Monday, December 5, 2011

A Writer's Life - My Favorite Reality TV Shows

I don’t watch a lot of television.  Oh, it’s on, in the background, but I rarely sit down for more than 2-3 hours a week and actually watch TV.  I would say it’s because there’s nothing good on, and that’s part of it.  Frankly, I simply don’t have time.  Managing two careers, something has to give. 

As an author/historian, inspiration comes from some pretty strange places.  Certainly reality TV qualifies as a strange source. 

I do enjoy some reality television – not a lot, but some.  The first season of Survivor was good, but after seeing Richard wander around naked, I more or less dumped that show.  For a while I tracked Donald Trump’s reality show, The Apprentice.  Then I realized that none of these people were over 40 years old and that most had been selected for the fact that they were highly dysfunctional and confrontational.  I must be getting old, but it seemed like they were getting a lot of “kids” for the show rather than some seasoned professionals that might be looking for new career directions.  The Apprentice was entertaining, for a few weeks, then I got bored.  It finally dawned on me, why would anyone want to work for Donald Trump?  

There are some reality shows I like though.  I thought my readers might be interested in what I watch and why I like them.   

American Pickers (The History Channel).  The concept here is very simple, two guys traveling around the country buying rusty relics and “farm-fresh” antiques and reselling them.  Alright, I know a lot of this is staged, it has to be.  Let’s face it, the camera crews are often filming some of this before the guys show up, but it is neat to watch.  Why?  Well, my grandfather, Archie Pardoe, was a Picker. I spent my weekends hitting garage sales or traveling the back roads of Western Michigan buying some of the same stuff that Mike and Frank do.  Many days were spent at auctions.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve carried dirty furniture out of some half-collapsed barn after one of my grandfather’s purchases.   My grandfather was the master of the deal.  He could purchase a truck-load of antiques and sell half of them before we got home (never telling Grandma that he had!)  I’ve spent a lot of time crawling around barns, basements, attics and garages pulling out some real treasures. 

With my grandfather it was all about the art of the deal – negotiating with people.  I guess that is one of the things I love about the show is the bartering.  Also, I like this show because it shows a side of American antiquing that is out there and is entertaining.  A part of me wants to go with Mike and Frank once, just for grins.  I learned a lot about history being exposed to antiques my entire life…something I turned into a profession as a history author.  I don't miss Pickers every week, and neither should you. 

Cops (Fox) and (occasionally) Campus PD (G4).  Cops is and remains a great show and Campus PD is funny only because drunken college coeds are a riot to watch.  My wife Cyndi and I like Cops because we’ve learned some key lessons in life from the show:
1.  You are usually guilty of something if you are apprehended without a shirt on.  I haven’t crunched the statistics on this but trust me, if you are shirtless and on the streets after 11pm, chances are pretty damn good you are guilty of something. 
2.  If you have a tattoo, you are more likely to have committed a crime.  Like the shirt-thing, I realize this is profiling.  I’m comfortable with that. 
3.  “Those drugs aren’t mine!” Let’s be honest, those drugs are always yours.  Rarely in the history of Cops does someone say, “that bag of drugs under the driver’s seat belongs to me officer.” 
4.  When a policeman asks if you have any outstanding warrants and you respond, “I don’t think so,” you are lying. 
5.  Tasers = fun!  I am almost ashamed to say I love it when a loud-mouthed wife-beater is tased into a whimper pile of quaking agony.  I used the word, “almost…”
6.  People are morons.  I saw one woman (okay, a hooker) grab a police officer to complain that she gave a guy $20 for crack and he gave her plaster dust instead – she was demanding the officer go and get her a refund or the drugs.  There are at least two things wrong with that sentence, possibly more.  You figure it out.  These idiots are out there wandering our streets, and apparently they vote. 
7.  You can outrun a cop – but not a police dog.  I encourage you to try because it makes for great television for those of us that watch the show. 
8.  You can’t hide under a mobile home at 3:30am after allegedly beating your 600 lb wife and profess complete innocence.  If you are hiding, there’s usually a pretty good reason you’re hiding.  It’s call guilt.  Innocent people are generally not under a mobile home in the middle of a summer night. 

