Something that has provided constant amusement for me ever since we opened our Celebrity Stink section are the amount of story comments that are made consisting of telling our writers to shut up, grow up, or find a real subject to write about and not waste time with this tripe. The irony that the reader not only took the time to read what has been written, but also to comment on it seems to be lost.
While I don’t have a great deal of respect for what Mr. H and Dirk Daring write about over in that section, the truth is sensationalism sells. Whether it’s celebrities or freakshow common people, there has been a target audience for that sort of reporting for a long time. Head over to Google News on any given day and you’ll see the news stories that inspire H and Daring’s writings. This isn’t just an internet fad either. For some reason watching Michael Jackson appear in court in pajamas was worth Special Reports interrupting normal broadcasting. Even today more people could tell you about Joey Buttafuoco or Lorena Bobbitt than could tell you about African apartheid, even though all of those events are almost fifteen years behind us.
Television has done nothing to deter viewers from this interest, in fact it’s probably done more to feed the sensational machine than all of the shopping mart tabloid rags combined. Just look at the recent issue with Star Jones and “The View.” Did she leave? Was she fired? Did Babwa Wawa handle everything poorly? Does it really matter? What happens to Star Jones affects very few lives out there, yet it’s been a major topic of discussion on forums and around water coolers everywhere.
With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of some of television’s more notable sensationalistic tools. This is by no means an all-encompassing list, which could fill the pages of a full-length book. These are just some of the rags that stick out most prominently in my mind. If you chastise us for our sensationalistic turn you may want to steer clear of these shows, although more than likely you’ve been exposed to them and possibly even found enjoyment through them at least once in your life:
The Jerry Springer Show (1991 – present) – We might as well start off with the king of sensationalism. Although many came before him, who made a career out of lowbrow issues so large that they actually made a movie about it (1998’s Ringmaster). Like many who came before him, Springer started off as a serious, legitimate talk show host (see “Donahue” for a better definition of a fall from grace). Heck, the man was mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio for a time and even ran for Governor of the state. Instead of just gleaming the cube of tastelessness however, Springer dove in and embraced it. Although UHF was parodying other talk show hosts with it’s idea of “Lesbian Nazi Hookers Abducted by UFOs and Forced Into Weight Loss Programs,” Springer could actually take that and make several episodes of it.Now five times a week you can watch his show and see stuff guaranteed to make you feel better about your life… and if it doesn’t make you feel better, perhaps you qualify to be a guest on his show yourself.
Jenny Jones (1991-2003) – Jenny Jones started her show in the same wave of crap that brought Jerry Springer to TV as well. Thankfully, this is the one show on this list that isn’t still around. Killing off guests has a tendency to do that to a show I guess. In ’95 Jones brought on a guest on a “Secret Crush” themed show. The boy’s secret crush turned out to be his neighbor down the street, and not the girl next door. The boy, humiliated to learn that he was the subject of a homosexual crush, ended up killing the other boy. The show was found negligent four years later for not properly screening its guests, although that’s not what killed the show. It took another four years for the ratings to slip to the point that Jones was removed from the airwaves. It just goes to show, creating circumstances for murder isn’t enough to get a show cancelled, as long as things remain interesting it could even bolster the show’s ratings.
The Oprah Winfrey Show (1986-present) / Dr. Phil (2002-present) – Oprah Winfrey has been though a lot. Like Jerry Springer she started out legitimately as one of the main competitors to Phil Donahue’s long running talk show. As his show turned down the dark path of sensationalism, so did she. Some will tell you she started it, others will say he did, others point the finger at more likely suspects like Geraldo Rivera and Morton Downey Jr. Whatever the cause, Oprah’s show went sensational as well. The big difference between her show and the others is that she somehow found her way back to more helpful, less sensational topics, bringing an army of viewers and a book club along with her.
Along the way Oprah brought Dr. Phil to mainstream attention. Sadly, his show has now dropped into the world of sensationalism as well. While the good doctor originally started helping families in need and fat people lose weight, more recently he goes after the easy subject – people who have massive problems that can’t be fixed on an hour long show and who resist the idea of help in the first place. As a result, Phil gets to show lots of people what the right thing to do is, and attempt to shock people into repair mode, but very few people actually get help. Whether Phil can find his way back to a decent level in the future is unknown, but if Oprah continues to guide him one can hope he will.
Entertainment Tonight (1981 – present) - When I was growing up, “Entertainment Tonight” was the surefire way to see behind the scenes on a TV show or movie. They’d show you what was popular, how some things were done behind the scenes, and what was up and coming in the future. The advent of the internet and the creation of sites like Cinema Blend have rendered shows like “ET” useless. If we can tell you at 1pm who has been cast in the latest James Cameron movie, why wait until 7pm?
As a result, “Entertainment Tonight” has moved farther and farther away from the legitimate entertainment news and focused primarily on gossip and rag news. Why? Because we can tell you at 1pm who some “Desperate Housewife” has been sleeping with, but if they tell you at 7pm that’s confirmation! The people who find interest in those types of stories don’t care when they get their news or how often they hear it, leaving “ET” with a continued audience.
