With Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post TV Columnist
Thursday, Feb. 27, 2003; Noon ET
The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and a front row seat -- a winning formula for Fox's "American Idol," now in the thick of its second season and already breaking primetime ratings records. A new crop of contestants, ripe for the barbs of bitchy Brit Simon Cowell, have viewers tuning in two nights a week for the spectacle. "Joe Millionaire" and "The Bachelorette" are finished their runs now but there'll be more. "Are You Hot?", "I'm A Celebrity -- Get Me Out Of Here!" and "Star Search" are on now and Monday Fox debuts "Married By America."
Join Washington Post TV Columnist Lisa de Moraes every Thursday at Noon ET to discuss the latest gripping developments on America's Reality TV.
De Moraes has written the TV Column for The Post since 1998. She served as the TV editor for the entertainment industry trade publication the Hollywood Reporter for almost a decade.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Springfield, Va.: I know this isn't reality related, but last night on "NYPD Blue" there was full frontal nudity? It seemed like that the actress was covering up her breasts, she didn't bother covering up while walking to the tub? Did this slip by the censors, or is network TV pushing the limits?
Lisa de Moraes: Hi. Yes, she did a pretty lousy job of covering up -- maybe that was the idea -- you think? It's called sweeps, also known as Nap Time at ABC Standards and Practices ....
Washington, D.C.: Hi Lisa: Strange that you haven't mentioned the new Showtime reality series "Family Business" starring Adam Glasser (aka Seymour Butts), his mom Lila and his uncle Steve. It premiered on Saturday with fresh episodes showing up every Friday. It's something different as far as the reality/gameshow gamut? Response Lees!
Lisa de Moraes: Gee, you must work for the publicity department at Showtime ...
Blacksburg, Va.: Do you think the Survivor franchise will survive long enough to spawn a "Survivor: Tournament of Champions" edition? Will the sporadic nature of the series help it, versus something like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", which became oversaturated?
Lisa de Moraes: CBS was mulling a tourny of champions edition, as well as a celebrity edition. ABC beat them to the celeb version, except ABC's is so bad CBS may do it after all but, CBS topper Les Moonves promises, with actual celebrities, not people who are "famous" because they were married to JLo for five minutes ... or Rod Stewart for 10 ...
Washington, D.C.: Why call them reality shows? Why should journalists go along with the label, even if TV execs like it? These shows don't reflect real life, and often are scripted. Why not simply call them game shows?
Lisa de Moraes: Reality TV was a phrase coined by TV execs and adopted by The Reporters Who Cover Television at some point in time,long, long ago ... game shows would work for some of them, but not for all, ABC's "Profiles from the Front Line" comes to mind ... MTV's "Real World," and "Sorority Life" too ...
Washington, D.C.: Lisa,
Can we please stop calling these shows "Reality TV?" The shows are cast for looks and conflict, scripted to increase audience surprise, and edited to influence ratings.
A more accurate description would be "I want to get into show biz" TV.
Lisa de Moraes: Too many words, but I take your point ... I kind of like the phrase "reality TV" because it's amusing, given what many of these shows actually are ...
Washington, D.C.: Why do you think it’s OK to hold a reality show on hillbillies and insult white people? If there were a similar show on Hispanics, the title of which was a racial epithet, you would be pretty mad, wouldn’t you? I detect affirmative action here.
Lisa de Moraes: I assume you're talking about my recent column on Sen. Miller's blast of CBS's show. I never said I thought it was okay to air a reality show on hillbillies. I also have trouble with a U.S. senator wasting 15 minutes of Senate time blathering about something he doesn't really care to fix. I would have felt better about that had anyone on his staff contacted CBS to discuss the show and express concerns before he started blathering about it on the Senate floor in hope of getting his name into the press, onto Crossfire, onto Drudge Report, etc. It was a publicity stunt. I don't think that in these troubled times, senators should be wasting time on stupid publicity stunts about TV shows that haven't even been cast yet and may never make it to the airwaves ...
Alexandria, Va.: Who are the people who are watching the so-called reality television shows? It certainly isn't me or anyone else I know. I can't stand prime time television anymore. I don't get it ... what is the appeal of watching a bunch of bimbos vying for the attention of some inarticulate stud who's lying to them about his financial status? Has America become a country of voyeurs just looking for their next prurient fix? If so, head for the nearest peep show, and leave the rest of us out of it.
