Monday, August 15, 2005

Town For A Day

In a summer TV season that gave us foul mouthed chefs, therapy camps for troubled teens, faux Osbornes who were fortunately exiled from network TV after two episodes (Princes of Malibu but there's also a series with Hulk Hogan's family which fortunately I don't get), what seemed like half a dozen faux Trumps, and dancers - lots and lots of dancers - we have seen occasional sparks of originality or at least "creative borrowing". My Kind Of Town is a spark of originality. I'm just not sure where it falls on the spectrum of guilty pleasures. I kind of like it, but I'm not sure I should admit the fact.

The show is sort of difficult to describe. Two hundred people from a small town in the United States are brought to New York City. They've all filled out what host Johnny Vaughan describes as "an intrusive form" about themselves. Some members of the audience are selected to participate in some sort of silly games for individual prizes. Others apparently just get the reward they wanted for participating in a comedy bit. Some just participate for the thrill of participating on national TV. One person from the town gets a special seat and a special job. He has to remember the names and faces of all the people from his town who are named on the show. This includes people who are in the audience as well as people who are back in their home town. Actually this isn't as hard as it seems - the man in the first episode had a list of ten names out of all the people who were named on the show and had to match them with six pictures of fairly distinctive people. If he gets the names right the 200 people in the audience each get a prize.

That is a rather clinical description of the show, and it doesn't do it justice. ABC describes it as a comedy reality game show hybrid. Here's just a few of the things that happened in the Sunday night's show which featured the town of Greenville Alabama. One man who had what were described as the ugliest sandals in Greenville had them burned by one of the town firemen. But of course burning a pair of shoes wasn't enough so Vaughan asked the guy if he wanted his new truck or his aged tractor burned. Naturally he chose the tractor, and was rewarded with a new tractor. However the fireman couldn't ignite the tractor (with his little blow torch) so they brought in a fire breathing monster truck... which proceeded to burn up the contestant's new truck. Well not really but the look on the guy's face was worth it. Next came a woman who had stated that she wanted her mobile home moved to some land her sister had. The show moved the house but did it as a comedy bit, with the house apparently running away and the even being covered by the local news and the house attacking the police (with saucers, toilet paper, and a TV set). There's one bit where a dozen towns people participate in the first "Naked Greensville" Calendar. Back home four football players in full equipment participate in "extreme musical chairs" - four people, one chair - with the winner getting his weight in meat. One woman - who had her 1980s era high school picture (with big hair which embarrasses her today) shown on one of the big screens in Times Square - won a $5,400 toilet (hers at home "screams") with $2,000 in the bowl. And when the contestant who had to match the names of people from his town with their pictures actually did it, all 200 people from the town got a motor scooter.

The show is funny but not in a way that is easy to explain. Host Johnny Vaughan is a big part of it. The veteran British DJ, comedian and talk show host brings a sort of frenetic British charm to the show that works well on this sort of program. At the same time that he's making fun of the participants, he's not mocking them. The show doesn't use a cruel sort of humour nor is it a cynical look at the people or place. According to the show's executive producer Michael Davies, "We selected these small towns because we instantly fell in love with them and think our viewers will, too. These towns have unique qualities and extraordinary, memorable people." There's a certain affectionate quality to the approach they take to the towns. As host Johnny Vaughan put it in an interview with the New York Daily News "You see the good things that you would take for granted about a place if you lived there. It's like when tourists come to London, they love it, where I just see traffic and drizzle."

I don't know how well the show is going to do in terms of ratings. I'd like to think that it will do well. In an era when "reality programming" is usually a code word for people stabbing each other in the back and playing psychological games with each other, and where game shows are about big money or require people to eat bugs or other disgusting stuff, this show is a refreshing change. The series is scheduled to run for seven episodes but the show's website does have a form for people to nominate their towns which indicates that ABC has high hopes for the show, possibly as a spring replacement. I for one hope that works out for them. It's not the most sophisticated show on TV but there's a certain oddly endearing quality to it that sort of grows on you. Or maybe I just find it a relief from the worst of this summer season.

No comments: