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Jerry Lewis doesn’t like reality television; that’s pretty much what we can take away from the interview the 85-year-old actor gave to the press at the Television Critics Association on Friday. Lewis’ opinion that television programming is going downhill isn’t new, but his wrath is now particularly focused on the evils of reality programming. Lewis didn’t pull any punches:
This business is scrounging around for what to do. The medium is busy knocking its brand out to display the fat lady at 375 pounds (who) in two months is gonna be 240. Who gives a shit?
The Biggest Loser wasn’t Lewis’ only target; he also ranted about huge reality television hit American Idol and complained that the industry is now only interested in programming that transfers well to new media -- particularly smartphones. He went on to complain that television has lost its “soul” and is no longer what it was in his glory days. Apparently, semantics are part of the problem; Lewis won’t even allow television to be called TV.
Certainly Jerry Lewis isn’t the first of the old guard to complain that Hollywood is no longer putting out anything of quality. It’s an attitude shared by many of the remaining stars of television’s early days, and it carries over into movies and music as well. Is it nostalgia for an aging star’s lost youth, or is television really not what it used to be?
Certainly there is plenty of programming on today I would rather scratch my eyes out than watch, but at the same time cable networks are creating some of the most original, well-scripted series I have ever seen. The freedom from censorship that cable channels provide allows them to do things that weren’t possible or permitted in Lewis’ heyday.
Whether you agree with Lewis’ opinion of reality TV or not, the fact is these shows are here to stay. Fortunately for those of us who prefer to watch something with a little more depth than a bunch of strangers willing to do anything on camera for their 15 minutes, it can be found. Perhaps Mr. Lewis is watching the wrong channels -- he is aware we have a choice, right?
Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis will premiere on Encore in the Fall.