As the networks launch the 2011 fall season this week, I look at all the programming grids and, as excited as I am about The X Factor and The Sing-Off, I can't help but feel a little deflated. Because there are some reality shows that were gone far too soon, and I keep waiting by my cable box, hoping they will someday return to the airwaves. I'm still waiting...
Here are the top 10 reality shows I really, really wish would come back already. Hopefully some intrepid network exec is reading this and will take note.
1) Bands On The Run
I don't care what anyone says. Forget about American Idol, Survivor, Project Runway, or any other reality TV program that's managed to garner critical acclaim and/or change the face of television. Bands On The Run was the BEST. REALITY. SHOW. EVER. It was so fascinating that when a marathon of it aired on VH1 one weekend in 2001, I stayed home for an entire Saturday with a stack of VHS tapes (this was the pre-DVR era, kids), popping in one tape after another so I could capture all of the episodes for future viewing parties. Now, sadly, that library of dusty VHS tapes is all I have left of Bands On The Run, as a second season of this compulsively watchable (and Emmy-nominated!) show was never shot. Basically, this was the premise: Five bands of varying listenability and responsibility were put on the road in a Great Race-style tour challenge. The winning band--the band that earned the most money through ticket and merch sales--would get a record deal at the end of the road. Some of the competing bands were real worker bees--plastering every telephone pole in every tour spot with their fliers, visiting local radio stations, chatting up prospective fans on the street, poring over carefully constructed marketing plans, practically donning sandwich-board signs and marching up and down every sidewalk in every town in an attempt to promote themselves. But while those bands were workin' hard, others were hardly workin'--namely Flickerstick, who, seemingly enjoying their first-ever taste of freedom, went completely off the rails the moment their tour van crossed the starting line. Their televised trek only lasted four weeks, but by the tour's end, three out of the four bandmates had cheated on their wives/girlfriends (sometimes in nightclub bathrooms...ew), the guy who morphed into alter ego "El Dangeroso" every time he sipped whiskey was clearly rehab-bound, and they'd come to inter-band blows more than once. But, of course, Flickerstick still won. This was a contest to name the best ROCK 'N' ROLL BAND, after all. And they actually kind of rocked. Here's Flickerstick and El Dangeroso in all their rock-role model glory:
2) Hit Me Baby One More Time
If there are two things I love in this gawd-forsaken world, they are reality television and washed-up '80s bands. And for one glorious, too-good-to-be-true season that sadly lasted only five weeks, back in 2005, these great tastes tasted great together on NBC. This was an ultimate battle of the has-beens, on which artists like Loverboy, A Flock Of Seagulls, the Knack, Tommy Tutone, Cameo, Howard Jones, Missing Persons, and Juice Newton competed by performing not only their old-school hits, but new hits of the modern era. (Trust me, you have not lived until you've seen Wang Chung cover Nelly's "Hot In Herre," or Haddaway sing Britney's "Toxic.") Vanilla Ice won in the end, with a rap-remix remake of Destiny's Child's "Survivor." This was great television, people:
3) Bands Reunited
Ah, more '80s has-beens on the reality-TV circuit. Thank you, VH1! A show on which producers bumrushed unsuspecting new wave bands trying to peacefully go about their unassuming post-stardom lives and convinced the bands to give it another go, this show's best episodes were the ones in which the reunions DIDN'T happen. Memorable moments included the original guitarist from ABC asking not to be filmed, the bitter guys from the English Beat refusing to answer their doors, Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt from Extreme hashing it out on the air before jointly deciding not to reunite, Holly Johnson refusing to sing with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and the show's host getting trapped on the driveway behind Billy Idol's security gate while attempting to facilitate a Generation X reunion. Ironically, at least two of the bands that refused to regroup on the show, New Kids On The Block and Squeeze, have since had a (presumably financially motivated) change of heart--so if VH1 ever does launch another season of Bands Reunited, it obviously needs a bigger budget. Here's one of the more successful reunions on the show, by the Alarm:
4) Being Bobby Brown
Sure, Bobby later returned to the reality-TV circuit on Gone Country and the rather terrible Outsider's Inn, but those shows didn't have moments like the ones he shared onscreen with then-wifey Whitney Houston. I see no real reason why Being Bobby Brown only had to run for one season--why should a little thing like a divorce from Whitney stop season 2 from going into production? If anything, it would make the show ever better, with the cameras following Bobby's wacky bachelorhood adventures. Bravo, please stop making interchangeable shows about hair salons and interior design, and GIVE BOBBY A SECOND SEASON!
