Saturday, January 9, 2010

Reality Bites

2010 promises to bring more reality television, including more reality shows that include people of short stature.

In the past few months, producers of at least three programs supposedly in-the-works have reached out to Little People of America, requesting help to find prospective reality stars who are little people. A vocal group of little people are beginning to roll their eyes and jokingly refer to The Learning Channel (TLC), which hosts the majority of little people reality programs, as The Little People Channel, (click here for a blog entry from the LPA Today Editor about reality television).

The argument made by those fed up with the unending requests for little people to fill available slots in reality television is no joke. They argue that reality television fills a gawking void left open by the elimination of side shows and carnivals. The argument follows that while creators of reality television claim they'd like to illustrate little people are no different than anyone else, they are actually putting people who are different on display to satisfy the same curiosity that inspired people to buy tickets to a traveling circus featuring the world's smallest person.

There is some truth to this argument. The audiences who pay money to see midget wrestling indeed are driven by the same curiosity that fueled circus side shows. I am sure the creators of an upcoming Spike TV reality show that features the founder of a midget wrestling troupe are counting on that same audience.

But for reality programs that last more than one season, the curiosity would have worn off by now. “Little People, Big World” would not have survived this long if viewers tuned in just to stare at a family that includes three dwarfs. Regular viewers tune in to watch how the family deals with challenges. Some of the challenges the family confronts are different than those found in the average family, but the emotional struggles and successes are universal.

In many ways, the creators of “Little People, Big World” have shown that little people are just like everybody else, the goal toward which the producers of the new reality television programs allegedly strive. For example, here is a brief glimpse of an article about the upcoming Spike TV reality program on wrestling:

“Spike TV executive Sharon Levy painted this as a chance for viewers to 'learn about people that are different' and how they handle unique challenges.” (click here for the full piece)

Though I have trouble believing viewers of the Spike program will come away thinking little people are no different from anyone else, if that truly is the goal, fantastic. The problem is, little people are not the key to reaching that goal. But with the success of a few reality programs that happen to include little people, the new program creators are trying to find similar success. In order to find that success, they start with little people, then build a premise around them. If they follow this formula, the result of these programs indeed will be barely different than a conveyor belt of dwarfs on display to satisfy a public curiosity. The good news is that reality programs that follow the misguided path to success will last barely a few episodes, if they even make it to television.

Eventually, when the well of aspiring reality stars runs dry, when producers discover a new path toward success, or when a critical mass of little people revolt against the industry, casting calls for little people will taper off. When that happens, reality show viewers may only be left with a husband and wife raising four children, a young doctor and her husband in Houston, and perhaps a business owner looking for success in chocolate. Programs that follow the in and outs of real people who happen to be dwarfs.

1 comment:

  1. Very well said Gary! You articulated some points that I alluded to in my blog, but somehow couldn't quite come up with the right way to say, specifically referring to the carnie aspect. I totally agree, as does my husband, Andrew. Thanks for the link connect too! I wondered why my blog on Skirt got so many more views!

    You Rock. Keep it up!