The Fourth Wall: Why are shows like these on television? ... Because people watch
The advantage of being laid low by a cold is that we can gleefully revert to our Neanderthalic genetic foundations by disappearing beneath layers of mismatched clothes, plant ourselves in the most comfortable chair and — in the words of the legendary late-night host Tom Snyder — “fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air.”
The disadvantage? Welp, let’s just say that not everything the trusty old remote lands upon feeds our colds with enough nourishment to clear the inversion layer out of our foggy minds.
Let’s start with “The Masked Singer,” shall we?
The concept couldn’t be any simpler. Costumed singers perform on stage in front of a live audience (because a dead audience would just be creepy) and a panel of four judges whose careers are dead enough to merit having to accept this job.
The singers are masked because they have achieved enough fame to appear on a show such as this, and while the audience votes whether, say, a Deer can out-sing a Unicorn, the judges try to figure out — through a video package containing clues and the physicality of a fuzzy green Monster — who’s beneath which costume.
Believe me, it’s not as exciting as I’ve just made it sound.
Yet, the premiere episode became the highest-rated reality telecast to air on a broadcast network (Fox) over the past two years.
And it went beyond initial curiosity: “The Masked Singer,” according to a report on deadline.com, “logged the highest-rated unscripted debut on any network in more than seven years in Live+same day, has seen the largest Live+3 absolute gain ever in both adults 18-49 (+0.9 rating to 3.9) and total viewers (+2.9 million to 12.3 million) vs. L+SD.”
I’m sure that’s impressive to those who know what those terms mean and why they matter (it probably translates into money), but I was more interested in the canned reactions of shock on the faces of the judges when it was revealed that the first eliminated contestant, the Hippo, was none other than ... Antonio Brown.
This past Tuesday, the highest-rated unscripted TV event featuring people wearing costumes that hid their true identities emanated from Washington, D.C. Nah, fewer people watched to see if the elephant’s tune was better than the donkey’s than tuned in to another simplistic concept ... “Ellen’s Game of Games.”
At least here, the contestants are not those with the celebrity cachet of Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown ... but average, normal, everyday folks — if by “average, normal, everyday” you mean people who jump up and down and screech on TV screens for a chance to win cash and have a bemused Ellen DeGeneres lead them through humiliating antics.
Ellen plops them into pools of hot chocolate, fires cannons filled with food stuffs at them, and spins them around until dizzy as the live audience (there they are again) whoops and hollers at the stumbling lab rats.
It’s hard not to laugh along as one member of a couple suffers such indignity, while the other just stands there with a goofy grin trying to figure out how to apologize once the canned music and flashing lights fade away.
Now, I happen to like Ellen. I like Ellen to the point where I can forgive her for doing those commercials for a cable television provider. And on her “Game of Games,” she is the perfect host — maintaining an attitude that says both “Can you believe we’re getting away this?” and “Who ARE these people?”
The highlight this season had to be Ellen’s look of resignation and incredulity when she opened a trap door to flush away a school teacher who had said North Carolina was one of the countries in North America.
We should all have trap doors at our disposal.
In terms of outright humiliation, though, “Masked Singer” judges and “Game of Games” contestants can’t hold an L+SD in comparison to those associated with a series to make its debut next week.
USA — the network whose drama “Suits” served as Meghan Markle’s segue from “Deal Or No Deal” model to British royalty — has resurrected a series that ended 14 years ago, betting that American audiences (live and otherwise) are ready once again to watch.
It’s “Temptation Island,” which brings four unmarried couples to Maui to see whether their relationships can withstand the infusion of 24 single men and women — whose role, according to the previews, is to tempt our contestants into breaking the bonds that brought them there.
Let’s follow the thought process here: You’re in a relationship, and the way you decide to find out whether it will last is to head to Hawaii, have your insecurities and difficulties broadcast on TV in between “NCIS” marathons, and allow your significant other to be “tempted” by a group of equally delusional singles — who themselves are brought to the same island in hopes of finding true love by stealing away someone else’s partner.
I’m reminded of the homeowners on renovation shows who don’t want to have to go through a renovation project. In this case, you’ve allowed yourself to be cast on a series called “Temptation Island” ... what did you think you were getting yourself into?
And who is the audience for this? People who find “The Bachelor(ette)” too chaste?
When it comes to television, we are what we watch ... so count me out when it comes to “Temptation Island.” There isn’t a head cold out there that could make me sick enough to tune in.
If you think you know who The Peacock is on “The Masked Singer,” send your answer to Mail Tribune columnist Robert Galvin at email@example.com.