TV shows are like cleavage. You look out for tasteful ones, but you really can't take your eyes off the trashy ones.
A television producer is constantly on the hunt for new ways to thrill and fascinate audiences. It's hard work and it's only getting harder. The audience's demand for excitement is constantly on the rise, while their senses constantly grow duller. This dissonance makes successful television programming an ever-more-difficult challenge to supply new thrills. Audience boredom fuels television's evolutionary process and results in new shows that are more exciting, more extreme and more controversial than the old ones.
Every TV hit has its roots planted firmly in an earlier hit and one day it, too, will decay and grow a new show. The basic concept of American Idol is old singing contests. The producers only added a kind of "secret ingredient" called Simon Cowell, some personal stories, home voting and—Voila!—a fresh new global hit. Some day (and it may take a year or it may take ten) American Idol itself will evolve into something else—a new show with another secret ingredient. Here is one candidate where the secret ingredient is adding elements of physical Japanese game shows to the singing contest:
Here is an example from Germany for what might be the next generation of Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? The secret ingredient here is Prof. Chimp, a monkey dressed as a geek professor who randomly presses buttons. Talk about Schadenfreude.
After the current trend of coaching shows (like Super Nanny, The Marriage Ref, etc.) ends, the genre will need an upgrade. Let's take BBC's canceled show named Bring your Husband to Heel. Don't bother to look for it on the BBC's website—they erased any trace of it. Bring your Husband to Heel is also the only show that was canceled due to its success. Here is the show's description as published by their public relations department: "Studies by the Animal Health Trust have discovered that man shares 85% identical DNA with dogs. Follow experienced canine behaviorist Annie Clayton as she trains disgruntled wives to teach their ‘old dog' husbands some new tricks. Desperate wives secretly spend a day at Annie's dog training school, where she shows them how to spot bad habits and how to change them. The wives then go home to try to bring their husbands to heel, filmed by hidden cameras." Since videos are no longer available, here is a different program called My Life as an Animal, that was broadcast on the great channel BBC Three. Here the coaching genre was based on eliminating all elements of humanity in a way never seen before on TV.
It seems like everything has already been done in Game Shows. Here is a great solution for a generation that no longer worships knowledge but values voyeurism. It's called I Know What You Did Last Friday and in some countries their secret ingredient is considered illegal.
Beauty Shows: First there were local beauty pageants that evolved into the Miss Universe Contest. In the reality era it was combined with Big Brother elements and the result was the successful Next Top Model franchise. Last year BBC Three went to the next level with Britain's Missing Top Model. The secret ingredient here was a combination of great beauty with a great tragic story. Eight young handicapped women competed for a modeling contract. Some would call it a brave social comment on our perception of beauty; others might call it a Freak Show.
Comedy, like pornography, is a question of geography. This is the best explanation for a new show on Iraqi TV by the name of Put Him in Camp Bucca (Camp Bucca is a maximum security prison in Baghdad). It's an ordinary candid camera show with a nasty secret ingredient—the prank is sure to land the victim in prison. Here's a sting where they put a fake bomb in an Iraqi celebrity's car. Dom De-Luise is turning over in his grave. Watch it over at Brightcove.
I need to confess my part in the coming apocalypse, my ticket to hell: the dating format I developed for Israeli television called Buzz Off. This might be the next generation of Blind Date, but with an electric shock, the secret ingredient, administered to each potential date eliminated by the girl holding the remote.
In the next few years more and more shows will stretch the boundaries of our morality and sensibilities. It won't be on national network television, not at first. It will start on some niche Asian channel—but it will definitely filter through to mainstream media. Don't believe it? Think that after Jersey Shore nothing can rock your world? Well, here's a show that will make Snooki and her entourage look like the Brady Bunch: Japan's The Virgin Show. Broadcast since 2005 on Paradise TV, each episode has a new virgin popping her cherry on live TV. Her vagina is blurred, but other than that, the viewers get to live the full experience. She is even interviewed by the show's host during the act—right next to her. As if that wasn't enough, the male co-star brandishes a white handkerchief with a red stain in the middle at the end of the show.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There's the cooking show that uses breast milk, the live autopsy program, the reality show that trains nine effeminate gay men to be marines, a Big Brother rip-off that only adds 20 goats, the nudist version of Survivor, and the Dutch show where celebrities pick their own coffin. There's even another Big Brother clone where 10 atheists share a house with a Jewish rabbi, a Christian priest, a Muslim kadi and a Buddhist monk—whoever converts the residents wins. The list could go on forever.
But there's really no need to go on—it's all coming soon to a TV screen near you.
Omri Marcus is a creative director currently working under an exclusive deal with ProSiebenSat.1's Red Arrow. You can email him at email@example.com.