The Today Show (1952 – present) – Don’t believe me? Obviously you’ve never stuck around for the last hour of the show. The morning news show which has been around for over half a century now made the mistake of extending by an hour in 2000. The problem is there really isn’t more information to communicate during that last hour than there was prior to 2000. The solution? More of those human interest stories that always fluffed the program out to two hours, and since you want to keep the more interesting stories for the earlier hours when more people are watching, the last hour uses the word “interest” quite casually. A woman has a baby with three heads? Well, that’s got to be interesting to someone…
”Chappelle’s Show: The Lost Episodes” (Comedy Central) 9:00pm
(New!) – It’s “Chappelle’s Show” minus Dave Chappelle. Remember when Comedy Central paid Dave Chappelle fifty million dollars for two more seasons of his hit comedy show and then he took off to South Africa? This is the first of three new episodes pieced together from what he shot before he took off. Many people, including Dave himself, will voice their frustrations at Comedy Central airing these unfinished episodes. I say – they paid him fifty million dollars. If they want to cut these pieces up and air them in thirty-second increments between episodes of “South Park” they’re entitled to it.
”Entourage” (HBO) 10:00 pm
Crash and Burn- (New!) – Shooting a sequel to Aquaman conflicts with Vince’s ability to work with Crash’s Paul Haggis. Whatever will the star do? Seriously, could this show get any better?
”Reno 911!” (Comedy Central) 10:30 pm
(New!) – The sitcom returns for its fourth season with everything from Carrot Top to jazz hands. Carrot Top and jazz hands… why am I recommending this again? True fans of the show know.
”I Love the ‘70s: Volume 2”(VH1) 8:00 pm
1970, 1971- (New!) – A second look at the decade that brought you Farrah hair and Shaft as only VH1 can put together. To be honest, there are tons of better ways to spend your time, but damn if I don’t get sucked into these shows every single time. If you don’t like suggestions I make on other nights, remember the series airs every night this week with an almost guaranteed marathon next weekend.
”King of Queens”(CBS) 8:00 pm
Apartment Complex- (repeat) – Doug and his friends rent an apartment allowing them the perfect home away from home, while Carrie eats food for Kirstie Alley. Even if Kevin James isn’t your thing, you have to love a show that takes jabs at Alley.
”How I Met Your Mother” (CBS) 8:30pm
Best Prom Ever – (repeat) – Marshall, Lilly, and the gang head for a prom to hear band the couple want to book for their wedding. How do thirty year olds sneak into a high school prom? Any way they can. This is another great episode for Barney. If you need more HIMYM hilarity, another episode airs at 9:30pm. Just make sure to change to another channel during “Two and a Half Men”
”The World Series of Pop Culture” (VH1) 10:00pm
(New!) – Because I won’t have remembered to change the channel after “I Love the 70s: Volume 2” I predict I’ll get suckered into watching this as well. Even more embarrassing is the fact that I’ll probably know more than at least half of the people who appear on this pop culture trivia game show. I really should get out more often.
”Major League Baseball: All-Star Game” (Fox) 8:00 am
(Special!) I’m not a sports enthusiast and the few times I do tune into a game it isn’t baseball. However this is probably the most interesting thing on television this night (unless you’re watching “I Love the ‘70s: Volume 2”) so it’s worth a mention.
”Big Brother 7: All-Stars” (CBS) 8:00pm
(New!) I’m sure there’s a reason people watch “Big Brother”, I’m just not one of them. Maybe if they executed whoever gets voted out, like that episode of “Dr. Who” I’d enjoy it more. If baseball and the ‘70s aren’t your thing, there’s this.
”Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King” (TNT) 9:00 pm
Battleground - (New!) – With “Lost” on hiatus, Wednesday nights really are pretty boring. TNT is trying to help alleviate that with this miniseries based on the works of Stephen King. This week William Hurt plays a hitman who faces off against a package from a company whose executive he killed. King can be hit or miss, so expect some good and some bad among the eight nights of the miniseries.
”True Caribbean Pirates” (History) 9:00 pm
Like Captain Jack Sparrow? Explore history’s real pirates in this documentary on the History Channel. The History Channel sounds like something far too educational at first, but it’s documentaries are like crack – they draw you in and keep you watching… much like VH1’s “I Love the… oh, you’ve heard that already. Anyway – pirates! Worth a look.
”My Name is Earl” (NBC) 8:00pm
Cost Dad the Election- (repeat) – Earl continues to be a mainstay around my house. This week’s is particularly brilliant with Beau Bridges playing Earl’s dad who, as you may have guessed from the title, lost an election thanks to Earl. If you have Hi-Def television make sure to watch the sides of the screen, as one of the series’ in-jokes appears outside of the borders of normal 4:3 televisions in this episode.
”The Office” (NBC) 9:00pm
The Secret- (rerun) – Although the series pilot repeats at 8:30pm, this is the episode worth watching. Jim attempts to hide his interest in Pam by hanging out with Michael and heading for Hooters. Michael in Hooters can’t be good for anyone but the audience.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (AMC) 8:00pm
Few people have seen the classic sci-fi movie that inspired the phrase “Klatuu Barada Nikto.” Make sure you’re one of the ones that have. The film recently made AFI’s top 100 inspirational movies list and it’s amazing how it’s still very topical for our political system 55 years after it came out.
”Stargate Atlantis” (Sci-Fi) 10:00pm
I’m not into the “Stargate” shows, but the third season of “Atlantis” starts. If you’re home on a Friday night and just finished watching The Day the Earth Stood Still it seems like the perfect follow up. Otherwise you might have to leave the house and go see Little Man. What could “Stargate: Atlantis” do that’s worse than that?
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (USA) 8:00pm
If you have this on DVD it would be the better way to watch it since you wouldn’t have to put up with commercials. Even with commercials it’s better than the weekend’s new theatrical movie offerings though.