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that cold hard stone you feel is the bottom
by joe procopio (@jproco)

Step back. I'm putting on my rant shoes, my angry hat, and my indignant underwear. And those baggy jeans I like. Because I now have a barometer with which I can instantly measure people.

Okay. Another one.

But seriously, which of you are planning on watching "Wifeswap," this bottom-feeding, Springer-aping, downfall-of-Western-civilization pile of vomit that ABC is planning on airing? Raise your hands. Then mark yourselves somehow. I mean, I'm not calling for your removal from society, I'm just saying maybe someone needs to be notified.

For those of you who haven't had your intelligence molested, the premise is to have attractive couples throw their keys into a bowl, trade partners, and then have hardcore sex in public places.

Of course not, but this is what they'd like you to believe, even if only for a few seconds, to get you to tune in to the premiere. It's really about one slightly above-average middle-class family trading mom with a slightly below-average middle-class family.

With attitude!

I have several problems with this.

First of all, the premise sucks. Are we led to believe that we'll be entertained by watching one shriekingly banal attention whore switch places with another in what is relatively the same family? If this show had any sack, they would take one family from Beverly Hills and another from Compton. Or how about one family from Des Moines and another from Kabul?

Next. The entendre doesn't work. Wifeswapping, for the most part, just doesn't happen. It's a myth that sprung out of the sexual revolution. It's the urban legend equivalent of the Penthouse Forum. And when it does happen, it's awkward and creepy. Like nude beaches.

It's also pretty repugnant for those of us without Jerky Boys records or Girls Gone Wild videos. Why not just go to the next level and call it "Bestiality!" or "Unabashed Heroin Use!"

Finally, the content is horrid. Now, I've told you before and I'll tell you again, you don't sell thirty-second slots of ad time at six-figures for an idea you think might work. Reality television is planned, strained, fluffed, and scripted before it's sold - and recent entries into the genre, coming to mind is the fantastically botched "Casino," should be evidence enough that they're not even trying to hide that fact anymore.

Which makes "Wifeswap" extra wrong. Now you're pushing, prodding, poking, and provoking kids. You're passing this off as acceptable, and the only reason Child Services hasn't thrown everyone in jail is that you've tipped them off to the fact that it's all fake.

You, ABC, son of Disney, feign driving a big fat wedge into two families because you find it funny. And when these kids turn into the kinds of kids that I want to punch, which happens to be the vast majority of pre-teens and teens these days, you'll all be pointing at Janet Jackson and levying fines on Bono because he said the "F" word when he won an award.

But there's a lot of blame to go around, so I'll start at the top.

The Network Executives

Specifically, anyone who got anywhere near the green light, and that includes the guy who cleans it.

Admittedly, it's still a tough ad market and reality television, despite numerous reports of its demise, still slurs on like some sort of drunk, horny zombie, but the pitch for Wifeswap should have been burned, the ashes locked in a lead box, then buried somewhere deep in the Amazon with all manner of pointy-stick traps and huge motion-detecting boulders. Raiders style.

The Contestants

I don't know enough about the production of this show to know if the search for "real people" involved head shots and agents, as most of them do. But I'm assuming this fell into the category of coaching up Joe Six Pack and Jane Healthy Choice to television actor standards. What we like to call the Baxter-Birney Method.

That means that they actually signed on for this. And there is an ounce of actual serious concern in that. Again, these are kids, and this is a family dynamic you're screwing with. This isn't outlast, outgross, outslut, or any of the other outs. I keep flashing back to the promo and the kid hissing to the confessional camera, with barely contained emotion, how much he hates the new mom.

1) I want to punch him.
2) Someone pushed him this far for monetary gain.

But if I was good at being serious, I'd have a much better haircut.

The Viewers

You can include me in that bunch. I thought Survivor was a harmless lark and more of an athletic and mental competition than a peep show. Turns out it was a slippery slope. Some of you went even further into the muck. Anyone remember Temptation Island?

That's where it should have ended. And that's where I draw the line. So if you, like me, finally caught on to this sign of the apocalypse and stayed away from Playing It Straight, The Swan, and that ilk, I'll just tell you that I'm very disappointed in you and I hope that you'll realize your mistake.

As for the rest of you, you lazy, Cheeto-sucking couch monkeys, you've got 1,000 channels, a remote control, and a pretty good chance of having an entire network devoted to your nichest interests - like video games, cartoons, or history.


And furthermore, because I know this is you:


Dammit. Let me take the angry hat off.

Even though this is the bottom (and I say that facetiously, because, like any hole, there's always more dirt you can dig up), it isn't the end.

But the end may be in sight, according to a headline in the June 28th USA Today - Who Wants to Watch a Rip-Off: TV Copycats Abound.

Fox is trying to beat ABC to the bottom with Trading Spouses - which also plays on the name of the recent interior-decor hit. Boxing, which itself has been reduced to a form of scripted reality television, gets two entries this fall from Fox and NBC. Both Richard Branson and Mark Cuban join Donald Trump in pretending to give away jobs and money. At the same time David E. Kelley and another Fox entry look to give a job to lawyers, which is just evil to begin with.

Speaking of death, two reality series this fall will result in a new singers for INXS and TLC.

(Sound of my brain imploding)

All this aping spells overkill, which spells irrelevance, which, in television, spells death. So I say rock on, purge the depths, find the bottom, kill this mutant monstrosity and bring back the sitcom.

