5 Ways Television Went Crazy Since I Quit Watching in 2003
Sometime in early 2003, I gave up television. It wasn't some conscious decision to try to become a more productive person or anything of the sort. I just found that the remote had become just an extra unused object on my computer desk that got in the way of my mouse, like job applications and intervention letters.
But eventually, you find that without it you miss out on a lot of social interactions, especially at work. Over seven years, I had a lot of moments that went like this:
"Did you see Family Guy last night?"
"No, I don't have TV. Do you play World of Warcraft?"
"No, I have sex."
So I decided to buy cable again, and let me tell you that after seven years without seeing a single episode of anything except by accident, I found myself feeling like a time traveler in a world where everything had gone just a bit insane.
It turns out that in the last seven years...
We Turned Child Molestation Into a Spectator Sport
If you were to get into your DeLorean, drive back to 2003 and tell me that within a couple of years there would be a version of Punk'd where instead of playing pranks on celebrities with a hidden camera, they would trick child molesters into trying to molest a child, I would have laughed in your face and then stolen your car. You would have never caught me, either, because I would have gone one hundred years into the past and shot my own grandfather just to see what would happen.
Now it's not like I was living with the Amish and raising barns when To Catch a Predator was airing (2004-2007). I knew vaguely what it was and there were internet memes about it.
Is it too late to start the "Child Molestation Batman" meme?
But when I finally sat down to watch an episode and saw a completely naked child predator cover his pixelated erection while Chris Hansen said, "Surprise! You've been caught on the NBC MolestoCam!" I realized we had discovered something no dystopian novel about the future ever thought was possible.
I'm not judging -- I proceeded to watch every single episode in one night. My favorite part? In almost every case, the decoy (who'd contact the pervs in chat rooms) requested that the predator bring over something specific, I guess to prove that he was there to carry through with the encounter they discussed and the guy couldn't say, "No, I was just coming over to warn her about the dangers of chatting with older men online." But the requests kept getting more and more specific, from something simple like a package of M&M's, to an apple fucking pie. Sure enough, the guy showed up with one.
It got to the point that I was positive the staff was taking bets see who could get him to bring over the most ridiculous thing. "Can you bring over an old car muffler filled with centipedes? Or maybe a photo album with pictures of you molesting other children? That would turn me on sooooo much."
"Also, could you pick up some dry-cleaning for me? It's under the name 'Hansen'."
They haven't made any new episodes since 2007 but there have been hints about it coming back. If so, I'll goddamned be there this time. Hopefully they'll up the stakes, maybe having multiple predators all show up at the same house at the same time, or have a dude attempt to molest a child during half time of the Super Bowl.
But even if they do, I won't find that as disturbing as...
Flavor Flav's Penis Has Apparently Launched a Media Empire
Competitive dating shows were already a thing when I was cut off from TV seven years ago -- The Bachelor has been grinding along since 2002. And like most Americans, I watched that show with one thought in my head: "Damn, these women are going after this guy like he's as handsome as Flavor Flav."
So maybe I shouldn't be surprised that in 2006 VH1 in fact did allow women to compete for Flav's heart in a show called So You Want to Fuck Flavor Flav? Gonna Have to Work for it, Bitches! which the network at the last minute changed to Flavor of Love.
We don't want to know what flavor this is.
I get it, it's a wacky reality show. I can roll with that.
But then I find out that not only did that show run for multiple seasons, but spawned a spin-off, Flavor of Love: Charm School and that one of the contestants from Flavor of Love got her own show, I Love New York (New York being the name of the woman). And then that one has run for multiple seasons.
Dammit all to hell.
And that Flavor Flav would have another show about how he was dating Brigitte Nielsen (Strange Love) even though I could have sworn she died like ten years ago. And then from that they spun off Rock of Love, starring Poison's Bret Michaels as Flavor Flav's Relief Dong. And from that they spun off Rock of Love Bus and Daisy of Love (again, starring one of the contestants) and Rock of Love: Charm School and about half a dozen others involving various combinations of those words.
