Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Real cake

I do not like to watch television, but I do because I am American and have American people in my life. I have to watch what the people I love watch if I want to spend time with them. Not doing so would color me an unpatriotic color of rude.

Survivor made sense to me. Reality television producers at the turn of the century understood they could add an element of competition to the MTV Real World prototype, so they did. They did not create a contest based on point totals or timed events. No, these producers thought sports were going out of style, so they let a group of people decide which of the group would win a cool million. Miraculously, everyone in the group hated the guy who won.

Perhaps I oversimplified. The show did incorporate some athletic and mental contests among its members. The prizes for these contests ranged from a guarantee to last another episode to a deli sandwich. The contests were not the drama; the drama was the drama.

The producers added the backdrop of a deserted island, and the show clicked. No other place would have worked. A high school gymnasium? A library? A house? Big Brother tried that and was an inferior show. Only that dangerous, exotic set could remove us from our own realities of class rank, college admissions and tight budgets.

I would love to be on that show
, Americans thought as boa constrictors circled a hopeless sleeping contestant who had not eaten all day.

What followed were variations: chef elimination, interior designer elimination, bachelor elimination, singer elimination and dancer elimination. The craze spread wide enough that we all seemed to know someone on one of these shows. My high school basketball teammate's brother was on Elimidate. He lost. My sister's colleague was on The Bachelor. She lost. My college friend was on American Idol. He lost, but the Carolina Alumni Review named him the sixth most popular guy in the world. But he lost. In America we have a few winners and many, many losers.

All these shows did quite well. While I required the remote island, Americans needed only one elimination, one human failure, each week. I can thank my girlfriend for knowing Jason's confusion and Melissa's broken heart.

A new strain of reality shows deviated from the elimination theme. Americans now have a choice of three shows about cake makers: Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss and Amazing Wedding Cakes. The sheer number of shows about a niche as small as cake making is impossible to rationalize. Would it not make as much sense to have three separate shows about deep-sea fishermen? Do we have three shows about deep-sea fishermen? At least we are taking a step away from cutthroat elimination.

I would like to produce a show about a teacher who selects one of his friends to teach with him in the same school. Then those two teachers would pick another friend to do the same, and so on. Four other copycat shows would spawn from mine, and in a couple years we would have a surplus of teachers, small class sizes and television ratings to boot.


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