Of course, give me six months, and I'll probably be back here, hat, shoes, and a clean pair of indignant drawers, looking to slap around a new crop of hackneyed, sloppy, unfunny television writers.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio


kill your television
and at least maim the suits
by joe procopio
topic: television
published: 10.1.02

survivor: racism island
go crackers!
by joe procopio
topic: television
published: 10.2.06


tracey kelley
7.2.04 @ 3:20a

Des Moines.


Just Say No to "Reality TV". Even reruns of "Match Game '79" provide more real entertainment value.

mike julianelle
7.2.04 @ 9:10a

What band or group would EVER want to be subjected to touring and recording music with someone that won the role on a reality show?

Drunk and horny zombie! HA!

lisa r
7.2.04 @ 10:24a

Match Game reruns are MUCH better than reality t.v. Must be due to Gene Rayburn's bizarre voices for the questions.

Just when you thought it could not possibly get any smarmier in TV show development land, Al Sharpton has joined the throngs of overly-hyped public characters hosting a reality series.

adam kraemer
7.2.04 @ 11:12a

"Uanabashed Heroin Use" Now there's a show I'd tune in for.

mike julianelle
7.2.04 @ 11:21a

America Undercover has tackled that.

robert melos
7.2.04 @ 12:01p

Crystal Meth users are more entertaining to watch.

Unfortunately, what is reality for some isn't reality for others. Queer Eye For The Straight Guy is the closest I get to a reality show, and that isn't very real (except the helpful hints they give for skin care and food preparation are really good).

I'm afraid we have to face the fact that pandering to the LCD of people is truly a way of life. I really would've liked the show described as actual wifeswapping, instead of a watered down version of a Disneyesque reality where mom is a fish out of water, dad will be a bumbling fool, and the kids will learn to love "replacement" mom more than real mom. All it needs is Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn, and you've got the movie version.

michelle von euw
7.2.04 @ 12:11p

We're going to be stuck with this crap for awhile, because reality TV shows are about a billion times cheaper to produce than comedies or dramas, and therefore represent a much smaller risk to the networks. Plus, with American Idol & Survivor still scoring high ratings, and new concepts like the Apprentice having done well, the potential upside is huge, so the networks continue to throw a bunch of idiotic ideas at the audience and wait for one to stick.

Some shows (like the Casino) sound like they could be intriguing, but turn train-wrecky in execution. This one just sounds bad from the start.

mike julianelle
7.2.04 @ 12:13p

Actually, Robert, really entertaing was the 40 year old guy who was using Ecstacy with his 19 year old son, going to raves, dressing like an IDIOT, visor and all, and then letting his 12 year olds try it. Chilling, hilarious stuff.

michelle von euw
7.2.04 @ 12:24p

Mike, was that on HBO? I think I watched that.

adam kraemer
7.2.04 @ 12:29p

I didn't watch it, but I had a friend call me while she was watching it and narrate everything that was happening.

Now that's reality.

juli mccarthy
7.2.04 @ 12:32p

I still do not get the attraction to reality TV in any of its guises. Well, no, that's not quite true - I do like Queer Eye, but I don't put it in the same category. It is more like a campy game show than anything else.

mike julianelle
7.2.04 @ 2:21p

It was on HBO. It was amazing. AMAZING. That guy should be drawn and quartered.

sloan bayles
7.2.04 @ 2:30p

What was the point of televising such an insipid show? Just to show the complete lack of moral character and parenting skills this asshole has?

juli mccarthy
7.2.04 @ 2:39p

What, that's not reason enough to tune in?

mike julianelle
7.2.04 @ 2:39p

I don't remember the point, which is a problem with that kind of programming. But I must say it was a strong deterrent. The guy was having a tough time after his divorce, but acting like a loose-cannon 17-year-old, proclaiming the joys of ecstasy, partying alongside his oldest son (who was himself appalled when whis dad let little sis try some E), isn't the right kind of therapy.

dan gonzalez
7.2.04 @ 4:53p

There is one reality show worth doing, and it's not a running-mate version of Apprentice with Kerry as the host.

It's Walker For President. You could have pitched it to Comedy Central. Edit Walker into debates, crash the conventions, harass voters, obstruct political marches and stuff. I bet people would eat that up.

anya werner
7.2.04 @ 11:36p

Hmm, Joe, you took the words right out of my thoughts.

Of course, I keep waiting for them to come out with "Crack Whores at the Cape" where they drop downtown crack whores at exclusive society parties and watch as hilarity ensues...

lucy lediaev
7.3.04 @ 12:49p

I refer to this genre (if we can even call it that) as "unreality" shows. The level of contrivance in each new pitch is remarkable. I agree that the attraction to network execs must be that they are cheap, cheap, cheap to produce and tend to pull in audiences--at least for awhile.

I'm always surprised to hear the water cooler chatter after the latest episode of one of these shows. Based on the intensity and length of these conversations, you would think that the participants believe what they have seen.

My guess is that they must lead very boring lives.

tracey kelley
7.4.04 @ 10:48p

Of course, I keep waiting for them to come out with "Crack Whores at the Cape" where they drop downtown crack whores at exclusive society parties and watch as hilarity ensues...

Paris Hilton was at another party and didn't invite me?

heather millen
7.5.04 @ 4:09p

Great idea on the TLC series... Nothing shows love and respect for your lost bandmember than staging a reality show to replace her.

anya werner
7.6.04 @ 12:32a

Tracey, you know Paris can't stand it when you steal her thunder.

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