Fear Factor: Paul Drinkwater
June 15, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

Fear Factor

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
run date
guest performer
Brooke Burns, Coolio, David Hasselhoff, Joanie Laurer, Donny Osmond, Kelly Preston
Rich Brown
Reality TV

NBC hits a new low with ”Fear Factor”

So were you among the people who couldn’t resist watching 400 or so rats crawl all over a half-dozen people eager to make a buck on NBC’s new educational show ”Fear Factor” (Mondays, 8 p.m.)? Did it make you feel all creepy-crawly, or just creepy? Did you feel guilty (for watching such cheesily manipulative junk) or defiant (it’s your right as an American to wallow in cheesily manipulative TV junk, isn’t it?) or depressed (that a major TV network has sunk to this)?

Personally, very little that the networks throw on the screen as weekly programming depresses or shocks me anymore. (Well, the exclamation from one contestant — ”They’re in my butt!” — caused me to shift uncomfortably in my chair, I’ll admit.) And in the new economy, it’s only going to get worse. Get ready for cynically conceived shows like ”Fear Factor” that are made on the cheap ? what’s NBC’s rat budget, I wonder? — and tossed on the air for a few weeks to see whether they’ll become national sensations or inexpensive write-offs that didn’t require hiring expensive stars, writers, and directors.

When does decency come into play, however? I’m not talking about the pious posturing that professional TV haters assume when they condemn the sex ‘n’ violence of shows they’ve never watched. I mean the apparently vanished distinction between good and bad that used to prevent a major network from thinking it could get away with something like a rat endurance contest. You may say watching rodents crawl across people is more entertaining than another episode of, say, ”Three Sisters,” and I’d be hard pressed to disagree. But the fact that we’re weighing grossouts versus inferior sitcom writing suggests not merely the depths to which prime time has sunk, but also the networks’ lack of conscience — a long view sense of purpose.

The idea that maybe NBC shouldn’t really want to be known as the network that attracted however many demographically desirable millions of eyeballs to their TV sets by televising people acting dangerously foolish. That this doesn’t bother the programmers is the biggest fear to factor into any sane viewer’s decision to turn on the TV these days.

What do you think?

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