Couch Potato: Reality TV reels in the ratings

Say what you will about reality television. It’s appalling, it’s insipid and it’s derivative … not to mention extremely popular. Everyone knows that. But at least it’s usually "interesting" – for lack of a better word. Reality-oriented programs have taken a step forward this season, believe it or not.

Since the inception of television, game shows have been a real go-to program format that keeps on giving. Few, however, can boast being (or at least seeming) like a legitimate social experiment. Viewers have the pick of the litter right now.

Without Prejudice? is one of these. America had its first glance at this U.K. adaptation July 17 on the Game Show Network, and even though it hasn’t received much press, the idea seems fascinating all the same.

Essentially, a group of five contestants sit around a conference table, view photos of random people and assess them based only on their outward appearance. The idea is for the players to prevent the rest of America from discovering their dirty little racist, bigoted and xenophobic secrets. The winner goes home with $25,000 and the satisfaction of being morally and wholly better than the four other narrow-minded jerks.

If the shoe fits…

Another social experiment from the Women’s Entertainment network is on the hunt for some red, white and blue royalty as the premise for American Princess. Appropriate for the WE network, 20 lucky ladies get the chance to compete for a stateside crown. Yeah, it’s a lot like VH1’s Charm School, although it can’t boast Mo’Nique. Still the whole thing seems more legit somehow.

Ever since Walt Disney got his start, he has been preparing young American females for just this opportunity, so it will be interesting to see if television, of all things, can inject some much-needed class into a generation of brassy Cinderella wannabes.

Lord of the free press

Remember reading Lord of the Flies back in the day? One group of youngsters certainly will because they are living the dream – or nightmare depending on whom you talk to. They would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling adults.

CBS’s Kid Nation will debut next month, following 40 children in the New Mexican desert who have been charged with building and sustaining a society. Some cast members have allegedly sustained boo-boos while performing inappropriate labor.

Even though all of the filming has finished, the red tape is beginning to stick. The New Mexico Department of Labor, attorney general and The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists began to investigate the program ever since some of the children apparently swallowed bleach and one girl was involved in a cooking accident. Just think about this, though: It is reality TV.

Perhaps all the attention will inflate viewership. It’s crazy enough that it just might work.

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