Aug 272003
Authors: Jeremy Anderson

Of all the trends in entertainment to catch on over the last few years, none have spread like wildfire quite like reality TV.

Who would have thought that the success of a certain survival show, not to mention the groundwork laid by MTV’s “The Real World,” would cause our televisions to be bombarded with such an abundance of reality-themed programming? Millions of viewers religiously tuned-in to root for their “American Idol,” to watch “The Bachelor” choose his bride or even to join two strangers in holy matrimony in “Married by America.”

Looking to ride in on this reality-crazed train, Spike TV premieres their new reality series, “The Joe Schmo Show,” this September. Here are the details: Ten strangers are picked to live together in a luxurious house. There they must compete in a series of wacky challenges. One by one, the occupants vote each other off until only one person remains. That person wins $100,000! Sound interesting? If you have seen or heard of any previous reality TV shows, most likely the answer is no. Thankfully, there’s a catch- nine of the “contestants” are actually actors who, along with the show’s host, must work together to convince number ten that he is in fact competing on a reality television show called “Lap of Luxury.”

“The Joe Schmo Show” rounds up the stereotypical cast of characters from reality TV to further the illusion. Among the players are Earl-“The Grizzled Veteran,” Ashleigh-“The Rich Bitch,” Kip-“The Gay Guy,” and “The Hutch” who plays “The Asshole.” And yes, these are the titles with which “The Joe Schmo Show” refers to its participants in their personal interview segments, a tradition in reality TV programming.

The Joe in the title refers to a law school dropout turned pizza deliveryman named Matt Kennedy Gould. Matt is your ordinary, average Joe and most likely leapt at the chance to be a participant in a new reality television series. Unbeknownst to Matt, though, the joke is on him, and will be for the length of the inaugural season of “The Joe Schmo Show.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Spike TV, it is the self-proclaimed “First Network for Men.” Current programs include “Stripperella,” an animated series about a crime-fighting stripper who is voiced-by and resembles Pamela Anderson, “American Gladiators” (that’s right…it’s back!), and manly action movies frequently starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

I talked with Debra Fazio, director of communication for Spike TV, about the show she calls, “The first unreality, reality series.” She pointed out that while reality shows in general tend to be skewed more toward women, that is not the case with “The Joe Schmo Show.” Fazio said that several aspects of what men like are present in this new program including competition, comedy and the fact that it is the ultimate prank.

“It doesn’t hurt that we have some attractive women in there,” Fazio said.

Fazio said the show went on a search of four or five U.S. cities in mid-America to find their man. They walked up to Gould when he was getting ready to go play basketball and proceeded to send him through the audition process for the fictitious TV series, “Lap of Luxury.”

So is the show as fun as it sounds? After viewing the series premiere episode, I was left with a pretty mixed opinion of what I had just seen. Despite the show’s edgy network and outlandish challenge competitions, including such titles as “These Drawers Aren’t Yours” and “Hands on a High-Priced Hooker,” I felt “The Joe Schmo Show” had a surprising lack of energy. However, the debut episode’s unnecessary length of two hours could partly be to blame for that impression. It seems to me that much of the appeal of reality TV programs for their loyal fans comes from characters that viewers latch onto as their favorites. However, “The Joe Schmo Show” does not really allow for that to happen because, besides Gould, it centers around a bunch of actors pretending to be “real” people that they, in fact, are not.

It is possible, though, that “The Joe Schmo Show” can survive on its gimmick alone. You cannot help but feel a little sorry for Matt as he confesses to the camera his reactions and experiences living in the “Lap of Luxury.” He is a nice guy who is oblivious to the fact that he is the butt of a series-long joke that is being televised for all to see. The “reality” excitement of the show comes from watching the actors strive to make sure they do not blow their cover or that of each other. Characters occasionally forget their “identities” and details of previous conversations with Matt about their lives, which results in them attempting to correct their slips.

For me, the most entertaining bit happened during the episode’s pseudo elimination ceremony. In true reality TV tradition, the proceedings when a character is voted out are ridiculously corny and dramatic. Gould and his housemates each have their own collector’s plate, which is thrown in a fire once that person is voted out of the house. When the first person of the show is asked to leave, they give an absurdly over-the-top farewell speech that was so laughably unbelievable that one of the remaining actors, as well as myself, felt for sure that Matt would begin to see the charade for what it really was.

Whether or not “The Joe Schmo Show” will prove a hit for Spike TV is yet to be seen. Viewers, especially reality TV fanatics, looking for a little something new and different might tune in out of curiosity. In order for the network to keep those viewers coming back week after week, though, I recommend that they add a little more spike to their newest experiment in reality TV.

The Joe Schmo Show” premieres Tuesday on Spike TV, channel 24

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