Herald Journal Columns
June 27, 2005, Herald Journal

The original Gilligan’s Island

By LIZ HELLMANN

Remember when you could turn on the TV and “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.”

Classics like “Gilligan’s Island,” with its equally infamous song lyrics mentioned above, were abounding on good old network TV.

A seemingly infinite number of stations are now available to fulfill every niche in the market. Despite all the programming expansion, the TV seems to be spiraling deeper into some other dark dimension termed “reality TV.”

And, with the help of modern technology, you can record any program you want to be watched at your convenience. (As if Americans needed another way to squeeze more TV into their day.)

My question is, what programs are so important they are worth recording?

Granted, there are some good programs. However, TV no longer consists of plots and actors, but real people. Real people are good, I’m one, but why turn on a TV to see what I can observe just by living life?

It appears reality TV has taken over, and is here to stay, at least for awhile.

I guess the attraction to these reality shows are that they are not scripted, so whatever outrageous things happen, are actually happening.

It takes away that safety blanket that lets you know, “These people are actors, no one would really eat a dead animal carcass.”

Which may make the show more exciting, but also makes me fear for the general condition of the human race.

Reality TV has brought a new era in which everyday people are shown doing things far worse than the average actor in a sitcom. It is now, more than ever, that we need a security blanket telling us these things aren’t really happening.

There are a plethora of different kinds of reality TV, most of them revolving around some type of competition.

Competition can be healthy, but reality TV is definitely making a statement about what is the most important thing to the people and judges who partake.

The blame can’t totally be placed on the creators and participants of these shows. They are playing to the audience, doing whatever they can to boost ratings. Good or bad, it’s the nature of the beast.

And what attracts viewers? Drama. What does every good drama need once in awhile? Tears. And the people who bring those tears.

In almost all of these shows, someone ends up crying. Either they are disappointed they didn’t make it, irate after hearing comments made by a fellow contestant, or just told by Simon they sing like a bullfrog.

Obviously, the number one reason people put themselves through these competitions is to obtain fame and fortune. It’s a given, that is what these shows are all about.

Why do we find it fascinating to watch them risk life and limb, tear other contestants down, and destroy their integrity, week after week? Good question.

I must admit some of these shows pack a certain palpable drama that can be enjoyable to watch. But taking a step back from many of them leaves me with a much different conclusion.

Having taken some courses in TV programming and marketing, it is quite apparent what these shows are mostly about. Hype.

But you don’t need a college degree to figure that out.

The next time you watch a reality TV show, take note of the previews, then watch the show. I’m almost positive you will find that you could have watched just the previews, and gotten about the same entertainment value out of the program.

All the juicy stuff is siphoned out for the previews. Now, this is true for more than just reality TV. In fact, that is the purpose of previews, to make you want to watch the program.

The difference is in the filler. What gets you from one preview to the next? In programs with a story line, valuable information is inserted between previews. In reality TV, mostly minor events that can be, and are, summed up in the five-second dramatic preview fill that space.

So, what do I have against reality TV? I think, in general, it is dumbing down our idea of entertainment. Some reality shows might be worthwhile, and as with all TV, it is a matter of taste.

I challenge you the next time you watch a reality series to note at the end just what was so entertaining about it. Sure, it filled up the hour, and kept your eyes glued to the screen. But, were you really entertained, or merely just occupied? There is a difference.

For me, it is not worth an hour of my time to watch people squabble over who will get to eat the last fried grasshopper on a deserted island, all in the name of winning some money.

Interestingly enough, there is a new “Gilligan’s Island” reality show out. I fear the airing of that show, as with many reality shows, really is setting out on a “fateful trip.” At least it’s only for a one hour tour.