You ever long for those days right after Sept. 11 when we as a nation talked about getting serious? Remember? We weren't going to watch frivolous reality TV shows. We were going to focus on things that mattered.
'Hogan Knows Best,' a show that follows wrestler Hulk Hogan as he and his wife, Linda, try to raise their teen-agers, is just one of a slew of new reality TV shows.
Fast-forward almost four years and we're not only back where we started, we're worse. The latest distraction is Hogan Knows Best (9 p.m. Sunday, VH1), a show that follows wrestler Hulk Hogan as he and his wife, Linda, try to raise their teen-agers: aspiring singer Brooke and race car driver hopeful Nick. (This week, Brooke gets asked out by a 22-year-old!)
Last week, it was Bobby Brown living the high life. This week, it's Hogan in his 20,000-square-foot estate. In coming days and weeks, we'll have Hugh Hefner opening the doors to the Playboy mansion (The Girls Next Door, Aug. 7 on E!), TLC picking a replacement for the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (R U the Girl, July 27, UPN), INXS choosing a new singer to fill the shoes of the late Michael Hutchence (Rock Star, Monday, CBS) and more. This comes on the heels of Britney and Kevin, Jessica and Nick, Ashley, the Osbournes, the Gastineau Girls and so on.
But wait: Wanna live like a Hilton? NBC has that. Plain guys hope to hook up with beautiful women? NBC (Average Joe 4 - four!) and the WB (Beauty and the Geek) have that. Have what it takes to be a fashion designer? (The Cut, CBS.) Or a chef? (Hell's Kitchen, Fox.) Or a cowboy? (Cattle Drive, coming to E!) Or what it takes to lose a job? (Fire Me Please! CBS.) Or the ability to live without the Internet and an iPod? (The '70s House, MTV.)
We watch semi-celebrities dance! (Dancing With the Stars, ABC). We'll watch unknown people dance! (So You Think You Can Dance, July 20, Fox). We'll watch Pauly Shore, the least funny person in America, run the family business! (Minding the Store, July 17, TBS). And so on.
You can explain the proliferation of this programming fairly easily: It's cheap to produce and the public has an apparently bottomless appetite for celebrities and competitions. My sister, a lifelong celebrity watcher, suggests that people want to watch how the Hogans and the Browns/Houstons live because, basically, misery loves company. We can escape into their little self-absorbed worlds and see how screwed up they are while earning a respite from our world.
Sounds reasonable enough, especially when you consider what's in our world: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the battle over the Supreme Court, the partisan bickering over every damn thing, the high price of gasoline, the high cost of health care. There's so much societal noise that it's hard to blame the public for retreating into the cocoons that Hulk Hogan and his band of celebrity/reality brothers are providing.
They told us after Sept. 11 to resume our normal lives or "the terrorists will have won." As TV is proving, we are, happily, the coalition of the willing.