When MTV’s The Real World debuted in 1992, people saw it for what it was: a silly bit of voyeurism for a bunch of stupid kids. Twenty years later, the genre it hatched is dominating prime time, and the audiences are a helluva lot older than 18. VH1’s Mob Wives owns the female 18-49 demographic, but with 3.5 million combined viewers for this season’s debut (including the encore performance), that has to include some stupid old men. Anthony Hopkins has admitted he’s one of them.
Shouldn’t Hopkins be joining the 4.2 million people who watched the debut of Downton Abbey? It hurts when we lose a BAFTA Fellow to the hordes. How can grown men watch this program? It’s a curse-laden freak show of foul sluts attacking each other, gossiping about their inconsequential lives in bastardized English, and spewing inanities such as, “Archenemy is a highly educated word.” When did this become an adult’s idea of entertainment?
Former VH1 impresario, reality-TV scion, and current Atlantic contributing editor Michael Hirschorn tries to defend the genre, saying it’s an affordable and “real” way of unapologetically dealing with uncomfortable topics. He claims his The White Rapper Show “turned into a running debate among the aspiring white MCs over cultural authenticity—whether it is more properly bestowed by class or race.”
What’s really driving reality television is the price tag. Following cougar Guidettes around Staten Island with a handheld camera has to be cheaper than recreating WWI England in all its aristocratic glory. Hirschorn claims that reality TV is anywhere from 50% to 75% less expensive to produce than scripted TV. Where scripted television requires writers and editors and plots that must be tied up in a bow at the end of every episode, unscripted television is a malleable ball that can turn on a dime. That’s not to say it is strictly unscripted. I know people who work on Mob Wives and many other reality shows, and they claim the major players often have earpieces on them and are fed dialogue to help ramp up the drama when things get dull. (Sources say the show’s creator and executive producer Jenn Graziano is one of these Svengalis.)
Insiders tell me this mutiny began with Tony Soprano. Back in 2003 when James Gandolfini demanded $1 million per episode for The Sopranos, producers at Law & Order said their boss Dick Wolf went ballistic. They claim he saw this demand as the end of scripted television and faxed everyone in the TV industry a one-page note that said, “IT’S THE WRITING, DUMMIES” in angry black marker. The endlessly breeding scourge of reality television proves Wolf right. The actors’ egos eventually got so big, the free market gave up on them and decided to harness the huge supply of wannabe celebrities that a 24-hour-a-day TV industry with countless channels demands. When the Writers Guild strike hit in 2007, reality TV got another huge boost.
But Mob Wives? Half of them aren’t even the wives of mobsters. I mean, sure, Drita and Carla lost their wise guys to the pen, but Karen Gravano and Renee are Mob Daughters. And where does Ramona get off talking shit about Drita’s Albanian heritage? Ramona’s a Mob Granddaughter. She married out of the mob! And before we all start getting tattoos of Big Ang, let’s not forget she’s nothing more than a Mob Niece.
The only thing more infuriating than the fact that men watch this show is how Renee reacts to her ex-husband’s Hector “Junior” Pagan’s constant philandering. He always claimed to love her father like his own and says the only reason he and Renee divorced was her “controlling” nature, but we see the texts! We see him flirting with other girls even after he and Renee move back in together. Not a single viewer was surprised to read in the paper last week that Junior was only pretending to want her back and was actually using her to gain her father’s trust so he could throw him back in jail. Of course—Junior’s a rat! It was right under our noses. The feds observed that every time Renee’s father T. G. Graziano got out of jail, he happily resumed his duties as consigliere. They hadn’t been happy since T. G. got out in April last year, so when Hector saw himself staring at another bid behind bars, he did what all rats do—he rolled on his family. We weren’t surprised, but Renee “Blind as a Bat” Graziano was so shocked, she had a panic attack and had to be rushed to the hospital. Can you believe her sister’s the show’s Svengali?
With the last few episodes showing Renee starting to lean toward team Drita, Junior’s betrayal will probably solidify the deal. Drita was one of the few bitches who kept it real and warned Renee about this scumbag. She’s a brawler, that Drita, and she rubs a lot of the other women the wrong way, but in the end, she’s not bullshittin’. She’s tellin’ you the fuckin’ troot.
It’s not easy to guess where it’s headed. We can’t say anything for certain until this Sunday at 9 PM when the new episode airs, but if things keep heading in the same direction, Carla’s going to keep pretending she cares about her friendship with Karen, Ramona’s going to keep talking out of her ass, Renee’s going to keep fucking up, Drita’s going to keep fighting for what’s right, and Big Ang? Well, she’s just Big Ang. Whaddaya gonna do?
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