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Is 'Live!' a look at the future of reality TV?

Courtesy photo
In the 2007 indie film "Live!," six people literally bet their lives for $5 million in a televised game of Russian roulette.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From Jan. 1 through Wednesday, at least 20 new reality shows have premiered or will premiere. (Admittedly, I might have missed a few.) They cover everything from funeral parlors and custom bra shops to washed-up celebrities and redneck kids. They add to the glut of profession-based, socialite, auction and ghost shows. There's even one that's a reality show about a guy duped into thinking he's on a different reality show -- which is actually a reboot of a series that ran for two seasons about 10 years ago.

That last one doesn't seem like it should be real, does it? Is that how far we've fallen in the reality TV world that we're rebooting a reality show that sounds like a parody of reality shows, like something Mike Judge would spoof in a movie?

It would appear so. And if that's the case, how much further might we fall in the future? Could we fall so far as to turn the tide to darker entertainment, to salivate for something as reprehensible as televised murder or suicide?

That idea is explored in Oscar-winning documentarian Bill Guttentag's 2007 indie drama "Live!," a satire of reality TV and the drive for ratings on network television.

I caught it on TV last year, back when I had HBO. I was intrigued by its description: "A TV executive tries to get a show produced where contestants play Russian roulette."

Eva Mendes ("Hitch") plays that executive, Katy Courbet, who's tasked with turning the fictional American Broadcast Network's ratings decline around. She and her staff are brainstorming ideas for new shows when one of them jokes," People would watch Russian roulette if given the chance."

Bingo.

"Can you imagine the numbers we'd get if people tuned in actually knowing somebody was going to die on air?" Katy asks excitedly.

Of course, it seems ridiculous, implausible. But as the film progresses and you watch Katy deftly work the network's lawyer (Andre Braugher, "Last Resort"), its advertisers, the FCC and the massive media coverage surrounding her attempt to stage the show, it's kind of scary to see how the arguments she uses to bring the show to life could actually work.

Her show selects six contestants, including an aspiring actress (Katie Cassidy, "Arrow"), a struggling farmer (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, "Grey's Anatomy), a Mexican immigrant (Jay Hernandez, "Last Resort") and a writer looking for inspiration (Rob Brown, "Treme"), who literally bet their lives for $5 million. Throughout the movie, intermingled with Katy's quest, we see their introductory videos, which address their motives for participating in the show.

Again, when you see their stories, it's not impossible to imagine that there are real people out there like these fictional characters who would really do something like this for the opportunity for such a big payout.

The contestant videos are made by Rex (David Krumholtz, "Numb3rs"), a cameraman who's producing a documentary on Katy. The faux documentary framing device is contrived, but it's offset by the rest of the film, which is engaging, especially in the dramatic third act when the show is aired and the surprising climax plays out.

Right now, reality shows tend to swing more toward the salacious than the violent, with the fighting generally being of the verbal variety. But as Katy points out, people in the past gathered to see death at Roman gladiatorial contests or public executions, and now, some people watch NASCAR just for the possibility of fiery crashes.

This summer, the hugely popular book series "The Hunger Games," which is about teenagers fighting to the death for the sake of entertainment, became a hugely popular film franchise. You'd like to think, if that fiction became a reality, the millions who watched the film wouldn't watch a real TV version of it, but would that really be the case?

In one scene in the movie, the camera crew is doing man-on-the-street interviews, asking people which contestant they're rooting for. One girl says, "Nobody. It's disgusting," to which the cameraman replies, "You're not watching then?" "I didn't say that, did I?" she responds.

I think more people than are willing to admit would be like that woman if such a show were ever a reality. As evidenced by the ever-expanding cache of trashy reality shows and the millions of viewers they attract, the lure of watching people debase themselves on TV is as strong for some as the lure of cash and fame for those who participate.

"Live!" is rated R, for some violent content, language and brief nudity (although mainly for the language and subject mater). You can find it on Netflix or Amazon.

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Scripted series premiere: "The Carrie Diaries," 8 p.m. Monday, CW ("Sex and the City" prequel).

Other series premieres: "North Woods Law: On the Hunt," 9 p.m. Thursday, Animal Planet (Maine game wardens); "Double Divas," 10 p.m. Thursday, Lifetime (a custom bra shop in Atlanta); "Cyndi Lauper: Still So Unusual," 9 p.m. Saturday, WE (following the pop star); "Staten Island Law," 9 p.m. Saturday, OWN (friends open a mediation business); "Pete Rose: Hits & Mrs.," 10 p.m. Sunday, TLC (the former baseball player and his fiancée); "Container Wars," 10:30 p.m. Sunday, Tru TV (bidding on commercial shipping containers); "Wild West Alaska," 8 p.m. Sunday, Animal Planet (Alaskan gun shop); "The Real Husbands of Hollywood," 10 p.m. Tuesday, BET (semi-scripted reality TV send-up); "Big Rich Atlanta," 9 p.m. Wednesday, Style (socialites' lives); "Ghost Mine," 10 p.m. Wednesday, Syfy (reopening an abandoned, allegedly haunted mine); "Big Food," 10 p.m. Wednesday, CMT (culinary spectacles); "Kroll Show," 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Comedy Central (sketch comedy).

Season premieres: "The Millionaire Matchmaker," 9 p.m. and "Kathy," 10 p.m. Thursday, Bravo; "Wicked Tuna," 9 p.m. Sunday, National Geographic; "Being Human," 9 p.m. and "Lost Girl," 10 p.m. Monday, Syfy; "Pioneers of Television," 8 p.m. Tuesday, PBS; "The Bad Girls Club," 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oxygen; "American Idol," 8 p.m. Wednesday, Fox; "Workaholics," 10 p.m. Wednesday, Comedy Central.

Timeslot premiere: "1600 Penn," 9:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC (pilot repeats at 8:30 p.m.)

Returning: "Last Resort," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal," Thursday, ABC; "30 Rock," "The Office" and "Rock Center," Thursday, NBC; "Fringe," Friday, Fox; "How I Met Your Mother," "Two Broke Girls," "Mike & Molly" and "Hawaii Five-0," Monday, CBS; "Bones," Monday, Fox (two hours); "Hart of Dixie," Tuesday, CW; "Arrow" and "Supernatural," Wednesday, CW; "Criminal Minds" and "CSI," Wednesday, CBS.

Specials: "Critics' Choice Movie Awards," 8 p.m. Thursday, CW; "The 2013 Miss America Competition," 9 p.m. Saturday, ABC ("20/20" special at 8 p.m.); "Golden Globe Awards," 8 p.m. Sunday, NBC (red carpet coverage at 7 p.m.); "The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents," 9 p.m. Tuesday through Jan. 18, History.

Of note: Vinnie Jones appears on CBS' "Elementary," 10 p.m. Thursday, as a character called M, who could be Sherlock's great nemesis, Professor Moriarty.

Reach Amy Robinson at flipside@wvgazette.com.


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