Reality TV is a poker game. It’s a contest between programming executives whose jobs depend on their competitive ability to draw a big audience in prime time by whatever means necessary.
One of the game’s biggest challenges: How to push community standards to the absolute limit by producing shows that are insulting, scandalous, titillating, and/or offensive, which attracts free media attention… and (executives hope) a big crowd.
David Lyle, CEO of the National Geographic Channel (NGC) and the former head of the Fox Reality Channel, is a master of the form. At NGC earlier this year, Mr. Lyle insulted thousands of faithful Christians with his reality series Meet The Hutterites. His show American Gypsies, which was marketed as a low-budget knock-off of The Godfather and The Sopranos, elicited threats of legal action by leaders of the Roma (“Gypsy”) community, who said the National Geographic series was “racist, slanderous, degrading, and possibly illegal.” Mr. Lyle is unapologetic — at least publicly — about what he’s been doing to National Geographic’s good name. And to his critics, who bemoan the tabloidization of the National Geographic Society, you can easily imagine Mr. Lyle (and his boss, Rupert Murdoch) saying: Go f**k yourselves.
Meanwhile, this high-stakes poker game continues, with Discovery most recently upping the ante: We see your Hutterites and your Gypsies… and we raise you with Amish Mafia:
Will National Geographic keep playing this degrading game? All indicators suggest that we will.