Issue: 8.1
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Hi Gang, and greetings from Hollywood!

Shalom, Gang!

Charles Darwin once observed that, “That, which cannot evolve, cannot survive”. And, in a business where stars give out more in tips than most of us pay in taxes, it’s no surprise that the fat cats of Hollywood are fighting an uphill battle to keep the dream machine oiled. Back in the early nineteen seventies, the average cost of a sitcom episode was around $250,000, give or take. Now it costs upwards of five million dollars to produce a half-hour sitcom, and even then, the number of episodes per season has dwindled from twenty-two down to as low as sixteen. And who pays for these spiraling expenditures? The sponsors, who pay anywhere from twenty-five thousand dollars to as much as five million for a thirty-second spot.

Then, an English immigrant names Robin Leach brought us “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, a show who’s budget was little more than the cost of a camera, a tape, and someone to operate it. Stars fell over one another to invite Leach and his camcorders into their homes to show off their wealth and prestige, and viewers indulged their quasi-voyeuristic tendencies to take a peek into the star’s lives to see what they were doing with all the box-office gelt. Not since the inception of the medium had the cost to profit ratio been so extreme. The viewers liked it, the networks loved it and the sponsors were absolutely farklempt that they could reach a huge audience for a pittance of that they’d been paying.

Then came the Carpetbaggers of Television. These shysters of show biz who saw the money to be made, and decided it could be done even more cheaply and more excitingly, with outrageous formats such as taking a half dozen people, dropping them together in a house and through the wonder of hidden cameras, watching the egos reign supreme and the mayhem ensue. It was Gilligan and the castaways shoved into the Roman Coliseum, armed to the teeth, and we, the citizens of Rome watched them duel to the death. And lo, the “Reality Show” was born. The enormous profits were too tempting to resist, and within a few years the genre had become so big that Fox Television branched out with a whole network devoted to these suburban gladiatorial romps. Even such hitherto respectable networks like “A&E” and “Bravo” got into the act, by upping the ante and following Leach’s example, brought us into the homes of the Rich and Famous. Now we got to see that even the most dysfunctional of families, from “The Osbourns” to The Gottis, (proving that even all the Dapper Don’s millions couldn’t buy his descendants class,) got into the act.

Not until three years ago, that is. Who would have imagined that of all people, Gene Simmons, the fire breathing, blood belching lead singer of “Kiss” would be the one to bring sanity and class to Reality Television? Simmons and his life partner, Playboy model Shannon Tweed, and their offspring, Nick and Sophie have become the ‘Brady Bunch’ of the twenty-first century. This unlikely couple broke all the rules. A shickseh and a mensch have two pishers out of wedlock and the result is a family unit that most people outside the worlds of wealth and show business would give their eyeteeth to have. The kids are indulged, yet not spoiled. The parents walk the fine line between parents and buddies to their kids like the most adept tightrope performer. This family is proof that people can indeed have it all; money, (Simmons’ annual income is estimated to be well in excess of twenty million per annum,) fame, and a close-knit family unit. But then, Simmons is mishpokhe and who better to make this unlikely format work than one of us?

Hopefully, others will take the Simmons Family lead, and aspire to tasteful, inspiring reality television. Some have tried. The ill-fated “I Married a Princess” starring Casper Van Dein and Catherine Oxenberg proved to be a little too saccharine and cerebral for most viewers, and “The Two Coreys” starring Corey Feldman and Cory Haim vacillates between boredom and bedlam to the point that it sometimes becomes annoying. So far the only other offering that comes close is Tori Spelling’s “Inn Love”. God knows, Spelling has the chutzpah to make it work, with her part Lucille Ball, part Donna Reed image spearheading the show.

In any case, like them or not, Reality shows are the wave of the future. Like the early sitcoms of yore, they are still in their infancy and have a long way to go. Will they ever replace the standard sitcom? Not likely. Even with stars doing reality TV, there will always be an audience for the contrived and predictable. But take heart, my dears, the economics of reality TV will translate into lower advertising costs for the sponsors, and in turn will mean the prices on the shelves at the Piggly-Wiggly will stay somewhat low. And that always gets good ratings, doesn’t it? Especially with Thanksgiving just a couple weeks away!

Till next month, Gang! And try not to be too big chazzers!

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