Networks hungry for viewers know the cheapest way to nab eyeballs is to produce a "reality show" with no stars and often uber-sleazy, supposedly-unscripted-but-in-reality-very-scripted content. But in the rush for the prized 18-49 adult viewers, what about the millions of youngsters, the audience aged 11 to 17, who are also lured into the soup?
The Girl Scout Research Institute recently surveyed 1,000 girls in that age bracket and found these children aren't clueless. Everyone surveyed thought reality shows promote bad behavior: 86 percent felt the shows often set people against one another to increase the dramatic value; 73 percent thought reality shows depict fighting as a normal part of a romantic relationship; and 70 percent believed that reality TV leads people to believe it acceptable to mistreat each other.
So the youngsters see through the mud? Not exactly. Here's the rub: 75 percent said that competition shows (like "American Idol") and 50 percent of "real-life" shows like MTV's "Jersey Shore" are "mainly real and unscripted." They may not find the antics admirable, but they see them as real. For them, it is a mirror of what awaits them in the "real world" when they grow up.
What kind of "unscripted" sludge are teenagers watching on "Jersey Shore"? A new episode finds the cast taking their alcohol-drenched misbehavior to Italy (so much for "unscripted"). Deena desperately wants Pauly D. to "do sex" with her, which causes Pauly to go trolling through nightclubs looking for a one-night-stand alternative. Does this sound like a show for 11 year olds? (set ital) Of course not. (end ital) Presumably, the producers would argue: Our show is aimed at an adult audience. But millions of middle schoolers watch, too.
Pauly can't find an adequate partner, so back at the MTV-rented villa, Deena is drunk and telling Pauly "I'm a good f**k! And I have no shame!" With all the tenderness you'd expect from "Jersey Shore," Pauly replies, "Deena, I would knock the dust off that ... if we weren't friends."
The New York Daily News recap explained: "The next morning, Deena and Snooki decide to drown their sorrows -- or at least the memory of their sorrows -- with a day (and night!) of binge drinking, meatball grinding and showing strangers how to do the 'Jersey turnpike' dance move. If you don't know it, look it up. Not at work."