What I'm trying to say is that after seven years I returned to TV to find that Flavor Flav's penis had spawned more television franchises than Law and Order. There are buildings full of people employed to run the many, many shows that a grew from America's insatiable appetite for women fighting to ride Flavor Flav.
Flavor Flav. Formerly of the rap group Public Enemy, the guys who worshipped Louis Farrakhan and who once made a video in which they assassinated the governor of Arizona by blowing up his car.
This is prophesized in the Bible. I'm sure of it.
What confuses me about these shows isn't that the women have to compete in wacky contests that somehow prove they are worthy mates ("All right, ladies, this is a game we call, 'Vagina Pole Vault.'") No, what I find fascinating is that these are continuing shows, and the contestants know it. In other words, at the end of each season of Rock of Love -- when Bret Michaels declares which woman has won the final round of Titty Billiards, and thus, his undying devotion -- it was understood that the show was coming back next year. With the same man. Which would require him to choose a new woman.
So basically in between seasons some VH1 executive would sit down with the winning girl and say, "You and Bret are going to break up this Summer. Or else you're going to be found dead floating in his fucking pool. You understand what I'm saying?"
No jury will convict this man.
Forgive me if this is old hat to you. Because I was also surprised to find that...
We Are Obsessed With Wealthy British People Cursing at Middle Class Americans
I dropped my cable about six months after American Idol really started to become a big deal, but already everybody knew the name Simon Cowell. Still, you wouldn't think a British man who invited Americans on stage to sing, and then insulted them until they cried and ran away, would completely alter the entertainment landscape.
But I returned to television most of a decade later to find that we had gone crazy for sarcastic Brits shouting at common people to clean up their act. There are a dozen of these shows. The first time I saw Gordon Ramsay wheel around on some fresh-out-of-college prep chef and call her a "stupid fat fucking cunt" for burning a scallop, I knew TV had gone to a weird place.
Burn one more garnish, and I'll hate fuck everyone you've ever met.
TV executives apparently nodded and said, "Yes, we need more of that." So they gave Ramsay six fucking shows. Meanwhile, every competitive reality show needed a snide British judge -- So You Think You Can Dance has one, America's Got Talent has two. Project Runway switched things up with the German Heidi Klum.
But even stranger to me are the weird Kitchen Nightmares ripoffs. That's such a bizarrely specific formula to catch on (British person shows up at your place of business and curses at you until you get your books in order). On Bravo you'll find Tabatha's Salon Takeover, which is exactly Kitchen Nightmares, except it takes place in a salon instead of a kitchen.
Backtalk me one more time, and I set your fucking house on fire.
Tabatha is technically from Australia, but it's just Bravo so you take what you can get. On Lifetime they have The Fairy Jobmother, where the cursing British host yells at unemployed Americans until they get off their asses and find work.
If you had obeyed earlier, there would be six people in this picture.
Seriously, what the fuck? Why are they all British (or pseudobritish)? It's not because we hate foreigners and like to paint them all as dicks -- the cursing Brits are the ones we're rooting for. It's like the United States entered into some bizarre S&M relationship with England. All because we saw one snide British man and said, "Yes, we want more of that, all of the time."
GOD YES! We're 2/3rds there.
It'd be like jumping ahead in time to seven years from now and finding that half of the TV shows feature a guy walking with a limp and a cane, because it turned out that's all we liked about House.
We Will Watch Everyday Dudes Do Random Jobs
I walked in the door one day and asked my girlfriend what she was watching.
"Some show about cakes."
"I was just..." She paused as if searching for an honest answer. "I don't know." Another long pause. "I honestly... don't know."
