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

If the creators of unscripted TV shows want to avoid appearing out of touch, they should consider adapting their existing programs to the new circumstances. This might even offer some viewers a little catharsis.

For example, TLC’s Trading Spaces -- where neighbors redecorate a room in each other’s home -- could allow CEOs of now-bankrupt companies like Lehman Brothers to swap houses with the workers who have lost their jobs and life savings. Just imagine what a kick it would be for those former employees to put their own personal touch on an executive’s living room. Who says urine isn’t just as good as primer?

Surely the makers of Survivor see the potential for a domestic version of the show given the hostile conditions in many American cities. I can see it now … Survivor: Detroit. A bunch of uber-competitive celebrity wannabes are dropped off in the Motor City and challenged to make a living that could sustain a spouse and two kids. After a few weeks of fruitless job searches, they will be begging to join the Survivor casts who have to eat grubs.

During this avalanche of bleak financial reports, MTV continues to roll out celeb-driven offerings that have little connection to the real world, not to be confused with its ubiquitous series, The Real World, which also set the precedent for having no connection to the real world. 50 Cent: The Money and The Power, which has been described as a hip-hop version of The Apprentice, offers contestants a chance to prove they’re ready to be a mogul. But I think regular people should host their own show: 50 Cent – That’s All We Have Left in Our 401(k).

In the years since reality TV became the dominant force on the airwaves, flipping through the channels has been an exercise in trying to avoid celebutantes searching for their new bling, Bentleys, and BFFs.

The pervasiveness of shows that celebrate the lifestyles of the rich and useless has left me avoiding the Zoom-whitened smiles of the over-privileged in much the same way I race to press “1” for English before I have to hear “para espanol” on voice menus. But with the Dow going up and down, then down some more 00 the bad news on the stock market could spell relief for me and anyone exhausted by “excess” TV.

I predict more shows about former moguls who will have to adjust to life as regular people. It could be as heart wrenching as the video diary entry Sean P. “Diddy” Combs posted during the gas crisis, begging his Arab “brothers” to lower the cost of oil so he could once again use his private jet. I was so touched. In fact, I thought about suggesting an “Adopt-a-Diddy” program at local schools. “Please kids. Forget about saving those pennies for your college education. Diddy is having to fly commercial!”

Call me a sadist or the ultimate optimist, but I am thankful there’s finally an upside to the downturn: maybe reality TV will actually have to earn its name and reflect a little -- I don’t know -- reality.