Have you ever stopped to think about reality TV shows that have come and gone — shows that once were the subject of a tremendous buzz but then dropped off the cultural radar screen, if not off TV altogether? Kish and I don’t watch much TV, but there have been a few shows that captured our imagination, briefly, and now are no more.
One of them was Man vs. Food. We enjoyed watching jovial everyman Adam Richman tackle every food challenge thrown his way, no matter how daunting. Admittedly, our interest was primarily motivated by curiosity as to what ridiculous food consumption dare he would accept, and then watching him pound his fist on the table as he tried to eat more gut-burning habanero wings or five pounds of pancakes. We thought he was an interesting and engaging host, as well as a willing human guinea pig. After a few years Richman shifted to a format where he coached other people in competitive eating endeavors, but the show just wasn’t the same. The show’s run ended, and now Richman hosts other shows and has lost a lot of weight. Good for him! We always thought the Man vs. Food lifestyle couldn’t have been a very healthy one.
Before Man vs. Food, we watched American Chopper. I’m not sure why, because neither of us has ever ridden a motorcycle or has any kind of mechanical aptitude. But the show gave us a peek into a curious family and an even more curious line of work. People who are adept with tools and metal fabrication and design fascinate me, and the process of coming up with a working machine that also is a unique creative statement was interesting. The disputes between Teutul father and sons, and the fallout for the other people who worked at their business, was just icing on the cake. After a while, though, the incessant battles of the Teutuls got old, and the show seemed to be going through the motions, so we moved on. American Chopper ended its run in 2012.
The earliest reality show I remember watching was Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in which a team of five gay men tried to help some hapless hetero become a little bit more interesting. Each episode the team would help the straight guy with his clothing, haircut, furniture, food, and general behavior. The show was interesting because the “Fab Five” were talented and engaging in their own right, and their interactions with clueless guys who couldn’t dance or wouldn’t change their sweatshirt-dominated wardrobes were priceless. As a similarly fashion- and culture-challenged guy, I found the Fab Five’s tips pretty useful. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy ended in 2007, although the Fab Five reunited for 10-year anniversary show in 2013.
Reality TV is like cultural cotton candy and seemingly vanishes as soon as it is consumed. Some shows, though, break through the clutter and become part of the national zeitgeist.