International buyers have been in Los Angeles for days now screening new primetime TV programs, trying to decide which they’ll beam to audiences back home. And while most people around the globe surely realize that television offers a skewed view of reality, these exports inevitably contribute to shaping the U.S.’ image abroad.So what might a casual observer conclude about the country they see filtered through this prism? Scanning the latest crop of offerings from the network’s upfront sales presentations — with special emphasis on drama, which tends to travel better than other genres — paints a somewhat peculiar (but extremely attractive) demographic and cultural portrait that doesn’t always line up with census data. For starters, in America, everyone is beautiful — not just in their own way, but truly, in a cover of GQ or Maxim way. The vast majority of the population is under the age of 40, and most over 30 are either single parents or recently inherited children from a deceased relative. Despite what you might have read, obesity is not a serious problem. In fact, a cursory glance finds that the only people likely to be overweight are very funny men who still manage to have model-thin wives. The odds of being murdered in America are exceptionally high. Fortunately, good-looking detectives or forensic investigators are generally able to solve these crimes quickly, usually in slightly less than an hour. Most Americans live in glamorous cities such as Las Vegas, New York, Miami, Hawaii or a Southern California beach community. A few reside in breathtaking ski resort towns. However, it’s worth noting that residents in these areas, too, have a high probability of being killed. There is also considerable risk of coming down with an inexplicable disease that thwarts the efforts of local scientific authorities. Thankfully, crack teams of medical investigators are available to descend on such situations and diagnose the problem. Not only are these doctors compassionate and readily available (with no long waits or $20 co-payments), but most of them are quite good-looking. American housewives are beautiful as well, but many are sexually unfulfilled. As a result, it is not uncommon for them to indulge in extramarital affairs, sometimes with muscular servants or maintenance workers. Women are not relegated to homemaking, however, if they choose to pursue a challenging career. Indeed, women are fully capable of holding important and exciting jobs investigating medical mysteries, solving crimes or even running a major airport, as long as they can do so in short skirts and heels. Courtship rituals in the U.S. now frequently play out in Darwinian fashion on national television. Once brought together, well-toned young people experience whirlwind dating encounters that result in an “amazing journey,” especially if there is a sizable cash prize involved. Competition for jobs has become especially fierce. Almost without exception, positions are awarded only after 16 candidates, evenly divided by gender, are compelled to live together while undergoing a series of tests to see who will emerge victorious. On the plus side, there is a near-inexhaustible supply of millionaires and billionaires happy to sponsor such festivities as long as they are provided plenty of on-camera time. The average household with children contains at least five of them. Most of them are between the ages of 13 and 17, though there is often a younger child with the vocabulary of college graduate. At least one of these kids will grow up to become president of the United States in the next 50 years. Teenagers are completely preoccupied with sex (so are adults, for that matter, unless they work in law enforcement) and have little to interfere with its pursuit, spending scant time in classes or studying. Children are also remarkably resilient emotionally, usually rebounding from a parent’s death within hours, after the obligatory tantrums. American workplaces are well integrated. African-Americans represent the most prevalent minority group, making up roughly 15% of the population. By contrast, Latinos, Asians and all other minorities combined account for about 4%, and interestingly, there are no Asian men. Semi-employed actors who lived in surprisingly expensive apartments in New York can also afford spacious apartments if they relocate to Los Angeles, where the women do not wear bras. Sadly, people who were once funny in venues such as “Seinfeld,” “Roseanne” and “The Cosby Show” are prone to contracting a strange malady that diminishes their ability to be humorous in other environs. Perhaps this in part explains why Americans have lost the desire to laugh unless it is at the misfortune of others. Those inclined to further analyze or debate these observations will, in due time, have a chance to judge for themselves, choosing from “Medical Investigation” and “House,” “Hawaii” and “North Shore,” “Dr. Vegas” and “LAX,” “Quintuplets” and “Savages,” “The Benefactor” and “The Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best,” “The Next Great Champ” and “The Contender,” “The Mountain” and “Desperate Housewives,” “Jack & Bobby” and “Life as We Know It,” “Joey” and “Summerland,” and multiple versions of “CSI” and “Law & Order.” As always, first impressions can be deceiving, and the proof will ultimately be in the programming — although some series will likely be canceled before the new season actually begins. In this respect, TV executives can be as fickle and impatient as the characters depicted in their programs. Still, the underlying thread in these shows suggests that Americans are mostly warm and wonderful people. Sure, we struggle with fidelity and short attention spans, but that doubtless stems in part from the myriad TV options available to us — that is, when we’re not at the beach, in the casino, racing down the mountain, or trying to keep from landing on an autopsy table.
Want Entertainment News First? Sign up for Variety Alerts and Newsletters!
- Entertainment One, Los Angeles, California
- Petrol Advertising, Burbank, California
- The Los Angeles Film School, Los Angeles CA
- Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc., New York, New York
- MPCA, Los Angeles, California