Despite the fact that neither of us smoke pot, two hours later we were still watching a show about cakes. A completely different one than what we started with. Because it turn out there are shows and shows and shows about making cakes. Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss, Amazing Wedding Cakes, Ultimate Cake Off, Cupcake Wars -- that was what I found in one night of channel surfing. Hour after hour after hour of people mixing butter and flour and carefully squirting icing.
Fuck every last bit of that shit to the left. Find out what that white thing is.
And they're not even cooking shows -- you actually learn to cook by watching cooking shows. No, it's all about the everyday process and drama of running a cake business. I can easily imagine one show like this doing well -- there's a niche for everything. But there's like half a dozen of them. Was there one cake show that just took off in the ratings, and suddenly everyone else jumped on board? If so, I can't figure out what it was. It's more like there was a Big Bang-like explosion of cake-related cable TV programming. There existed an entire television universe that was completely devoid of cake shows. And then, suddenly... cake shows.
My research is telling me that this whole trend may have started with American Chopper, about the family that builds motorcycles, and then somebody upped the stakes with Deadliest Catch, the show about crab fisherman where every 20 minutes somebody almost dies. But instead of finding more and more exciting jobs, somebody decided to just go the other direction.
I got it! How about a show on people who proofread magazines?
So now there are two popular shows about pawn shops, and both of them have porn puns in their names: Pawn Stars and Hardcore Pawn. It's all just people bringing in their most valuable possessions and accepting half of what they could get from a collector or ebay because they need that cash right now. That's why they're there. Heroin doesn't buy itself.
Six bucks? Sold!
All I can picture is a network executive, listening to this pitch. "We'll be filming the inside of a pawn shop from the perspective of the guy who works behind the counter. Just filming day after day of him doing an ordinary job that is pretty unspectacular in almost every way."
"Do you mean like crackheads coming in all cracked out on crack? Selling a thousand dollar stolen gun for ten bucks so they can buy more crack? And one of them tries to stab somebody every episode? Because that does sound interesting."
"Well, no, it's not that type of pawn shop. It's just a regular ol' pawn shop. It's kind of a big place, but there aren't really any criminals. Even if there were, they wouldn't come in if they saw us there with cameras."
"Hmmm... I guess it can work if they're all fat enough."
If you would like to catch up with Pawn Stars, it won't take long. After all...
Every Channel is a Marathon Now
I just turned on my TV and flipped through the guide. Right now at this very moment, there is one channel playing six episodes of Scrubs back to back. Another has four episodes of Family Guy. You can't find an episode of How I Met Your Mother airing alone any more than you can buy one roll of toilet paper at Walmart. It's always two or four airing back-to-back.
Remember not too long ago when it was a special occasion when networks would run marathons of a particular show? In the 90s, my best friend and I would put on a pot of coffee at Thanksgiving and watch an entire 30 hours of Mystery Science Theater 3000. They called it "Turkey Day," and we looked forward to it all year.
And you couldn't record it without a shitload of VHS tapes
But now, all of cable TV seems to operate in blocks and I have no freaking idea why. If you're giving me eight straight hours of King of the Hill, aren't you forcing every single non-King of the Hill fan to abandon your channel for the rest of the day to go watch something else? Most likely a show about cakes?
My best theory is that it has to do with the DVR's everyone has now. If I want to catch up on House, I set to record and 15 hours later, my DVR has captured a little over thirty-six hours of reruns for me (including the same episode recorded 13 times). See, I don't think they do this to help the Tivo crowd. TV execs hate Tivos because they know you're fast-forwarding through the commercials. No, I think the idea is to completely spam your hard drive. "Oh, you want to record this show? Well here's 20 goddamned episodes, fucking CHOKE ON 'EM."
Oh, you like peanuts? THEN HAVE SOME GODDAMNED PEANUTS ASSHOLE
It's actually great for somebody like me, I was gone most of a decade but in a month or so I will have seen every episode of every relevant series that aired during that time period. I should shut off my TV again and come back in 2017, to compare and contrast, but I have 23 episodes of Tabatha's Salon Takeover to plow through.