We make a lot of jokes around here about the “impending Idiocracy”, but I often find that Running Man is also a close approximation of where our culture is headed. I don’t mean that specifically with respect to the Hunger Games-style last-man-alive game (although, “Fear Factor,” “American Gladiator,” “Survivor,” “Wipeout,” and History’s latest, a motherf*cking jousting reality show, are certainly getting us there). I mean in the sense that characters like Richard Dawson’s Damien Killian will become a dominating force in our culture, at least on the network side of things. In between wipeouts, eating competitions, and — eventually — kills, presenters will endorse toothpaste, detergents, and cleaning products.
Obviously, this is already a prevailing trend; in a way, it’s a return to ’50s variety shows, which were sponsored by certain products (and even had the product names in the television titles). That future, for worse or really worse, will be dominated by Ryan Seacrest and his ilk, a gleaming toothed asexual with perfect hair capable of introducing one segment out of one side of his mouth and endorsing a product out of another. Wasn’t it Mitt Romney who said that “corporations are people, too”? Where it concerns Ryan Seacrest, he’s not too far off the mark, according to Forbes:
In an industry of workaholics, Seacrest is “the single hardest-working person I know,” DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg says. In addition to Seacrest’s production company and a high-profile, lucrative gig ($14 million a year) as American Idol’s frontman, he also hosts the nationally syndicated radio show On Air With Ryan Seacrest, plus a weekly top-40 countdown.
And the 37-year-old is just getting started. He’s widely rumored to be Matt Lauer’s eventual replacement on Today. Peter Chernin, the former president of News Corp. (NWSA), thinks Seacrest is positioned to become an international star. And then there’s his burgeoning business empire, which is poised to keep churning out high-margin reality television shows. “He’s entertaining and engaging, fine, but at the same time he understands how you can build a show around a brand or please an advertiser,” says Bob Pittman, CEO of Clear Channel.
What many people don’t know, or at least I didn’t, is that Ryan Seacrest is also responsible for “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” and three spin-offs. People often contend that, if we just stop talking about the Kardashians, they will go away. I don’t think so, and if they do, someone else just as talent-less and reprehensible will spring forth from their severed asses.
Reality television is not going anywhere. “Jersey Shore” is the top rated show on cable (and it bests many network shows), and once safe havens for higher-brow “educational” fare — TLC, A&E, The Discovery Channel, and The History Channel — have all moved toward that strategy with shows like “Pawn Stars,” “Storage Wars,” “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” and some reality show where Steven Seagall is a law man. Quality television still exists on the premium cable networks, FX, AMC and PBS (holla!), but it’s being dwarfed by this new paradigm.
This is the future. The next Mission Impossible movie may feature Tom Cruise swinging from a rope on the highest building in the world, smiling into the camera, and holding up a box of Downy Fabric softener. We’re helpless to stem the flowing tide. Robots are taking over the planet, and they look like Ryan Seacrest.