Pathos is Rarely Fabulous

I don't know--something about this seems exploitative to me:

Jasmin Bryant, a 34-year-old out-of-work television producer, was checking job listings when she came across an ad soliciting prospective contestants for the Game Show Network's "Catch 21."

After reading the ad's hook -- the possibility of winning up to $25,000 -- Bryant was intrigued.

"I thought, 'Oh, my God, $25,000 would really help out a lot.' Even after taxes it would help pay for my car, my rent, my insurance, the whole nine yards. I'd be able to fly back East to visit my family for the holidays."

Ashley Coelho, 29, an out-of-work accounts executive, was searching Craigslist for a job when she saw an ad seeking contestants for GSN's revival of "The Newlywed Game." Recently married, she talked her new husband into giving it a try.

"It's really tough out there," she says. "Cash or prizes, it didn't really matter -- it was really the only way we could possibly do anything for our honeymoon."

As the American economy struggles and the unemployment rate remains high, game show producers say they are seeing more out-of-work professionals seeking that potentially big payday -- and as an outlet for fun.

Before the economic meltdown, Bev Pomerantz, a veteran casting director for "Catch 21," rarely saw prospective contestants who were college-educated, professional and out of work. "That demographic is now maybe 10%," she says.

Kelly Goode, senior vice president of programming at GSN, the cable game show network, says the company doesn't keep statistics on the unemployed hopefuls who audition for GSN's growing string of original programming. But, she added, the numbers of contestants in general are up, and "more of those people are looking for work," says Goode.

That's fine and dandy. I don't have a problem with people trying to use their talents to improve themselves. But don't you think they are setting themselves up to be exploited? Isn't it possible that their backstory could overwhelm their chances of being taken as a serious winner? Suppose they get to a point where they come close to becoming "wealthy." In terms of today's winnings on a game show, your average Washington D.C. bureaucrat makes far more per year than your average Jeopardywinner (I'm guessing the numbers are $90K per year for the dead wood, $40K for the Poindexter--I could be off, but I think I'm ballpark here). That's wealthy? That's money that's going to last you after the tax man walks away with his pound of flesh? No thank you. I'd rather not be exposed to millions just for enough money to buy a Prius.

Do you want to be rich? Or famous? A little of both? Or just able to pay the rent? Do you want to be living above pathetic or do you want pity from strangers? I have my blogs. I'm content.

Long before there was "reality TV" we had the pathos of the common loser on game shows. This was where average people were suckered into humiliating themselves just for a chance at a buck. The Japanese do this now. We did it on game shows, now we do it on reality television. Every time someone tells me that The Hills or Jersey Shoreis must-see TV, I have to sit back and scratch my head. The Gong Show was bad enough. I don't need Match Game to tell me who is, and who is not, merely common. I don't need someone acting like they deserve to be famous. I need entertainment, and I've noticed that they've quit making shows like the Rockford Files and Columbo. Put those two shows back on the air and then call me about watching TV again. Pathos just isn't compelling enough to make me care about what goes on. I have to have stories and I have to have something more.

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