5) The Next Great American Band
In 2007, Fox and producers of American Idol attempted to apply their talent-search formula to bands instead of solo singers. It didn't work. I don't know what the problem was, exactly--maybe it was the fact that surly Australian judge "Dicko" was just a poor man's Simon Cowell, or maybe it was the show's difficult Friday-night timeslot, or maybe it was just because most of the competing bands were really, really AWFUL. But shirtless metalhead boy wonders Light Of Doom made it all worthwhile viewing. Fox should bring the show back just for a rematch, because Light Of Doom were ROBBED:
I have two words for you, dear readers: "SAVAGE ANIMAL!!!" When loudmouthed ex-Skid Row mouthpiece Sebastian Bach repeatedly, and futilely, screamed this phrase--in a desperate attempt to convince his Supergroup co-stars that that should be the name of their new allstar band--he instantly entered the reality TV hall of fame/shame. He also managed to do the seemingly impossible: make his bandmate Ted Nugent seem sane by comparison. By the end of the maddeningly short-lived Supergroup series, Sebastian had nearly been punched in the face by Biohazard's Evan Seinfeld, had coerced his then-wife Maria into doing a bi-curious lingerie photo shoot with Evan's porn-star then-wife, and had drained every wine bottle in the Supergroup mansion's cellar. Savage, indeed! Naturally such a star turn made Bach a much-in-demand reality rock star-for-hire, and he later appeared on MTV's Celebrity Rap Superstars and CMT's Gone Country 2 (which he won!). But I'm still waiting for a second Supergroup season that chronicles the show's prefab band Damnocracy (a worse name than Savage Animal, I think) on tour:
7) Rock Star
Believe it or not, even a diehard reality-watcher like myself has to draw the line somewhere. Sure, I've watched A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila and Dance Machine, but I thought Rock Star: INXS--a show that attempted to replace INXS's iconic, DEAD-FROM-SUICIDE lead singer Michael Hutchence via an Idol-style talent show--simply went TOO far. However, I had no problem watching Rock Star: Supernova! Tommy Lee has always made for good TV (other than that noble but deadly-dull, eco-friendly Battleground Earth show), and watching aspiring rockers mangle Hole, Jeff Buckley, and Radiohead tunes was fabulous viewing as well. But the show really was ahead of its time, running before Idol opened its competition to rockers like David Cook and Adam Lambert. And since Tommy Lee's TV band--fronted by elfin winner Lukas Rossi--went nowhere, it's time for another season, methinks. Either that, or maybe there could be a season of Rock Star: Velvet Revolver. Just a suggestion.
8) Puttin' On The Hits
OK, kids, we're going waaaay back for this one. Back in the '80s, before karaoke-style singing competitions were all the rage, lip-synching was considered a bona fide talent. The early-'80s Saturday morning show Puttin' On The Hits gave lip service to this silly phenomenon, and it was AMAZING. And let's face it, with all the horrible contestants singing on TV nowadays, I'd rather watch talentless hopefuls mouth along to the original recordings anyway.
9) Superstar USA
THIS SHOW WAS GENIUS. Cruel, but genius. Inspired by all the deluded no-talents on American Idol who actually believed they could sing (despite Simon Cowell's emphatic protests to the contrary), the producers of the WB's Superstar USA launched a search for America's worst singer. The catch was, the people on the show thought it was a search for the country's BEST singer. D'oh! Only on the show's finale was this secret revealed to the "winner." Mean, yes. Funny? Heck yes! Mix in D-list celebrity judges Vitamin C and Tone Loc, and it was a recipe for a (beautiful) disaster. Here's a clip of the finalists, Mario and ultimate "champ" Jamie, duetting together. Please note they were so wrapped up in their own egos, so happy re-enacting their own singing-into-a-hairbrush-in-front-of-the-mirror moments of glory, that they didn't even notice how horrifically each other sounded. Classic.
10) Rock Of Love
Bret Michaels may now be happily engaged to his Life As I Know It co-star (er, I mean longtime girlfriend). But that doesn't mean VH1 has to put this successful Celebreality franchise to bed, so to speak. After all, there are plenty of other unmarried reality-ready rockers looking for that one special skank to rock their worlds. What about Kid Rock, Nikki Sixx, Dave Navarro, David Lee Roth, Bret's Poison-mate C.C. DeVille, or of course the always single-and-eager-to-mingle Tommy Lee? All of them seem like the Blondtourage's type...and let's face it, naughty girls need love too.
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