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Offering a Little TLC to Reality TV

The Calm Before the Storm- the Couple Has No Idea that Role Play Could Turn into a Hospital Stay
The Calm Before the Storm- the Couple Has No Idea that Role Play Could Turn into a Hospital Stay
Photo: Promotional Poster/

With a new season of Sex Sent Me to the ER beginning last weekend, the topic of how TLC reality TV mitigates the potential for ridiculousness is very poignant in today's entertainment environment. Although this program has an essential place in my viewing agenda, I was first struck by the network's storytelling method while channel surfing for some mindless reality television, and being presently surprised by the honesty and relatability I felt when watching an episode of Extreme Cougar Wives. A title that made me giggle enough to tune-in, kept me surprisingly glued to the screen because of the "in-your-face" attempt at normalizing and protecting this unusual dynamic, instead of highlighting the dramatic comedy of the situation. With the myriad of titles and topics that TLC has so bravely attempted to portray, there is a tendency to turn a phenomenon into fodder- much of which is done with more "entertainment" based networks such as VH1 and MTV; however this network follows the mantra of its abbreviation and seeks to nurture the education/acceptance of these instances into cultural normalcy. Which is exemplified by the program titles being straight-forward and specific to set an intended perception, rather than including broad namesakes akin to MTV's Basketball Wives or Teen Mom 2 which lends itself to a spectrum of portrayals/inconsistencies of concept; and with the production tactics and mutual cast interviews remaining congruent/empathetic to encourage streamlined understanding, rather than using disparities between perceptions/actual reactions and opinionated confessionals for dramatic relevance. Therefore, the TLC reality portrayals, Extreme Cougar Wives, Sex Sent Me to the ER, and My Five Wives; each prove how possible televised exploitation is nullified by honest titular expectation coupled with unwavering consistency/mutual empathy amongst production and cast.

The purity and exact direction of how each program identifies itself is one of the most important elements in creating a series; essentially it determines how the public will approach the topic. As mentioned, when I first saw Extreme Cougar Wives graze my TV guide, I was intrigued by the outright comedic boldness of the title; however when viewing the program, I instantly that the titles "boldness" came from revealing the honest in's-and-out's of these womens' daily behaviors to display a full understanding of the lifestyle. It sets the expectation of rawness- no leaf will be left unturned when analyzing these womens' lives, the effect it has on others, and the effect it has on the world; all of the extremities of this relational phenomenon is exposed for full interpretation and integration. Furthermore, the title of one of the most recent programs, Sex Sent Me to the ER, is almost a declarative statement relaying the exact elements that will be represented in the program. Since the show is based around medical dysfunctions, the namesake is respective to its roots by setting the expectation of taking a factual, educational approach to bedroom blunders; in order to get viewers drawn in by humanistic intrigue regarding serious, mutual concerns. Also, the newest program to grace the TLC network, My Fives Wives, reveals a poignant title exemplifying the respectful interconnection developed amongst women living in a polygamist marriage. Although, the male is at the head of the interaction, the title is highlighting the view of the five women involved; which offers a less hostile, more open-minded understanding of the lifestyle since viewers want to hear the perspective from the otherside. Therefore, TLC's show titles are meant to accurately portray the scenarios being represented by setting the stage for viewers to accept the program within the intended manner.

Additionally, the congruent production elements and mutual cast interviews aid in reinforcing revelatory statements/behaviors while contributing to mutual understanding of the given phenomenon. With Extreme Cougar Wives, the women's outlandish views are given clout by the congruency in their declarations/interactions and discussions to debunk outsider's views of their lifestyles. When these "cougars" describe themselves as highly attractive to men of a given age range, it is often reinforced by stock evidence of positive male feedback and displays of uncontrollable physicality. Also, when these women are real about the adverse effect their actions have on those who aren't keen on this relational choice, the view is rationally explained away in a manner that causes others/viewers to empathize even if they still don't agree. In relaying Sex Sent Me to the ER, the reenactments are meant to be consistent with the storylines they portray; the disorders are dramatized in terms of medical respect/sensitivity to the physical seriousness of the issue at hand. There is some humor portrayed, as the producers/participants understand that the medically extreme can have an absurd back-story, but the comedy is always diffused by a revelatory dissertation on the life-threatening possibilities of the conditions. Lastly, My Five Wives, reveals footage that is consistent with the expectation of how the sisterwives want viewers to portray the otherside; using mutual interviews with the husband to display how these women guide their spousal interactions/contribute to mutuality of the relationship, while also displaying cooperative interactions amongst the women when dealing with intermarital decisions. Also, when grappling with the prejudices of others, each participant accepts how the life can be perceived; but then discuss an unwavering belief in their actions because they have realized a boundaryless, inclusive livelihood that can truly be egalitarian. When considering the validity of TLC's programs, the realness comes from consistently reinforcing the intended perception of the participants' lives/occurrences, as well as incorporating empathy through rationalization of their views opposed to the common understanding.

With the reality TV trend of illuminating the unusual for simple entertainment, it has been easy for TLC to carve an identifiable path to honesty and empathy by properly feeding this need for highlighting countercultures. Drawing attention to the taboo for exploitation and alienation will lead to a disconcerting interest in the subject, causing the program to cancel; however using these subjects to confront and consider, will create a more lasting interaction with the subject matter. Utilizing these methods, TLC has established itself as television that cares for its subject matter and his/her external perception, whereas other networks are now backpedaling to create "docudrama" series to promote understanding in a point-at-you world-of their own design- that is uninterested.