By Harper, Jennifer
Insight on the News , Vol. 18, No. 9
Reports that reality television had faded into oblivion after Sept. 11 have been greatly exaggerated. The genre is back, with a vengeance. The trials and tribulations of fighter pilots, aspiring actors, hopeful brides, clueless homesteaders, determined presidential candidates, would-be cosmonauts, parsimonious housemates and shameless centerfolds are among the dozens of offerings in development at broadcast- and cable-TV networks.
"These shows are not going to go gently into the night," says Syracuse University media professor Robert Thompson. "America's appetite for entertainment has returned, and reality TV can help satisfy it. I never bought into the idea that the terrorist attacks would do away with these things."
Plenty of people did. The cheeky productions took a beating from critics last fall who called them "cheaters and liars," "meaningless" or even "too real" for Americans who had no taste for pretend survivors and tempestuous love interests. But time, apparently, has marched on. "Critics once predicted the demise of the sitcoms as well," Thompson says. "Never happened. These little dramas are a natural for TV and new technology. They may falter, but they won't disappear."
Persistent producers have been busy. Contestants already have been lined up for the fourth incarnation of CBS' Survivor. But wait. Hopefuls for Survivor 5 have less than two weeks to submit applications, which inquire about body piercings, arrest records and culinary habits, among other things.
CBS also will debut American Fighter Pilots in late March, featuring the travails of U.S. Air Force F-15 pilot training in Florida and directed by Tony Scott of Top Gun fame. It's seaplanes and ice cliffs for contestants on the WB's No Boundaries, which also debuts in March at the Arctic Circle and ends somewhere in North America a month later. PBS debuts Frontier House in April, pitting one American family against life as it was lived circa 1880.
But touchy-feely has just as much cachet as risky extremes. …