By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
In reality, disaster's as easy as ABC. Actually, anyone who is tired of reality shows should be grateful to the ratings-starved network, which has single-handedly put the chill on a once-hot genre.
By flooding the market with five shows in four weeks — all idiotic, all done on the cheap, and all looking like knockoffs of ideas that weren't all that great in the first place — ABC has proved that the thirst for reality is, indeed, quenchable.
Though failure is not uncommon on TV, seldom has a slate of shows been more inept or less desired. The tone was set by the departed I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, which was so tawdry that it actually generated sympathy for Melissa Rivers, a previously unimaginable feat. On the air now are the ill-timed Profiles From the Front Line, the ethnically offensive The Family, and the current genre nadir, Are You Hot?, in which celebrity nobodies make nasty cracks about no-body nobodies.
In its defense, Hot does have one possibly beneficial use. Watch the show with your children, and after every humiliating comment, threaten to disown them if they're ever similarly cruel.
While Hot is clearly the most offensive of the five, for sheer stupidity the real winner may be All American Girl (tonight, 10 ET/PT). Premiering last week to a complete lack of public interest, American Girl blends the silliest aspects of reality shows and beauty pageants into one uniquely inane package. From what I can tell, when the show is finished, ABC will have found the ideal All American Head Cheerleader/Dance Squad Captain, a task made easier because no one else is looking.
Though we have no idea what level of vapidity Girl still has in store, ABC will be hard-pressed to top the premiere's athletic contest, which consisted of girls in bikinis bouncing (bouncing being the operative word) their way through a tire obstacle course. The purpose escaped me, unless the judges were trying to tell the natural breasts from the artificially enlarged.
As for the judges, you might ask why ABC chose former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, who seems to be ill-equipped to determine what qualifies as "All American" or talented. But the better question is why anyone agrees to judge these shows at all. If your career is so far in the tank that Girl is a step up, it's time to consider another profession.
My guess is that the judges all think reality will make them the next Simon Cowell, who went from no one to star on American Idol. Instead, they risk becoming the next Lorenzo Lamas, the greased-back, leather-jacketed Hot judge who is trying to beat Saturday Night Live to the generational punch by providing his own self-parody. Someday, when he's done using that laser pointer to zero in on people's physical flaws, he can use it to pinpoint the exact spot where his career ended.
To be fair to ABC, the reality records at the other networks are hardly unblemished. NBC has one success to its credit, or discredit, Fear Factor, a show so vile that even other reality producers look down on it. Fox has the flop Married by America, which asks you to contemplate which of the planned marriages would be more disastrous: the one where the man cringes every time his fiancée approaches, or the one where the man treats his fiancée as if he just bought her at Prostitutes 'R Us.
Still, when it comes to abject failure, no network has yet approached the flop-sweat depths of the ABC Five. A few more shows like these, and the next reality series you see on ABC could be All American Broadcaster. The contestants sing, dance and bounce through tires, all so viewers can choose a new crew of network executives.
How much worse could they do?