Has Reality TV Hit Rock Bottom?

Back in 1992, when Jonathan Murray pitched a show about seven strangers picked to live in a house, the idea was revolutionary. Today, were it not for its 20-season history, he's not sure "The Real World" would survive alongside the likes of "Flavor of Love" and "The Moment of Truth."

"'The Real World's' almost looking pure compared to a lot of what's on," he said. "It's difficult because everyone's trying to be louder than the next guy to get attention. There's this feeling that the concept has to be really loud to break through the clutter. You're trying to stand out. You want something that can be put into a great 30-second promo."

"There are still standards out there," he added. "But as these cable networks try to differentiate themselves from others, the standards will bend too."

"Hurl!" (premiering July 15 on the basic cable network G4) is an example of that. Ten years ago, it would have been out of the question to base a TV show around vomit. Today, a little artful editing allows it to star in its own reality series.

"Vomit on-screen is covered by animated buckets with a one- to five-bucket rating system," said Dale Roy Robinson, who developed and executive produces "Hurl!" with Tom Crehan. "Actually, the show has very little to do with vomit, and everything to do with competition and camaraderie. It's like a college dare all grown up into its own TV show. It's nothing different from what fraternity boys do."

Crehan added, "It's more wholesome and uplifting than any dating show you'd care to make."

Upchuck uplifting? Pardon the pun, but the concept's a little hard to keep down. Bianculli isn't sure viewers will continue to gravitate to extreme, outlandish competition shows like "Hurl!" despite the "Wow, I've never seen that on TV before!" factor.

"If 15 things come down the pike, they're going to close their eyes to all 15 of them, unless one leaps out," he said. "It's too much and too little at the same time."

The only way to get rid of reality TV may be a scandal the likes of which the genre has never seen. Darva Conger's annulling her marriage to Rick Rockwell days after marrying him on "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" didn't do it; nor did evidence that multiple scenes from "The Hills" have been staged and re-shot. It has to be bigger.

"It's hard to root for death," Bianculli said, "but there has to be something short of that."

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