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Reality programming keeps disappointing

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POSTED: January 1, 2014 10:00 p.m.

When future social anthropologists examine the second decade of the 21st century, they probably are less likely to take note of Phil Robertson’s critical remarks about gays than the fact so many paid attention to them.
Robertson is the patriarch of the Louisiana clan that makes duck hunting equipment, and whose lives have been chronicled in the “Duck Dynasty” television program. It is the most popular reality show ever.
A&E suspended Robertson for his disparaging comments about homosexuality in GQ magazine. While his views obviously were offensive to some, it’s also true that they are shared by many millions of Christians and people of other faiths as well.
But while the debate has been fierce about whether Robertson’s remarks are accurate and whether he should be permitted to express them, there’s also the matter of how a long-bearded duck-call manufacturer came to be a celebrity of such significant notoriety that his opinions mattered to so many.
Credit the rise of cable television, which has given us wonderful new viewing opportunities but more often causes us to feel like we’ve won the lottery when, clicking desperately through the channels, we stumble onto something we actually want to watch.
With so many hours to fill on so many channels, the lords of television discovered that reality television is both appealing to a sufficient number of viewers and inexpensive enough to allow for a profit. Welcome, “Real Housewives,” et al.
It’s been more than 50 years since Newton Minnow, then chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, decried television offerings as “a vast wasteland.” Little did he know the industry hadn’t even begun to explore the farthest reaches.
Some remarkable dramas have made their way onto cable, most often by way of subscription channels. Such first-class programming, though, is far outweighed by the less praiseworthy.
Perhaps a few decades in the future we’ll view reality TV the same way we look back on leisure suits, wondering with some embarrassment what we saw in them. Just as likely, though, it will be replaced by something at least as unimpressive.
Pass the remote, please.

 

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