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Reality Meets Fiction

New cable show seeks to blur the line.

by Mark D. Johnson
February 14, 2003

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Reality Meets Fiction_Mark D. Johnson-New cable show seeks to blur the line. Reality TV is performing remarkably strong in the ratings, even as networks risk overexposure a la “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”, but there remains a large segment of society that simply hates this unscripted fare. To be sure, a lot of it is, as Dear Jon would say, “crap,” loaded with cheap production values, questionable moral values, and weak in entertainment value. And while there are some quality Reality offerings out there, some people just prefer good old-fashioned fiction when it comes to TV. Though its not likely to win many converts, the ABC Family cable channel is airing an interesting hybrid of reality and fiction that could, in theory, attract fans of both.

“My Life is a Sitcom” is a contest among humorous real-life families to win the prize of starring as themselves in a traditional sitcom based on their lives and taped before a live studio audience. Each week, one of the eight competing families is featured as actual sitcom writers (who have written for hit shows) spend a couple of days with them, taking notes. Judging the competition are three former sitcom stars: Maureen McCormick (Marcia, “The Brady Bunch”), Dave Coulier (Joey, “Full House”), and David Faustino (Bud, “Married with Children”). They watch footage from the writers’ visits, discuss with the writers the elements that could work for a sitcom, and then decide who moves on.

The families are often shown in preconceived, though unscripted, situations based on their normal lives. Those contrived segments may put off some viewers since it is made to appear as though this is what would really happen if cameras were not present, but by now, anyone watching Reality TV should be savvy enough to expect a skewed reality. It is an understandable necessity in this case, since these are essentially auditions to show their potential for comedy in humorous situations, and of course even the funniest families aren’t always immersed in sitcom-like situations in real life. In the end, what we see is that these families show good instinct for humor as a group and who may or may not have good acting skills. (The latter is not taken into the judges’ consideration.)

The interesting part of this series is the examination of what makes for a good sitcom, and what aspects of a family’s real life can translate into good, comedic fiction. What kind of characters make for good traditional comic roles? What kind of family dynamics are funny? What kind of real life situations can be entertaining? The celebrity panel of judges show an insightful understanding of the genre, though the discussion shown is brief.

Of course, this is the Reality portion of the show, and as such, it’s light entertainment, good for family viewing. Whether the resulting sitcom is anything worth watching remains to be seen. Even if the fiction part doesn’t pan out, you’ve got to admit it’s an intriguing experiment.

"My Life is a Sitcom" airs Mondays at 8/7c. Multiple episodes are often repeated on weekends.

Channel Hopping…
  • “Survivor: The Amazon” started up this week with a twist, pitting a male tribe against a female tribe for the first time. As gimmicky as that sounds, it does shake things up considerably, at least until the two teams merge. Another first: one of the women is deaf. However, with only three people over 40 and just two non-Caucasian contestants, this is the least diverse cast yet. Other ideas to keep the franchise going through Survivor 10: geeks vs. jocks, short vs. tall, fat vs. skinny, hot vs. not.

  • Highlights of the week ahead include Matthew Broderick in ABC’s remake of “The Music Man” (Sunday), the 300th episode of “The Simpsons” (Sunday), and of course, a long, drawn-out conclusion to “Joe Millionaire,” which has promised us a very surprising twist (though many viewers are still pretty steamed about last Monday’s clip show, a shameless act by Fox to milk the ratings).

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