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What's Not Real? 

Reality shows and real money

In the year 2020, when live cockfights and soft-core porn will be shown after 10pm on network television, codgers like us will remember the good old days of today, when "reality" shows sprang up like crabgrass, and TV critics lamented the downfall of Western Civilization because of Joe Millionaire.Even though they're not scripted dramas and comedies, "reality" is a strange title for tightly produced and formatted programs. We live in a time when everyone wants to be on TV, no matter how humiliated they might be -- the Next Big Thing might come along, and Fame would be theirs. The actual reality is that, like them or loathe them, these shows are raking in ad dollars and ratings at any of the networks willing to sell a little of their already tarnished souls to the Nielsen devil.

From a business standpoint (and since that's what TV is actually about anymore), they give a network several weeks of good ratings, water cooler chatter, and even website traffic. Academics debate misogynistic overtones in Bachelor and the dumbing down of America from Fear Factor. Meanwhile, networks couldn't be happier.

The bigger question, though, is why do we like them so much? Rational, thinking people I know admit to watching one or more of these shows, from Star Search to my personal guilty pleasure, American Idol, and getting hooked, especially on cold winter nights when Friends is probably a rerun and ER is looking tired. Why not hunker down and sample Extreme Makeovers? You don't have to tell anyone.

Just to be sure I wasn't justifying my own moral downfall, I checked with Jeff Arrowood of Fox18 to be sure that Charlotte loves "reality." Overnight Nielsens in Charlotte show that Joe Millionaire won its time period handily three weeks in a row, and in a night that really underscores the point, on January 22, three "reality" shows, namely Star Search, American Idol, and The Bachelorette combined that night for a 48 percent share of the local audience. The four scripted shows that night, including Ed and Dawson's Creek, only managed a 15 share.

The Super Bowl has come and gone again, leaving the highway littered with beer cans and a few memorable commercials. And hey, if you're a Tampa Bay fan, warm and happy memories.It boggles the mind how much money is spent in the creation and production of the TV spots, which bagged ABC over $2 million per spot. It makes you wonder whether the collective attention span grows shorter, since we pay so much attention to these commercials pitching brew, soda, and sneakers. Or maybe it's just because, more often than not, the game's a snoozer.

The best spot of the night was the "Terry Tate" Reebok ad, where a new office manager-slash-linebacker takes care of business with slackers on the job with some bone crushing management skills.

The first snow of 2003 brought us the usual TV team reports stocked with chilly-looking reporters, warm-looking anchors, and we-told-you-so weather folks. A few things stood out, for good or bad.Best Hat went to WCNC's Bobby Sisk, who sported a wooly knit cap. Coolest Gadget and Best Jackets go to WSOC, with their weather van that showed live and taped shots of rotten roadways. Grumpiest Look went to WBTV's Steve Ohnesorge of its Morganton Bureau, who by now must think that snow really sucks. And the Best Closings Graphics falls to News 14 Carolina, which actually categorizes its on-screen data by whether the closings are schools, businesses, non-profits, etc.

And you know it's actually a "weather event" when Charlotte's snow even rated a national live shot on NBC's Today Show on January 24.

AND ANOTHER THING OR TWO Vince Coakley is back doing part-time anchoring at Channel 9. If you recall, he's been recuperating from surgery to remove a brain tumor last fall. . .Also at 9, do my eyes deceive me, or is there a little warmth and humor in recent news promos? One spot makes weatherguy Steve Udelson seem like a nice guy (which he is), and another one trying to show how much ground Eyewitness News covers is a little less SWAT team, and more human. We are in a ratings book, after all. . .ACC fans should check out the two-hour DVD called "Golden Glory -- The First 50 Years of the ACC" which chronicles highlights and interviews from different sports and athletes. The Atlantic Coast Conference produced the program to commemorate its 50th anniversary this year. You can learn more at . .WTVI has won a national Aegis award for its documentary about Judaism in Charlotte. The Aegis is a video award that recognizes outstanding productions. . .Fans of Fox's Boston Public can look for a former Charlottean in the February 17 episode. Twenty-year-old actor Richard Keith will have a role in the show. He's the son of Bruce and Cindy Keith, and has also had parts on Ed and Dawson's Creek. Keith now lives in Hollywood.Stay tuned. . .

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