Reality Bytes: Part 1

When I wrote this in 2003 I e-mailed it out to a bunch of folks and included an online voting mechanism. Later I finished the story based on the voting results. Obviously enough, voting is no longer open.

Scene: An expensively illuminated, yet starkly decorated conference room. Tired of paying exorbitant fees to license reality television concepts from Great Britain, five writers have gathered around a table to brainstorm new ideas of their own.

Barry: O.K., you know how popular crime shows are these days? Well here's what I see, we hook ourselves up with five mafia hitmen and equip them with hidden cameras. Then America watches as the hitmen track down their victims and silence them forever.

Stan: Interesting, but I don't think legal will go for it.

Barry: Why not?

Stan: Too derivative. It sounds too much like that movie from the 70's in which game show contestants were hunted to death on television. We might have to pay to use it.

Barry: But that was government sponsored, our guys would be from the mob, freelancers. I think it changes everything.

Michael: I'm sick of all these shows in which they put a group of strangers together in a house, on an island, on a quest, etc. Why don't we just go into some bar or coffeehouse, find a big group of friends and put them in a house together?

Stan: What "Friends meets Real World?" is it unique? What challenges will they face?

Michael: The challenge will be getting along in a different environment. We'll buy a really nice house in the city where they all live. Everyone will go about life as usual except that they will be under 24 hour surveillance. The prize will be the house. But there is a catch. America will vote for the most popular male and female houseguests. The winning pair can keep the house, but only if they get married and stay married for 12 months. And of course we'll leave the cameras in place for the whole time.

Nadia: Interesting, I wonder if they would go for it. But instead of putting a bunch of people together, what if we separated them? Let's make 12 people live in isolation. Each person will be locked into an apartment. Food will be delivered through a dog door. Each apartment will be furnished with a bed, art supplies, woodworking equipment, tools, and a computer. The contestants can go on the web to learn how to use their tools but they can't e-mail or message anyone except the other contestants.

Michael: Do they know the other contestants?

Nadia: No, they'll get to know each other online. They'll be lonely, so they'll reach out. Here's the competition, each person gets points for everything they create using the art supplies, tools, etc. We'll need a team of celebrity judges to award the points. Whoever has the most points after two weeks wins $300K. But here is the trick, the contestants lose a point for every minute they are online. So they have to ration their computer usage.

Michael: And America doesn't have a vote?

Nadia: No, that's the biggest twist of all.

Stan: I think we've come up with some great ideas so far, but let's see if we can think farther outside the box. What if we take 12 law-abiding citizens, real upstanding folks with not even a traffic ticket between them, and we imprison them in Alcatraz. We hire guards, serve them prison food, the whole nine yards.

Barry: Do you think they'd let us rent the place? They'd have to close it to the public.

Stan: Sure, the government needs cash. And we leave it open. It will be a big drawing card; tour groups can come through and visit them! Prisoners will be paroled for bad behavior and the last one in lock up wins.

Michael: What if we put them in a real prison? We could see if any of them go bad. Maybe even get a research grant.

Stan: We'd have to ask legal.

Courtney: That law-abiding citizen thing gives me an idea. What if we take a group of fundamentalist Christians and house them in a Nevada Bordello for 30 days. There won't be any customers, but the contestants will be surrounded by beautiful hookers, handsome gigolos, slot machines, craps tables, fine wine, etc. Whoever doesn't fall pray to their temptations wins.

Stan: Do people still use the word gigolo? What if the winner is the one who caves in to the most temptations. That's a pretty big challenge. Of course we can't tell them until they get there or they won't sign up in the first place.

Voiceover of Announcer:
Well America, you've heard the ideas. Now its time to pick your favorite pitch. Vote online using the comments field below to decide which reality television show will be produced. We'll announce the winners next week, and tell you how you can sign up to be a contestant. Goodnight, and thank you for watching the Reality Channel.

Reality Bytes: Part 2

Scene: Studio soundstage. Our never before seen dark haired male announcer stands poised under a spotlight.

