Let's Put the 'Reality' Back in Reality TV

Ever since the economic crisis hit, news coverage has reported how all facets of America are coming to grips with the sobering effects of the recession. Even Hollywood, where economizing means not upgrading your assistant’s Blackberry, has had to go back to the drawing board to adjust to this “new reality.”

While Tinseltown power brokers still feel it’s best to push escapism on the big screen, they’re expressing sensitivity -- or the closest thing Botox will allow -- everywhere else. For television, they’re going to emphasize blue-collar heroes and pull back on shows and movies that celebrate conspicuous wealth. Smart move. With folks like Bernard Madoff helping billionaires lose their fortunes faster than the auto industry can hemorrhage jobs, depictions of excess would be as appropriate as trying to sell a Slip-n-Slide in Ethiopia.

Surely, the “new reality” should have some effect on the so-called reality of unscripted programming; otherwise it would lose its credibility as “reality TV.” And, let’s face it -- nothing mirrors the world as accurately as shows like The Bachelorette. What is more believable than 25 hot, gainfully employed bachelors vying for a committed relationship with a woman?

It seems the most innocuous reality programs are the ones that will need the most adjustment to keep pace with the times. Home and garden shows could be hit the hardest, for what seems more frivolous than choosing paint color for a window box when your house is being foreclosed on?

I once considered The Learning Channel’s My First Home an uplifting show about people living out the American dream. Looking back on an episode about a buyer with bad credit, I can’t help but wonder how things stand today. TLC should launch a follow-up show revisiting those first-time homeowners. It could be called That House I Used to Have or My First Home: It Would Have Been Less Painful if it Had Fallen on Me.