When Reality TV Intrudes Into Real Life
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Looking back on 2009, it's been a year when reality television and real life collided, and mostly in embarrassing and - in some cases - dangerous ways. The Balloon Boy is one such example. Earlier this year, his parents falsely claimed their six-year-old son was carried away in a homemade balloon. The parents will be sentenced today for charges stemming from that hoax. To review this and other events, we reached New Yorker TV critic Nancy Franklin. Good morning.
Ms. NANCY FRANKLIN (New Yorker TV Critic): Good morning, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: Now, this family, the Balloon Boy family, appeared twice on ABC's reality TV show "Wife Swap." And in an affidavit, the mother admits they fabricated this story to make the family, quote, "more marketable for future media interests," and they weren't the only ones who were going to great lengths to seek fame this year.
Ms. FRANKLIN: No. That's absolutely right. It's a rather long list, actually. Of course, you've got John and Kate from "John and Kate Plus Eight."
WERTHEIMER: We got to see their marriage blow up.
Ms. FRANKLIN: We got to see their marriage blow up. Actually, mostly blew up in the tabloids and in US Weekly between seasons. And so when the last season started, TLC got fabulous ratings.
And more tragically, we had Ryan Jenkins, who'd been on VH1 reality show "Megan Wants a Millionaire." He killed his ex-wife, who was a model in Los Angeles, and then ran away to Canada and committed suicide. Now this is a guy who had a previous assault charge in Canada and, you know, it's very easy to find out whether somebody has a criminal record or not.
WERTHEIMER: Well, do you suppose this means that the networks and the cables ought to reconsider their reality lineup or maybe be a little more careful about who they invite on their programs?
Ms. FRANKLIN: Well, I think they should.
WERTHEIMER: But on the other hand, they're making money.
Ms. FRANKLIN: Well, on the other hand they're making money. And also, in a way, they really can't reconsider, because what else are they going to fill the space with? I mean, most of programming today is reality TV.
WERTHEIMER: This is making our own Washington example look positively benign, where the two people infuriated the Secret Service and many other people by crashing a White House state dinner, the Salahis.
Ms. FRANKLIN: That's right, the Salahis.
WERTHEIMER: The famous lady in the red dress.
Ms. FRANKLIN: The lady in red - almost classy by comparison, and that's really saying a lot, because they're anything but. I mean, these people seem to have a history of scams behind them. Now they were being filmed for possible inclusion in the Bravo reality series "Real Housewives." This would have been "Real Housewives of D.C."
WERTHEIMER: I just - I don't like to think about it.
Ms. FRANKLIN: I know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FRANKLIN: But we must, Linda. We must think about it.
WERTHEIMER: Do you think that there's a continuing audience for this kind of infamy, or do you think that there's a point at which audiences will say, enough?
Ms. FRANKLIN: No, I don't think that there are people who are continually interested. But I think that it's easy to get our attention and it's easy to lose it. I think this kind of stuff has always been with us. I mean, if people who used to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FRANKLIN: ...if they could have had television cameras there a hundred years ago, they would have.
Ms. FRANKLIN: I mean, this is - there's a natural kind of curiosity that some of this really is harmless. And as television stations themselves like to say, well, you can always turn it off.
WERTHEIMER: Nancy Franklin watches and reviews television for The New Yorker. Thank you very much for this.
Ms. FRANKLIN: Thanks, Linda.
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