Let’s give CBS credit for trying, but if networks are going to begin taking responsibility for everything reality-TV contestants do and say, we’re going to spend all our time wading through a sea of disclaimers and apologies.
On Sunday’s edition of “Big Brother,” CBS added a disclaimer in response to some of the racist and homophobic utterings of those sequestered in the house. But the network’s discomfort with the situation brings to mind the prefect of police in “Casablanca,” who was shocked, shocked to discover gambling is going on. Or put another way, there’s that old saying about laying down with dogs and waking up with fleas.
Networks look for big, brash personalities to power their reality competition shows. And after roughly a dozen years and thousands of participants within the genre, the would-be stars know being a shrinking violet or wallflower is seldom the way to wind up with your own TV show, or even on “Celebrity Rehab.”
By now, people have learned the language and currency of reality TV, and they show up with an agenda in mind — as eager to be perceived as a certain type of “character” as the networks are to create them.
Let’s not forget the history of the genre — or rules that are pretty clear to everyone who signs up. “Survivor’s” myriad incarnations, after all, including a “Heroes Vs. Villains” edition. If you want to extend those 15 minutes of fame, notoriety can be as quick and easy a path as virtue.
Casting people can do all they want to try weeding out the extremes and finding contestants who appear natural on camera, but all too often these supposedly ordinary folk show up with preconceived notions about what sort of personality they want to convey, talking about “playing the game” and “I’m not here to make friends” and all the other lines that have become clichés, along with “This has been an amazing journey.”
In that context, it’s no surprise some would cross lines of civility. The only way to avoid having jerks — or at least people who say and do jerky and offensive things — in the “Big Brother” house is to stop doing “Big Brother.” And since the show not only fills several hours a week during the summer but also has media folk talking about it in the context of this controversy, don’t anticipate that happening.
So while the fact CBS felt compelled to distance itself from the comments exhibits a degree of corporate responsibility in the bigger picture, for the most part it’s window dressing and makeup.
Because if anyone thinks this is the last time somebody’s going to say something outlandish as reality shows throw extroverts and fame-seekers together — all with the intent of making “sparks fly” — as they seldom say on a show like “Big Brother” in the literal sense, “Get real.”