Lisa de Moraes: Joe Millionaire was watched by 40 million viewers. Many of them were affluent young viewers -- the Holy Grail of network TV. That's why networks are scrambling to develop more -- reality shows are no longer bottom feeders ...
Harrisburg, Pa.: I confess I did not watch "Joe Millionaire" and only know what I've read and seen on commercials. Wouldn't it have been an interesting plot twist if some second character, say the butler, really was worth $50 million and it was his mansion all along? The woman would then have a choice: does she wish to marry Joe or the rich millionaire? Which do you think most of the women would have chosen?
Lisa de Moraes: I'm with you. I was hoping for a more Fox-like twist at the end and was disappointed that the surprise at the end was so treacly and Disney-like...I think some of the women absolutely would have picked Paul and cash over Evan ... the butler was far more charming ...
Washington, D.C.: Did anything ever come of Trista and Ryan's whirlwind romance? I saw the last episode of the Bachelorette and have heard nothing since!
Lisa de Moraes: We're hoping to read soon that they're splitsville. Given the track record on these "pick-a-mate" shows, I'd say the odds were good. He was way too nice to have gotten caught in her web ....
Midwest, Mo.: I am astounded that all these reality shows are so successful. I think they are just expanded versions of the Jerry Springer show. Am I the only one in America who thinks these shows are about as dumbed down as peoples' taste in entertainment can get?
Lisa de Moraes: I have hard time defending "Are You Hot," which is loathsome, but I don't think you can write off all reality series just because a few of them suck. Then you'd have to write off all sitcoms because "King of Queens" is still on the air.
Minneapolis, Minn.: Hey Lisa,
Not QUITE a Reality Show question, but related directly to Reality Shows (So I don't feel bad about asking it ...)
How do sweeps mean anything?
All of the networks jocky their schedules, put on special events, kick the final contestant off the island, and air "a very special episode of (fill in the blank)" w/ guest star Brad Pitt watching two women kiss in a hot tub.
Since this doesn't represent week in and week out television, why do advertisers care?
Why do these contrived numbers matter?
I guess I don't know EXACTLY what sweeps are supposed to do.
Lisa de Moraes: Sweeps are a necessary evil, networks say, because Nielsen does not have the technology in place to provide demographic information in TV markets on a daily basis. So several times a year Nielsen asked folks in our market, for instance, to fill out detailed diaries during sweeps periods, to collect that information. So the networks, to make their stations in this market happy, they pull their lower rated programming and put on stuff like "Are You Hot" -- designed to attract as many young viewers as possible, which is what advertisers are looking for. Then the stations take these bogus, artifically inflated numbers, and sell ad time for the next few months, based on those stats. It's idiotic ...
Wells, Maine: Trista is such a loser. Why don't they put these "reality" stars in therapy? You know that's what they REALLY need.
Lisa de Moraes: She's just looking to break into Hollywood. She got a lot of free national air time by going on two editions of "Survivor." Which is not to say she doesn't need therapy. There's a thriving shrink trade in Hollywood ...
NYC: When will Fox schedule Divorced by America? Dividing the property, pets, and kids, under the watchful eye of America. I see a hit.
Lisa de Moraes: I see May sweeps ...
West Virginny: Can you believe that dumb ol' rascal Senator Zell Miller is madder than a coon dog stuck in a prickly pear patch over that CBS hillbilly show? Well dang my hide, I was looking forward to being on that there program and going to Beverly Hills.
Lisa de Moraes: Hahaha ... now how about calling Sen. Miller's office and asking him why no one from his office has contacted CBS to discuss his concerns about this show. But maybe stopping this show, which hasn't been given the go ahead yet, wasn't really his objective ... hmmmmmm ... Maybe it was just a publicity stunt, designed to get him maximum attention for minimum effort ... you think?
Silver Spring, Md.: How is that Fox is going to do "Joe Millionaire" over again when the whole premise of the show is that ladies involved are unaware of the millionaire is a phony? It's a hoax that will only work once, right?
