To misquote Karl Marx, reality tv is the opiate of the masses. Who hasn’t spent an hour or two sucked into the drama of 7 strangers in a house doing not much of anything, or watching ambiguously mafioso housewives flip tables at each other? In fact, if one were to scroll through the TV listings on any given day, a large part of the offerings on tap are likely to be these unscripted dramas starring a variety of people experiencing various levels of fame (or infamy).
As a culture, we seem to be heavily invested in this type of voyeurism; it can be interesting to catch a glimpse into a life we will never lead ourselves. Of course, sometimes these shows can function as a kind of misguided therapy: There’s a distasteful but undeniable sensation of schadenfreude in watching these strangers crash and burn on national television.
Over the years, TV execs have pushed moral and ethical boundaries when it comes to reality television. Shows like “The Bachelor” (which has aired for 18 seasons) and “The Bachelorette” ( 10 seasons) involved one lucky lad or lady searching for love amongst a small panel of photogenic suitors. The series boasts only one certain success story- that of Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter from the first season of “The Bachelorette”, who have been married for 10 years and have two children – but most couples break up shortly thereafter the season finale. “The Swan” (which ran for 2 seasons in 2004) gave all of its contestants copious amounts of plastic surgery in order to make them more conventionally attractive. After recovering from their surgeries, the women then competed in a beauty pageant for cash prizes, cars, trips, and scholarships. While in some cases, the surgeries involved repairing serious dental or breathing problems that would have greatly improved quality of life, there were also a lot of breast augmentation and liposuction surgeries to sculpt contestants into more Barbie-like silhouettes. Journalist Jennifer L. Pozner called the show, “the most sadistic reality series of the decade.” And who could forget “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire” (2000), where 50 women competed for the honor of marrying a wealthy man – that they had never seen before – on live television? Rick Rockwell eventually chose Darva Conger, but their marriage was annulled shortly after they returned from the honeymoon. It later emerged that Rockwell had a prior history of domestic violence, and Conger went on to pose for Playboy in their August 2000 issue.
The shows on our list cover a variety of perplexing personalities from feuding celebrities to presidential mistresses to wealthy rappers, and all were either cancelled before the first series even began or failed to be renewed after one unsuccessful run. And our Monday nights will be a bit more boring, and a bit less sinister, in their absence.
5. “Liza and David”- VH1
The premise of this show was to follow actress Liza Minnelli and her (fourth) husband, David Gest, to bring the curious public an intimate portrait of their lives. Filming began in 2002 and was abruptly stopped after only one week. VH1 cited the couple’s “uncooperative” behavior as the reason for shutting down production, while Minnelli and Gest claimed that the Vice President of VH1’s east coast programming was disrespectful and rude while at their house for a dinner party.
4. “Mr Personality”-Fox
Aired in 2003, this show followed a stockbroker, Hayley Arp, as she tried to find love based on the old saying “love is blind.” In this case, the twenty eligible bachelors on the show wore masks to obscure their looks and were forbidden from discussing their jobs, for fear that Ms. Arp would be swayed by beautiful cheekbones or a fat bank account. What makes this show even weirder is that it was hosted by none other than Monica Lewinsky. Yes, that Monica Lewinsky of the notorious affair with former president Bill Clinton. Because of course, for advice regarding matters of the heart Lewinsky is one of the first gurus who come to mind… The show was not renewed after its first season.
3. “The Littlest Groom”- Fox
Coming in at number 3 on our list is “The Littlest Groom,” another offering from Fox. Glen Foster, the 4”5 contestant, was looking for love amongst a variety of both average and shorter statured women. Foster eventually chose Mina Winkler, who was herself only 4”3. Many little people spoke out against the show, citing that it made a side show from the emotions of little people. The advocacy group, Little People of America, took a more nuanced approach and said that while some people may use the show as an avenue to make hurtful comments, “hiding us behind closed doors or in funny costumes will never give us the exposure needed to desensitize society to us.” The show was more of a miniseries, running for two episodes, and was not renewed.
2. “All My Babies’ Mamas”- Oxygen
This show would have followed the exploits of Atlanta based rapper Shawty Lo (born Carlos Walker) and his 11 children from 10 different women. The Oxygen channel initially bought the rights to this program, but massive protests from the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and a petition launched by the advocacy group Color of Change caused the network to cancel the show before it ever aired. Mr. Lo was not fazed by this news and is reportedly trying to attract another network to revive the concept.
1. “Megan Wants to Marry a Millionaire”- VH1
Former contestant on “Rock of Love: Charm School”, Megan Hauserman, was the “bachelorette” on this show, whose premise is pretty self-explanatory. Filmed in 2009, the program made headlines for all the wrong reasons when one of the ‘eligible’ bachelors, Ryan Jenkins, became a wanted man.
Jenkins’ ex-wife, swimsuit model Jasmine Fiore, was found murdered in a suitcase in an LA dumpster, and Jenkins was reported missing soon after. Only 3 episodes of the show had aired at this point, and when Jenkins was formally charged with murder, VH1 cancelled the show the next day. Jenkins was found shortly after; he had fled to his native Canada and committed suicide. No word on whether Megan did, in fact, get her millionaire.