NPR Story
11:39 pm
Tue December 4, 2012

Reality TV Moves In A Different Direction

Originally published on Wed December 5, 2012 9:54 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

From the story of a literary star to one of a reality TV star, Mike Rowe, host of the television show "Dirty Jobs," quietly announced last month that his show has been cancelled by the Discovery Channel. TV critic Eric Deggans says the trend in reality TV is moving away from the kind of programming Rowe brought to the screen.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: For eight seasons, Mike Rowe was the guy who dared poke things, go places and do jobs no typically blow-dried TV host would touch.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIRTY JOBS")

MIKE ROWE: Oh, dear. This is the black, tar-like, vile, putrid, regurgitative vomit, and only produced by the ostrich, this particular bouquet.

DEGGANS: Rowe took TV cameras to the worst occupations you can imagine, inseminating turkeys, castrating lambs and digging up slimy blood worms.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIRTY JOBS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: See the head puffing up?

ROWE: That's down there.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: That's was the head puffing up. You don't want that to bite you.

DEGGANS: But a curious thing happened. Rowe gained serious admiration for people who tackled the ickiest jobs in America.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DIRTY JOBS")

ROWE: You have a great respect for the blood worm, actually.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Actually, we do.

ROWE: I mean, I can just tell from listening to you. It's just...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's paid for two of my houses.

ROWE: When a guy tells you that he's paid for two of his own houses by pulling slimy worms out of the mud, that gets your attention.

DEGGANS: These folks were the best at the worst jobs imaginable, but they found fulfillment in places where others fear to tread, as Rowe noted during a 2008 speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROWE: People with dirty jobs are happier than you'd think. As a group, they're the happiest people I know. And I don't want to start whistling look for the union label and all that happy worker crap. I'm just telling you that these are balanced people who do unthinkable work. Road kill picker-uppers whistle while they work, I swear to God. I did it with them.

DEGGANS: So what's taking "Dirty Jobs'" place on Discovery?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMISH MAFIA")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: When things don't go like they should, that's where we step in and help out.

DEGGANS: Stuff like this new series, "Amish Mafia."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMISH MAFIA")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The Bible says an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes, there really is an Amish mafia.

DEGGANS: Sounds like a bad "Saturday Night Live" skit that didn't even make the show, but they put it online the next day, anyway. But what would you expect? Discovery also owns TLC, once known as The Learning Channel. And they had a blockbuster hit with another controversial show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO")

ALANA HONEY BOO BOO THOMPSON: I am Honey Boo Boo child. I am a pageant queen superstar.

DEGGANS: "Here Come Honey Boo Boo."

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: You're a little fat.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO")

JUNE SHANNON: We're a little fat. We're fat.

MIKE THOMPSON: We're not fat. We're pleasingly plump.

DEGGANS: This show oozes disdain for its characters.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO")

THOMPSON: I want the barbeque. Now, I want the chicken and then I want the ribs.

DEGGANS: The show subtitles their every word, like the family's thick Southern accents are from another language. And its attitude has spread across a chunk of so-called reality TV shows. Let's call it the Honey Boo Boo-ification of nonfiction television. Out goes a show that honors hard work and solid values, and in comes programs which play like televised freak shows.

On "Dirty Jobs," Mike Rowe encouraged the audience to admire working-class heroes doing jobs no one else would. "Honey Boo Boo" invites its audience to look down on its starts. It makes them the butt of an inside joke every viewer's encouraged to laugh at. Sad as it is to see "Dirty Jobs" ushered off to cancellation, Mike Rowe and his crew might be getting out just in time.

MONTAGNE: Eric Deggans: He's a TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, and also author of "Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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