Lisa de Moraes: Maybe they'll say he's poor and he turns out to be rich. Too obvious? How about he says he's a guy and he turns out to be a woman ... better, but still not good enough ... you've got me ... I'm stumped too ...
Wooster, Ohio: Lisa:
Your comments are always witty and insightful, and I understand your cynicism towards the TV business, but are there actually shows you enjoy because they are good, as opposed to because we can laugh and make fun of them?
Lisa de Moraes: I actually enjoy reality TV. Honest ... as you may know I also loved Sex and the City, though the last season wasn't fab -- not enough shoe talk. I adore watching TV -- the good and the bad, and I have too many fave shows to mention. Turner Classic Movies, for instance, is a treasure ... except when they air a Val Kilmer flick and try to palm it off as a "classic." Paleeze ...
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Why are you down down on Trista all of the time? Maybe I am naive, but she and Ryan honestly seem to care for each other. Even in the world of reality TV, isn't this possible?
Lisa de Moraes: Maybe it's the way she answers all his questions for him during interviews. Maybe it's the way he looks at her before trying to answer any question with a "don't hurt me" look on his face. Maybe it's her baby talk. Maybe it's her nails on chalkboard voice. Maybe it's ... I'll stop now.
UGH: Kill them all. Especially Trista. She deserves to be hung. She is a meaningless, pitiful member of society.
Lisa de Moraes: No comment ...
Fairfax, Va.: Did you get a chance to watch "Boston Public" on Monday with fourth place (!) American Idol finisher Tamayra? She has a cameo role as, you guessed it, a singer, and she blew the doors off! I've heard the winner, Kelly Clarkson, sing ad infinitum, and I'm sorry, but I just don't see how Tamayra lost. Is it just me?
Lisa de Moraes: The judges on the show obviously agree with you. They can't stop talking about Tamayra, even on this edition of "American Idol." Did you notice that they told one of the contestants this week that she was no Tamyra?
Next Joe:: Turns out he's gay and he chooses the butler on the last episode.
Lisa de Moraes: My dream ending!
She already called me Pookie!: Where is Miss Bondage from Joe Millionaire these days?
She was absent from the aftermath special, and apparently blew off her Caroline Rhea interview (the announcer actually said she was the next guest, and then we got Lorenzo Lamas.)
Has she been sighted by the "RWCTV"?
Lisa de Moraes: I'm hoping that ABC, which now has no shame since debuting "Are You Hot" and I'm a Celebrity: Get Me an Agent," has approached her about being the next "Bachelorette." Now there's a show I'd watch every episode of...
Rockville, Md.: Any speculation on what the "twist" could be regarding American Idol wild card selection?
Lisa de Moraes: I live in fear it will involve bringing back Frenchie ...
Darnestown, Md.: One of your Post colleagues refers to reality TV as "the last heaving belch of a dying civilization". Aside from it being a great line, do you agree?
Lisa de Moraes: Gee, and I thought that was the definition of professional football ...
The Amazon: Here's a suggestion for the next "Survivor". Do it "Blair Witch" style. Give the castaways camcorders and video tape, let them do all the filming. Tell the castaways to award the million any way they want to, but no sharing. Send the TV crew back after about seven weeks to retrieve the video tapes and any surviving survivors. This probably isn't an original idea, but we're talking about TV, right?
Lisa de Moraes: It's a wonderful idea, but not for CBS. I'm thinking TLC ...
Somewhere: Not about reality shows, but . . .
How about a nice thought for Mr. Rogers?
Lisa de Moraes: I never met Fred Rogers; I have a feeling he was a national treasure ... What a marvelous thing he leaves behind in his PBS series ....
Alexandria, Va.: Reality shows ARE still bottom feeders ... they've just properly estimated the general viewing public.
Lisa de Moraes: Bottom feeders is a TV term refering to shows that attract only ads for vegematics and all those things you can also buy on QVC ... Joe Millionaire was, after its final episode, the No. 1 ranked show among 18-49 year olds in households with an income of $75K or more. That is not a bottom feeder in The Wonderful Worlf of TV, sorry ....