"Welcome back America! Since last week's episode approximately 13% of you have logged in to cast your votes for the reality show that you think we should produce. Back in the green room our five writers are waiting for your verdict. Let's listen in."

Scene: Room with conference table buried in fresh fruit and five brands of bottled mineral water. 5 Writers sit or pace whilst discussing the potential outcome.

Barry: Courtney, I wouldn't get your hopes up about that Fundamentalist Temptation business. This country is getting more conservative by the minute. I don't think they'll want us poking fun at good Christians.

Courtney: Oh, come on, lighten up, what do you care, you're an atheist. Besides if they play by their own rules, they'll maintain their dignity. And if they cave into their temptations, well then they weren't that devout in the first place.

Stan: None of them will want to compete anyway. They'll think it is a mockery of their religion.

Michael: I don't know about that. There are always a few who emulate Job. You know, the type who are sure they can withstand anything. And what are a few prostitutes compared to death and disease.

Nadia: It doesn't matter. I think they'll vote for my idea. I think they'll prefer to watch individuals stuck alone in apartments. Every viewer can feel more like a peeping Tom this way.

Cut back to stage.

Announcer: Well ladies and gentleman, I've just gotten word that the rest of the show will be pre-empted for an address by the President. Since we'll have to wait until next week to reveal the winner, we've decided to keep the polls open. So login now (ballots are now closed) to submit your vote. Come back next week to learn who won and to view the pilot episode.

Cut to Presidential Press Conference.

George W. Bush speaks for 10 minutes about the urgent need to go to war.

Cut to national newsroom.
Various newscasters debate the effectiveness of the President's speech.

Cut to Coors commercial involving scantily clad twins and simple loud music.

Da da da da dunh do do do dee dum

Bright colorful graphics circa 1978 Peoria come onscreen to announce the local news.

Newscaster Mark: Welcome to channel seven's news at 11:00. Tonight in Parma, police are still looking for the bomber bank robber.

Newscaster Stacey: And in National news the President gave another plea for the country to back him in Iraq.

Newscaster Mark: What do the latest polls say Stacey.

Newscaster Stacey: As of this morning 58% of the public is behind the President, assuming a U.N. resolution is passed.

Newscaster Mark: I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens. And on the home front another reality show fakes us out. Joe Millionaire and The Bachelorette both left us dangling this season, and now the latest reality show. "The Reality Show" does the same. Viewers expecting to learn who won were disappointed to discover they'll have to wait another week.

Newscaster Stacey: But sometimes no news is good news. The show is keeping the polls open so if you've not yet voted for your favorite reality show you still have time. Just log on to (ballots now closed) to cast your ballot.

Newscaster Mark: I'll be casting mine tonight right after our show.

Newscaster Stacey: Me too, Mark, me too.

Fade to commercial.

Reality Bytes: Part 3

Scene: Our now familiar dark-haired announcer/host stands under a spotlight in what appears to be an otherwise dimly lit parking lot.

Host: Well America, with almost 25% of known viewership logging in, the votes are final. In tallying the votes and reading viewer comments we came to some interesting conclusions. What Americans want to watch and what Americans want to do is not always the same.

We saw a small but exuberant percentage of the population express an interest in following the life of a Mafia hitman on the job. It is no more surprising that these viewers--flirting with the dark romance of the Sopranos and the Godfather--would choose this than that none of them expressed an interest in being on such a show.

The prison show proved popular as well with many of you wishing to compete. One viewer, concerned about her qualifications as an upstanding citizen wondered if she would be disqualified for having a speeding ticket.

Some of you, though not many (fans of Friends perhaps), liked the idea of putting a group together in a house that the winning couple could keep the if they married. One jaded reality show viewer pointed out that these marriages never seem to happen anyway.

Many of you wanted to participate in An Apartment Apart. The idea of being locked alone in an apartment with tools, supplies and limited access seemed like a lot of fun--an entertaining vacation. Yet not as many of you were willing to watch someone elso do the same thing.

