Farmer wants a wife, huh? We want pros doing the pretendingIn that peculiar universe we call primetime television, the song remains the same — that is, oft surreal. The latest case in point: the CW's new "reality" series "Farmer Wants a Wife," which premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday. Let's see if I can unravel the complex story line for you. It's a little tough, but let's give it a shot: Hunky dude with six-pack abs and square jaw, clad in jeans, shirtless, resembles a living Marlboro billboard, not overly bright, shovels hay and milks cows while a group of comely city lasses compete to be the fertile soil beneath his plow (so to speak).
In other words, it's easy to confuse it with "Frontline."
We should all be frightened and outraged that this is the kind of crap that now passes for original programming. And the reasons extend beyond what this sort of "unscripted" tripe says about the TV industry's contempt for the audience. It isn't just a matter of dumbing down the populace: "Farmer" points to a prevailing belief that television execs now find viewers incapable of functioning even at a level above that of grunting cave dwellers.
Call me a cynic, but I don't think the CW's goal here is to help Americans return to their rural roots. In fact, if we substitute the word "Farmer" for any of a dozen or so other terms, the conceit essentially remains unchanged. "Construction Worker Wants a Wife"? Sure, why not? We might also envision "Mailman Wants a Wife," "Lifeguard Wants a Wife," "Personal Trainer Wants a Gay Mate" and perhaps even "Rock Star Abuses a Groupie." It's all about the jaw, the abs and the tan. The other details are fairly irrelevant.
This isn't about picking on the CW. It is hardly the first or even the most egregious offender in transforming transparently derivative, wafer-thin premises into voyeuristic rubble. That would be Fox. The bigger issue is the fact that the genre has grown so entrenched and pervasive that its utter ubiquity has served to distract us from a bitter truth: With every reality series premiere, another group of writers and actors are relegated to the sidelines.
The industry scarcely even pretends anymore that these shows are anything less than manipulated, written and performed much like any other scripted comedy or drama — the only difference being their brazen ability to operate unbound by guild regulation and responsibility. No matter the WGA's dropping the issue in order to cut a deal and go back to work; it's an ongoing travesty for which producers and studios should be ashamed.
No amount of smoke and mirrors can obscure the truth, which shows that all bets are off now on the veracity of even respected documentary programming — as The Reporter's James Hibberd suggested in his story last week on creative editing on Discovery's popular "Deadliest Catch."
"We all know that reality TV couldn't be further from reality," points out Brad Garrett, Emmy-winning star of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and the Fox comedy " 'Til Death." "So you wind up having people with zero talent like Paris Hilton coming in and taking away jobs from real professionals. We shouldn't pretend it's anything other than that."
To be sure, "pretend" is Hollywood's bread and butter. But sometimes it feels necessary to shine a light on that elephant trampling through the room.
Ray Richmond can be reached at ray.richmond@THR.com and PastDeadline.com.