Say “I Don't” to More Bad Reality TV

It feels like CBS is just messing with us at this point.

Any relation to the old Tiffany Network is now officially long gone – unless, of course, the couples featured on the planned new reality show “Arranged Marriage” are going to set up bridal registries at Tiffany’s.

Here’s the concept behind what sounds like the latest reality-TV degradation, according to The Hollywood Reporter: four marriage-minded but prospect-less adults let their families and friends pick a spouse for them. The couples exchange vows and the cameras follow them to happily-ever-after, no doubt.

The show, couched as a documentary, seems less a social experiment than a way to stoke the requisite controversy and the how-low-can-you-go anger designed to draw viewers. CBS used the same formula in the build up to 2007’s “Kid Nation,” where children were left to form their own society, with the ever-present danger of “Lord of the Flies” breaking out at any moment.

Courtship already has been turned into a game show by the likes of “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” and “Married by America.” But nobody on those “reality” programs was crazy enough to actually wed.

In “Arranged Marriage,” the couples are actually getting hitched. We may wind up learning, through the miracle of editing, more about them than they know – or want to know -- about each other.

“Kid Nation” didn’t last long. It’s unclear, of course, whether this new potential train wreck will draw many rubberneckers beyond the first few shows. Who knows – maybe it will become a huge hit. Maybe the marriages will somehow work. But that doesn't mean the show is a good idea.

People get married for a lot of good reasons and a lot of bad reasons. Getting to be on TV doesn’t merit a check mark in the “good” column.

Of course, the “Arranged Marriage” subjects are consenting adults – expected to be in the 25-to-45 range – and they almost certainly will be attractive with entertaining back stories. But will viewers be able to forever hold their peace amid the outrage pre-show marketing is likely to generate?

Attracting viewers by fueling controversy is a short-term strategy. If the show can’t hold an audience beyond the initial shock value, the only knot CBS will be tying is a noose.

If “Arranged Marriage” makes a quick exit, maybe the couples could move onto “The Newlywed Show” – a new version, hosted by Carnie Wilson, is set to debut in April – before ending up on “Divorce Court.”

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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