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Existential Island 

PBS faces reality

The Public Broadcasting System is facing tough financial times. In these days of state and federal budget problems, PBS must rely more than ever on its subscribers to provide the needed funds for operation. As if there weren't already endless pledge drives, now there is an additional urgency to their begging for money.

One controversial path to financial health is to come up with a new television series that is so compelling, people will eagerly pay for the privilege of watching it. The public network is in touch with pop culture enough to realize that the hottest thing on commercial television has been so-called reality shows featuring hard-bodied 20-somethings searching for love, or at least some sex. But the problem for PBS is clear: the network is expected to have higher intellectual standards than say, Fox, so if they want to attract reality show fans, the actual show will have to at least genuflect toward substance. You know, combine brain with beauty, intellect with hard bodies.

So, this Spring, coming to a PBS station near you, look for Existential Island, a program that seeks to combine looks and brains into a scintillating hour that combines hard young bodies with intellectual stimulation. I was privileged to watch the first show and I'm dying to tell you eager, intellectual readers about it.

In an ecologically well-maintained rain forest, we bring five gorgeous bikini-clad women and six buff guys. At the end of each hour the women vote off one man and the men vote off one woman, the final threesome will celebrate in their own, ahem, way.

(Apparently, the producers found it impossible to find 11 real intellectuals with super-bodies and hyper hormones, so truth be told, some of the dialogue was written for them by doctoral candidates who, as you know, will do anything for money.)

By a small lagoon we find our first couple, Elle, a fashion buyer for a group of trendy stores, and Keanu, a professional body builder. He speaks first: "Indeed, it's a philosophical conundrum that we here on Existential Island can make our choices based upon whatever subjective criteria we choose and the ultimate prize is not financial but even more sexual activity."

Elle replies, "You mean we don't get a million dollars? Jeez, what a rip-off! You mean all we do is talk a little bit and then screw our brains out, and that's it? Is that all there is?"

Keanu notes, "Humans have asked that same question for ages about their own lives." Then, quickly nodding, he asks, "By the way, are those real?"

"Hey, what is reality, huh?" replies Elle, winking.

The next encounter takes place under the lush forest canopy where we find Brad, a professional volleyball player, and Winona, who works in security at a high fashion store. Brad speaks, "Don't you think the novels of Joyce are vastly over-rated?"

Winona replies, "Joyce? Who's she?" Brad shrugs, "Damn if I know." Winona says, "At least we can keep the clothes they gave us. I know I'm taking these bikinis home with me." Brad asks, "So, you want to fool around?"

Next, we come upon an African American couple in the shade of a rare 2,000-year-old tree. Bobby is a pharmaceutical salesman and Whitney an anorectic waitress in a gelato shop. The topic is music and Bobby posits, "In truth, don't you think many of Haydn's later symphonies are derivative of his earlier works?" Whitney replies, "Who's hidin' from who?" Bobby shrugs and Whitney asks, "You got any more of those drug samples? If you give me some, we can fool around."

Finally, we come to a strikingly handsome couple emerging dripping wet from a natural pool of unpolluted jungle water. Vin is a diesel mechanic and Britney is a former virgin, now training for a career in telemarketing. She speaks first, "What is an existential island anyway? And how come we're in the middle of the jungle and not on an island? What's up with all this?" Vin pauses thoughtfully, furrowing his brow, looks up, and asks, "So, you want to fool around?"

I admit that what I saw what a rough cut of the show, and while it certainly excited my, uh, interest, it probably needs some work. Maybe the producers could answer the question on my mind: Are they real? Will there be a sequel? Will Charlie Rose show up? What was that phone number so I can call in my generous pledge? This is television worth watching.

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