East Capitol, D.C.: So, who do you think will be on the next Surreal World. What an addictive show. Or maybe it's just the jerk in me that liked seeing Corey cry ....
Lisa de Moraes: I'm not sure they can ever capture that magic again ....seriously ...
Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Lisa,
Maybe my brain is fried from all these reality shows, and granted I was cooking dinner at the time, but did the last episode of Joe Millionaire NOT provide a resolution?
So Evan and Zora hadn't seen each other in months (ahem) and the viewers all wanted to know if they had been or would be dating ... was I staring off to space when someone answered that question?
Also, since when is Marky Mark hosting the show? The real story for the Reporters Who Cover Telivision should be "who did Alex McLeod p-off?"
Lisa de Moraes: Poor Alex, a two-time reality TV loser host. That aftermath episode was badly edited -- probably to cover the fact that there was no there there. The question was never answered -- neither was the one about what actually happened with bondage queen in the woods. Evan suggesting to Zora that they get together for a beer sometime was definitely a tip off as to how committed their relationship is. On Rege's show Zora said they have nothing to do with each other but that she suspects they will remain friends in some fashion or other ...
Chicago: "Real Genius" starring Val Kilmer is totally a classic, and what actor from his generation do you think is better? Tom Cruise? I spit on Tom Cruise.
Lisa de Moraes: I join you in spitting on Tom Cruise ... and there is no actor from his generation better, which is exactly my point. They don't make 'em like the used to. Give me Gary Cooper any day.....
El Mysogynisto!: Sooo - world class athletes competing at a high level is worse than, say, hearing a celebrity whine because she chose to be in the middle of a rainforest? Is it the beer ads that make you feel inadequate?
Lisa de Moraes: I just knew that comment would attract some cavemen to this chat ... Hey there, big guy!
Washington, D.C.: Responding to the previous poster who wondered who watches: Sad as it is to admit, I (a relatively affluent young viewer) was one of those 40 million who watched Joe Millionaire. One attraction is that it has a sort of purity. It makes no aspirations to quality or redemptive values. There will never be "a very special" episode. It's crass, stupid, and not bad way to numb your brain for an hour. Still, more than one or twice a week is too much "reality" for me.
Lisa de Moraes: I agree, you have to pace yourself ... Good reality TV is like a good hamburger. You know it's not really good for you, but it makes you happy in the moment and some times you need comfort food. You can eat healthy the rest of the week, and vegetables are still very, very important ...
15th and L: It's off topic, but do you have anymore info on Letterman beyond the wire story in today's dead-tree edition? Also I couldn't get over how weird it was seeing someone else behind the desk.
Lisa de Moraes: I loved Bruce Willis interviewing Dan Rather about Saddam Hussein. Talk about Surreal Life ... Willis did a pretty good job under difficult circumstances. And I was sooo happy not to see Regis Philbin filling in ... again ...
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Hmm ... it's odd that the people trashing reality TV above are posting in a reality TV chat.
For what it's worth, Survivor 6 is full of the stupidest, most clueless gang or morons since the Africa edition. Tonight, the babes are apparently going topless, so it's prurient too.
In other words, so far IT'S A GREAT SEASON!
Tune in, naysayers, tune in.
Lisa de Moraes: I'm sorry, I just loved this posting. I have nothing to add ...
Capitol Hill: For what it's worth, Diane Sawyer announced today that Trista and Ryan have registered for wedding gifts. (a whole new way to get free stuff without ever getting married!!)
GMA also set Brook from the last Bachelor show up with Ryan's younger brother (who is totally cute, too!). They had a chaperoned date last night. Seemed like a good time, but doubtful anything will come of it.
Lisa de Moraes: Ick, ick, and ick ... somebody needs to set up an intervention for Ryan family members before any more of them get hurt ...
Washington, D.C.: It's amazing that the same medium can put out "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" and "reality" TV -- I know which one I'd rather watch, even at 28. At least watching Mr. Rogers doesn't make me feel like a rubbernecker at an accident site ...
Lisa de Moraes: Honestly, isn't it wonderful that this medium can put out "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" and "Survivor." We live in the golden age of TV ...
New York, N.Y.: So glad you're back! I missed your chats the last couple of Survivors.
