Celebrities and Reality Shows

Seeing former baseball player Jeff Kent and former star of The Facts of Life Lisa Whelchel competing on Survivor: Philippines made me wonder why some celebrities are drawn to the reality show genre.  Granted, Kent and Whelchel aren't exactly big household names (unless you're a diehard San Francisco Giants fan or still have posters of Blair Warner on your wall), but one would think that anyone who achieves fame and fortune no longer needs to turn to the cutthroat craziness of today's televised competitions.

Actors and other Hollywood professionals who typically rely on scripted programming understandably feared the rise of reality series as a cheap way to deny them their livelihood as Average Janes and Joes suddenly stole the spotlight and gained 15 minutes or less of infamy. Their bread and butter was on the line, and they had a point that some of the art of traditional comedies and dramas was being lost. Reality shows managed to tap into the narrative vein through clever casting and manipulatively creative editing, drawing audiences and raking in profits that ensured that the reality genre was here to stay.

If you can't beat them, join them.  Stars started to helm their own reality programs. Ozzy had a hit with The Osbournes. The KISS marketing genius followed in his footsteps with Gene Simmons' Family Jewels. As no-names suddenly become pseudo-celebrities thanks to their wild romps on The Jersey Shore, and B-List nobodies parlayed sex-tapes into lucrative franchises, the definition of "star" started to be stretched probably farther than it should as anybody with a familiar face was offered a chance to compete in races, dance-offs, and talent contests, and to have their private lives recorded in pseudo-documentaries.

Brett Michaels, Flavor Fav, Scott Baio, and many other celebrities who had seemingly slipped into obscurity quickly embraced the new opportunities that the reality show trend offered them. I don't begrudge these former stars from taking advantage of the current system and using their skills and connections to return to the airwaves, reconnecting with old fans and attracting new ones, with the obvious goal of making a buck or two.

I just feel a twinge of sadness when I see some of these celebrities embarrassing themselves by trying too hard to recapture past glories.  Did we really need to see former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson get booted from Survivor: Nicaragua by a bunch of forgettable competitors? Do we really need to see our old favorites like Lou Ferrigno do silly tasks for Donald Trump on The Apprentice?

It's a telling sign of where the "star culture" might be heading now that reality shows don't need "Celebrity Editions," they can just throw in a few former celebs right alongside the everyday guys and gals without blinking an eye.

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