And finally we come to Fundamentalist Temptation. None of you voters volunteered to play this game. It may be that there weren't many right-wing Christians in our viewing audience. It may be that these more conservative viewers didn't wish to tempt fate. We have no way of knowing. What we do know is this. America is a land of voyeurs--voyeurs who like to watch others struggle with free will. Well America, as the snake said to Eve, here is your apple, all you have to do is take a bite. Welcome to Fundamentalist Temptation!!!

Voiceover disclaimer: The producers of this show wish to assure our viewers that we respect the values of people of all faiths and practices. Each contestant was subjected to a battery of tests, administered by psychologists, to ensure they were mentally and emotionally prepared to face this challenge. Each contestant signed a waiver disclosing that they have a full understanding of the nature of the competition and of the potential for embarrassment.

Scene: Garden lights come on revealing a path through a well-manicured garden. Interior lights come up to reveal the windows of a gothic revival mansion. Above the door in Flashing Neon the sign reads "Welcome to Gomorrah." Six chauffeur driven sixties-vintage pink Cadillac convertibles drive up to the path giving us our first glimpse of the contestants. One at a time the guests are greeted by our host and sent up to the house.

Car one: Betsy from Massachusetts, a clothing buyer for Filenes Department Store whose hobbies include rollerblading, glass-blowing, and teaching Sunday School.

Car two: Stanley from Hoboken, a successful businessman who owns a chain of Chevrolet and Saturn dealerships. When not working Stanley enjoys raising orchids and serving as a deacon at his church.

Car three: Nancy from New Orleans, a social worker committed to helping women who've fallen prey to drugs or prostitution to find new hope and new lives. Nancy believes that years of working the streets of New Orleans have prepared her to resist any temptation.

Car four: Luke from San Diego, a professional surfer who spends half the year chasing waves around the world. Luke feels his travels are a gift from god and give him the opportunity to pursue missionary work around the globe.

Car five: Candace. Unbeknownst to the other contestants, Candace has built an empire producing tasteful pornographic videos designed to entertain men and women alike without promoting the degradation of women. She has also recently launched a series of educational sex manuals meant to build erotic empowerment through awareness of body and spirit.

Car six: Carl is a retired Mafia hitman who found redemption through Christ while in prison and now devotes his time to mentoring young men whose life situations would otherwise make them more vulnerable to criminal pursuits.

Host: Here they are, six people from widely different backgrounds with nothing in common but a belief in redemption through Christ and the heartfelt conviction that their faith will prevail, and allow them to leave the show with the million dollar grand prize. In the course of the next few weeks they'll be exposed to temptations of the tastebuds and of the flesh of gambling and of alcohol. But most of all they'll be tempted by greed. Let's go see how they're settling in.

Scene: Host walks up path and enters house. Camera pans across living room as scantily clad waiters and waitresses proffer champagne, caviar, crabcakes, single malt scotch, handrolled cigars, and themselves to our nervous contestants.

Host: I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome you all to Gomorrah. As you know, you'll spend the next few weeks resisting temptation in the hopes of winning the million dollars. But what you don't know is that there are two prizes. The person who resists temptation, who stays most true to the practices of his or her individual church will receive a check for one million dollars made out to the charity of his or her choice. The grand prize winner, the person who will receive a million-dollar check for him or herself, will be the one who most clearly succumbs to hedonism. You have faith, you have free will, and now the choice is yours. Welcome to Fundamental Temptation.

Scene: Closing credits and scenes from upcoming episode in which the six contestants are placed in a hot tub and offered a challenge. The producers will send $10,000 to the church of the first contestant to remove his/her bathing suit.

Reality Bytes Disclaimer

The Reality Bytes story was written a few years ago as a satire of the preponderance of reality shows on television. At the time, episode one was distributed to about 120 people, approximately 25% of whom actually voted for a favorite. It was based on their results and comments that I came up with the final ending. Nonetheless, all this fluff and nonsense did spurt from my mind, so I want to make it clear that this is a satire of the television industry and not of people's beliefs. It occurred to me then that in a world where so many shows seem designed to expose the human frailties of their participants, it would not be that unusual to exploit them even further in examples such as these.