Magazine article U.S. Catholic

You Are the Weakest Link, Goodbye!

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

You Are the Weakest Link, Goodbye!

Article excerpt

People pitted against one another for cash prizes, and the winner takes all. Sound familiar?

THE PICTURE OF THE SCARY LADY CAUGHT MY EYE. Next to her stern visage ran the headline: "NBC cuts sitcoms; adds more `Link.'" So next year we'll have double the opportunity to watch TV host Anne Robinson harshly dismiss contestants with her scornful pronouncement, "You are the weakest link," and her curt, clipped dismissal, "goodbye!"

The story went on to quote a network executive who indicated that the new schedule was just "giving people what they're looking for." And what we're looking for, apparently, are programs like the full-emotional-contact quiz show The Weakest Link. We want a chance to see people publicly ridiculed and pitted against one another for cash prizes. In the spirit of the times, I'm working on my own pilot set in northern Alaska involving a group of elderly on runaway ice floes.

It used to be that the viewing public looked to sitcoms to see how people could get along with one another. Early versions showed Mom and Dad present and concerned about "Bud" and "Princess." Family members had time for each other. Kids might be naughty or unwise, but never disrespectful or cruel. The sitcom has gone through various alterations--with stops along the way to give advice on how stepfamilies can be successfully blended (The Brady Bunch), and more recently giving rootless urban young people a glimpse at how to find and form community (which in the sitcom Friends seemed to involve everyone taking turns sleeping with everyone else).

But looking for models of how to get along is not high on anybody's list or Nielsen ratings these days. Today we're looking for deviousness, scheming, undermining, backstabbing, and public humiliation. We're looking for the exaltation of the few winners and the demoralization of the rest. We savor the breaking of people's self-esteem, not to mention their hearts. As sitcom star Jerry Seinfeld would say, "What's up with that?"

Maybe these cutthroat reality shows are actually good for us. Maybe they're preparing us for the "real" reality. After all, they make it clear how to get by when the rules are skewed so that one winner takes all. Come to think of it, that scenario does sound awfully familiar.

The Weakest Link was airing the other night when a small group met at my parish to talk about health care for the working poor. …

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