyone in the house must agree to eat the same thing, or they get nothing at that meal! Oooh, that’s good. Forget about barbecued rats on “Survivor,” wait till some family alliance decides on liver and onions for dinner!

One of the kids will enter the house with a cold, which can then rotate through every other human in the house. On top of that, another kid, right at kindergarten age, will have lice in their hair.

You want pets? The relatable reality of “Family Life” will include a puppy that’s not yet house broken and a kitten that scratches every piece of furniture in sight. At least one of the adults will be allergic to animal hair, but can’t get the dog and cat to stop jumping on the bed and lying on the pillow.

Still sound too comfortable and easy to stay in there? What else can we do to increase the tension and force the families out?

The house will only have one bathroom!! Twenty or so people of all ages sharing one toilet, one sink, and one shower oughta guarantee some conflict.

We’re going to throw in two more humans, purely as protagonists.

First will be someone’s mother-in-law. She won’t be the go-along-to-get-along-with-everyone type. She’ll be full of criticism, not just for her immediate family members, but for every person in the house. She doesn’t like the way they dress, the food they cook, or their opinions on anything.

The other wildcard will be some weird guy who sleeps on a futon in the basement when he’s not playing songs on his guitar about how women just don’t understand how important he is in their lives. He may or may not be related to one of the families. Maybe he’s the mother-in-law’s other son who has been in and out of rehab. Regardless, he rarely showers and often walks around nude. He complains constantly about the cruel corporate world that prevents him from becoming a millionaire because it insists on having strict rules about going to work on time everyday, which is why he hasn’t held a job for ten years.

Now we need a host for our TV show. Someone who has the qualifications to oversee this conglomeration of families while simultaneously criticizing the parenting skills of all of the participants. A person who can compare the wildly underachieving kids in the house to their own fabulously underappreciated kids. A host who will point out every time one of the fathers dares to take notice of a woman who is not his wife -- but places blame equally on the man, the woman, and the media. There is only one person perfect for this job.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you “Family Life," with your host, Kathie Lee Gifford!!

Oops. There go all five families out of the house at the same time.