Reality TV: less substance, more spectacle

It’s an all-too-familiar tableau.

A group of pasty, fleshy men and women lumber up the side of a mountain, as “Lord of the Rings”-esque arpeggios trill in the background. Suddenly, the group is inexplicably standing on the cusp of what appears to be the Grand Canyon; the score swells ominously, metaphors for the great struggle ahead fly fast and hard, and sweat pours off the furrowed brows of the 17 contestants whose sole ambition it is to be a Big Loser.

This was the teaser for the sixth season of “The Biggest Loser,” NBC’s prime-time cash cow aimed at capturing the hearts of middle America with the struggles of obese men and women attempting to, as the official show site ebulliently states, “transform their bodies, health — and ultimately — their lives.”

With the subtlety of boot camp officers, the show’s trainers force the contestants to hang from cranes and hurl themselves down slip ‘n slides — all in the name of good health, of course. Because, as the hosts tell us in the teaser, obesity-related deaths in the United States have climbed to a staggering 300,000 each year.

Most television producers aren’t obtuse enough to claim that reality shows aren’t based on the solid principles of exploitation. After all, we are a culture fascinated by large families, marital unrest and people who think they can dance — in effect, people like us who are willing to pratfall on television.

And the newest demographic level for Joe Shmoe consumption? The heifer.

Piggybacking on the success of “The Biggest Loser,” Fox is slated to produce its newest version of the seminal millennium dating show, “The Bachelor,” only this time geared toward the 200-plus crowd. Tentatively and euphemistically termed “More To Love,” the show plans to fill the long-abandoned dating show niche for “average people.”

Mike Fleiss, producer of “The Bachelor” franchise, is collaborating with Fox’s President of Alternative Programming Mike Darnell, to create a dating show that Fleiss hopes will prove “that you can be the size you are and still be lovable,” as he told the Hollywood Reporter in an interview.

As of now, the show is focused solely on dating and not on self-improvement, though this early in the drafting process the premise is likely to be revised many times.

The producers may allege that this is a dating show that will break the waistband of expectations for reality television, but that’s a rather bold presumption. Do viewers tune into VH1’s “Charm School” to watch savage, leopard print-clad girls turn into staid young women? Do we like Susan Boyle because she’s talented or because she looks like a cross between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ms. Frizzle?

Ultimately, reality television is about viewership, and nothing is more attractive to Nielson families than good old-fashioned spectacle. And so we await the almost certainly romanticized “More to Love” advertisements in the future. They will most likely parade a montage of teary, overweight women (perhaps standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon or some other depthless chasm meant to mirror their sparse dating life.) There will almost definitely be a woman giving an inspiration testimonial of how the show has changed her perspective on her body, her health — and ultimately — her life. And of course, there will be a Josh Groban song in the background.

But viewers won’t be watching for emotional or physical betterment. They will watch because everyone likes a three-ring circus, and Fox is more than happy to provide.

But be careful, America. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Or eat cheeseburgers.

Lucy Mueller is a junior majoring in cinema-television production.