Campus PD is fun because college students are so damned arrogant – they argue with police who have no sense of humor in such matters.  No wonder a lot of kids can’t get jobs when they graduate.  Yes, the economy is bad, but the arrogance-level of the students produced is amazing. 

Gold Rush (Discovery)   On this show, a bunch of out-of-work guys go up to Alaska and attempt to find gold.  While the premise is simple the complexity of what they are trying to do, and their lack of skill (and often common sense) make the show entertaining.  One of the reasons I love this show because it is the essence of the American dream.  These guys do work hard (not smart) to try and strike it rich.  

Most of these guys have to go to Alaska because there’s no way they could work or play well with others in the lower 48.  The personalities make the show worth spending time with.  The argue, get physical, throw things – in other words there’s a reason they were unemployed in the first place. 

The first season the guys didn’t get rich.  I’m frankly surprised they all survived.  This season their interpersonal conflicts and sheer stupidity are off-set by the fact that they still stand a chance of finding a lot of gold.  I can’t pass this show up.   

Sons of Guns (Discovery)  This is about a custom weapons manufacturing company Red Jacket.  These guys modify weapons and build weapons from scratch.  The owner (Will) can be a redneck one minute and a 10 year old kid the next.  His daughter Stephanie runs the business itself, often playing the role of adult to her father who just wants to blow things up.  The guys make machineguns, rocket-launchers, flamethrowers and everything in-between.   I would love to tell you what the appeal of this show is, but I can’t.  It’s just awesome.  If I had any skill mechanically, I’d love to work at Red Jacket.  There’s no real risk of that happening. 

Storage Wars (A&E) and Auction Hunters (Spike).  The concept here is simple:  People bid on abandoned storage units without knowing what is there.  Then when the sale is done, they root through the garbage to sometimes find some amazing collectables and stuff.  I’m not stupid, I don’t buy into the concept that these things aren’t staged for the audience just a little.  I hate Dave Hester and think Barry is one stroke away from a nursing home.  Brandi irritates me and frankly I believe her and Jerrod deserve each other.  There, I said it.  God I’m pathetic…I’m actually paying attention to this show and the actors/participants.

At the same time this show is a lot like gambling where at least you stand a chance of winning (as opposed to a casino.)  Seeing the kind of junk people store (and abandon) is fun.  I’m amazed at the items that get pulled out of these storage units. 

Antiques Roadshow (PBS) and Pawn Stars (The History Channel).  I’ll admit it, I watch PBS – so shoot me.  Not only was my grandfather a Picker but my father owned an antique mall.  I always get a kick out of people that bring in junk and find out that it is worth serious cash.  Likewise, I have to admit, I enjoy it when they think they have something worth a fortune only to find that it is worthless crap. 

These shows are perfect to have on when I’m writing because I’m only interested in a few of the articles that are shown.  I can work away ignoring the show until something neat comes up.

The roadshow used to drive my dad up the walls.  People would see something on the roadshow and assume they owned the same thing – and that it was worth the same amount of money.  People would show up and say, “give me $10,000.00 for this – that’s what they said it was worth on the roadshow.”  It added five years to his age.  He usually invited them to go track down the appraiser on the show and get him/her to cut them a check.   

Pawn Stars adds a little character to it because of the guys working there. Let’s face it, the Old Man is a riot.  ChumLee is so mentally slow, it’s a miracle that he finds his way to work every day.  Corey is lazy and somewhat stupid (the guy bought a hot air balloon for God’s sake.)  I enjoy some of the incredible artifacts that come in, and love I when they have Chum test out the weapons to see if they’ll explode. 

I was going to list History Detectives on PBS as well, but I am not sure if that qualifies as reality TV.  I have done some research for the producers of the show so obviously I am biased.  So for now, it’s not on the list. 

So, feel free to post up your favorite reality shows below.  If you list the Jersey Shore as a favorite, be prepared to defend yourself from the inevitable abuse however.  

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