Starlets and sellouts

Posted: Mar 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Surely parents can do better than turn out children whose major goal in life is to be on television and become a star. But thanks to the "reality" show format, we're exposed on nearly every night of the week to young people parading their clawing, scraping ambition to become famous in nearly every desperate look-at-me field. The fad of look-at-me TV started with the singers on "American Idol" and has now branched into modeling, business building and acting. Why would anyone want to be an actor today, when TV is so full of "unscripted" programming?
NBC failed at the actor-reality concept with its series "The Next Action Star" -- no star was made -- but now, WB is floundering right out of the box with its desperate show, "The Starlet." It's lucky to capture one-tenth of the "American Idol" audience. WB calls it "the ultimate wish-fulfilling reality series," but the show's 10 aspiring actresses are competing fiercely for the humongous prize of some "starlet" minutes on the WB teen drama "One Tree Hill" -- as if anyone's heard of that show.

 The WB's publicity's campaign to make this show sound as tough as military combat is almost comical. Contestants will have to survive "an intense Hollywood boot camp, complete with harrowing acting classes, agonizing live performances and brutally honest critiques" from a panel of judges. How rough a life have you had if you fear "harrowing acting classes"?

 The show took the predictable turn into the gutter in Episode Two, in which the girls were told the theme was "seduction and passion," but they had no idea what it was they were going to be seducing. They started by acting slutty and sensual with -- you won't believe this -- a two-foot teddy bear in a director's chair. Now that's a "harrowing" acting class. Can you imagine how proud you'd be of your daughter making it to Hollywood so she could strip in front of a stuffed animal on national television?

 From there, the competing starlets graduated to stripteases in front of male human beings, and in the end, everyone seemed most pleased with the performance of the 18-year-old contestant we're told is a virgin. Congratulations, you've come so far from that place of teenage innocence to convincing depravity with a stranger.

 But these exploitative titillation scenes were nothing compared to the weekly screen test, where the aspirants were told they'd be filmed kissing one of their fellow contestants in the hot tub in a lesbian love scene. Show host Katie Wagner explained: "Angelina Jolie, Hilary Swank and Charlize Theron have all played roles in which they've had to kiss other women. If they can do it, so can you." But at least Swank and Theron played decidedly un-sexy roles in critical-darling dysfunction dramas that won Best Actress Oscars. These aspiring actresses, on the other hand, were made to reenact a soft-porn-style scene from the forgettable hot-cop drama "Fastlane," which lasted a few weeks on Fox in 2002.

 The show's producers even brought in Jamie Pressly, one of the pretend-lesbians from "Fastlane," to make sure the cast members were appropriately jaded. When one contestant complained they were being exploited for ratings, Pressly advised her to get over it: "You cannot, whatever you do, take yourself seriously. Because when you do, you end up worrying about being exploited. Everybody in the business is exploited." But some are obviously exploited much more than others.

 The entire second half of the show was devoted to showing and then re-showing the four lesbian hot-tub bikini scenes. You could see why some wit on the WB's own chat room joked that the next episode might feature the actresses "Re-enacting an emergency room scene while wearing a Playboy bunny costume and rollerblades."

 A make-a-star reality show can be uplifting and entertaining and family-friendly, as "American Idol" has been. But when the ratings are not guaranteed, the Tinseltown brain trust is one-dimensional in its thinking: Push the scandal button. The only thing this show could be good for is to send a message that fame is not worth selling your soul, and compromising everything you believe in, to help some piece of slime in a Porsche goose the ratings so he can build a second swimming pool.