Reality TV goes too far once again

Posted: Thursday, September 05, 2002

Forty years ago, "The Beverly Hillbillies," a fish-out-of-water comedy about a newly rich backwoods family coping with Beverly Hills' haute lifestyle, pulled down big ratings.

Now CBS wants to reprise the 1960s television series as reality television, or more appropriately, voyeur television. The network is scouring the hills of Arkansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky for an extended family to relocate to a Beverly Hills mansion for at least a year. The network will give them money to buy baubles in exchange for filming the family's adjustment to life in the land of the rich and vacuous.

Excuse us if we anticipate the worst. It's one thing to laugh at the plight of a fictional family. It's quite another to stage a public embarrassment with a real one.

CBS officials say they want a family whose members love one another and that they will treat the family with respect. Since the series concept reeks of disrespect, one suspects that promise is being made with a wink, a nudge and crossed fingers. The concept is elitist, perpetuates regional stereotypes and, worse still, publicly exploits a real family for ratings.

Shows such as MTV's series about rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his family and E!'s series about Anna Nicole Smith and who knows what have egged on a Hollywood community that clearly lacks restraint. The difference between those shows and the new Beverly Hillbillies is that Ozzy Osbourne and Anna Nicole Smith aren't unsuspecting neophytes to the spotlight and its power to create and destroy.

Gawking at a traffic accident is human. Planning one takes a mean streak.

-- The Dallas Morning News, on reality TV:

Sept. 2

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