Comment: One way they could do a second Joe Millionaire-style show (and the only fair way--IMO, the first had a decidedly misogynistic tone) is if they had a woman with a totally fake body -- implants, contacts, whatever -- to make her "beautiful." And at the end, she gets rid of it all and reveals herself to be a conventionally plain woman. Because men can be just as shallow as women.
And question: When will Evan Marriott get off the air already? I didn't like him on the show and now I can't escape him on Fox. He's annoying and unattractive. Goodbye!-/Anne Robinson-voice]
Lisa de Moraes: I'm pretty over Evan as well. Actually Fox is doing a reality show pretty soon here, before they get the next Joe Millionaire on the air, in which a woman has to pick a mate among a bunch of guys who are all wearing some kind of mask so that she can't see their faces -- the necking scenes should be pretty interesting. The idea is that she will pick based on personality alone. Apparently these will be magical masks that prevent her from seeing their pecs and abs, and from hearing if they have deep husky voices
"Joe Millionaire" second edition: I bet what Fox will do to make it work is do more lying to the participants. I read on the Internet that the contestants in JM were not told they were going to be on a dating/matchmaking reality show, but just fun and romance in a foreign land. A lot did it just for the free trip (I might have done that when I was that age and my if job or lack thereof allowed me to do it.) So the contestants (probably cast as much for gullibility as looks) will believe whatever the producers tell them, and voila, another edition of the lying show.
Frankly, I'm surprised when anyone complains about how not-smart most reality show participants are. I mean, why would anyone with real brains want to or need to put themselves through all that!
Lisa de Moraes: Only people looking for free air time on national television in order to catch the attention of a talent agent in Hollywood ... That's a steady stream of hundreds of people a day ...
I have to admire you. If I had to watch reality TV for a living I'd jump out of a window. (First floor of course, wouldn't want to hurt myself) Proud to say the perhaps two episodes I saw of the first survivor were enough to put me off it for good.
Lisa de Moraes: It is a very tough and dangerous job, but someone has to do it ...
Charlottesville, Va.: I'll admit that I have become one of those Reality Show groupies -- Millionaire, Bachelor, Temptation Island, Survivors. I'm also a NPR-lovin', Simpsons-watchin', PhD educated guy. I even schedule my arts subscription series concerts around TV (no more Thursday night concerts/plays).
I watch for three reasons. One, it makes the drama of my family and friends look perfectly normal in comparison. Two, after a long day at work, I like to be entertained. I read extensively on weekends, but on weeknights like my evenings mindless. And three, I look upon reality TV with an anthropoligist/sociology eye -- the opportunity to see the rites and actions of a group of people who I do not run into in my everyday life.
For the record -- I also like Judge Mathis, but not Judge Judy.
Lisa de Moraes: Okay, you were my hero until you got to the Judge Mathis part ...
Midwest: A clicker mentioned Surreal World and Corey. I guess they mean Corey Feldman. I saw him crying on some lame show (perhaps that is Surreal World) and he said that planning a wedding is a "horrific experience" because of the stress and decisions. I could not believe that loser used the word horrific to describe picking out flowers or a tux. Horrific is 9-11 or the tragedy in R.I.
Lisa de Moraes: You must have missed Fox's Bridezilla show...I get your point, he is self absorbed -- what a shock. But I think he was just guilty of overdescribing the stress many people say goes hand in hand with planning a big wedding ...
Clifton, Va.: Having a brother-in-law who is a fire fighter, I just can't see Trista living happily ever after with one. She isn't the type. Takes a special woman to put up with a firefighter and the 24 hours on and 24 off schedules, etc.
Lisa de Moraes: I have doubts that any woman who has gone to such lengths as humiliating herself on not one but TWO editions of Bachelor in order to break into Hollywood is going to be happy once the cameras are turned off and she's just the wife of a firefighter in Vail ...
Rainy Florida: Lisa,
You are HYSTERICAL! I haven't laughed out loud to the written word in quite awhile, but this got me from your Joe Millionaire story in today's paper ... But that's the way it is with crack. "
Keep up the great, entertaining work!
Lisa de Moraes: Thanks! and I was just told to knock it off, that I'm about 10 minutes long ... Bye ...
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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