Those tired of the unscripted genre should grab their remotes and tune into Spike Tuesday night for the preem of “The Joe Schmo Show,” a reality skein that may just be the most unique and fresh concept on TV today.
Show format essentially subverts the reality genre as a whole: one guy with a heart of gold is placed into
an environment where he honestly believes he is filming a new unscripted show. In actuality, the show is a hoax, our “Joe Schmo” is surrounded by actors, and the whole shebang is set up to elicit reactions from him in ridiculous situations.
Project itself is a house of cards, as one slip up from the actors or one suspicion on the part of our Joe can blow the whole operation and essentially collapse the production of the “The Joe Schmo Show” entirely. The stakes are, in other words, high for the shingle behind the show, Zoo Prods., and Spike, in a way not seen with other reality skeins that simply hope to capture lightning in a bottle and launch a ratings juggernaut into the TV space.
“The Joe Schmo Show” is, then, a study in human behavior and manipulation, which makes the program both hilarious and fascinating. What’s more, as this season’s hoax show is a bounty hunter competish, it capitalizes on the trends in reality TV and the stereotypes that emerge in a show’s casting process. (Actors on the this season of “Joe Schmo” fulfill the roles of “token black guy,” “the asshole,” etc.) While most shows have to go the scripted route to satirize the reality genre, “Joe Schmo” manages to do it while still residing in the nonfiction space.
Now, here’s the rub: the beauty of “Joe Schmo” is that our Joe often goes through the entire production not suspecting that it’s all a ruse. But, that, in a way, relies on “Joe Schmo’s” obscurity within the TV space. The first season of “Joe Schmo” debuted ten years ago, and the second cycle followed in 2004. Since then, it’s been radio silence from the series, mostly due to low ratings. Ironically, that played to the show’s favor, since the more that the program is out of the cable limelight, the less likely the selected Joe will know about it and suspect he’s on it.
Skeins that rely on hoax elements or deception often run into this problem. Take MTV’s “Punk’d,” for example. Early seasons of the show were remarkably successful in scaring the hell out of big name celebs. After awhile, however, stars began to catch on — Rob Dydrek, for one, could tell he was being punked. Celebs began to anticipate the hoax because “Punk’d” had become such a part of pop culture vernacular.
Similarly, those featured on “To Catch a Predator” can sometimes sense when they are walking into the show’s trap.
For a program like “The Joe Schmo Show,” its low ratings almost a decade back were, in a way, a blessing in disguise since it seeded the perfect pop culture environment for “Joe Schmo’s” latest iteration — one where not many people have heard of the series, so our Joe goes in virtually blind. This is a bittersweet reality for an entertaining, unique skein that I’d love to see more seasons of; the continuation of the format, unfortunately, benefits from the show’s weak ratings.
Since the program is fleeting (Spike has no plans to renew it for a fourth season yet), viewers will simply have to tune in this month to “The Joe Schmo Show” and revel in every ridiculous moment, since TV like this literally only comes around every decade.
Check out the trailer for season three of “The Joe Schmo Show” here: