Editorial: Love her or hate her, `Anna’ is a television reality

Aug 19, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The critics can’t jump on the bandwagon fast enough in their eagerness to bash “The Anna Nicole Show,” the latest entry in a growing reality genre that might best be described as “train wreck TV.” Indeed, the kooky new E! Entertainment series, which shines the harsh 15-minute spotlight of fame on the downhill slide of former Playboy Playmate and infamous heiress-in-waiting Anna Nicole Smith, serves up ample fodder for a critical duck shoot.
But “Anna Nicole,” the first piece of flotsam to wash ashore in the immediate wake of MTV’s runaway hit “The Osbournes,” has inspired more than the usual vitriol. Critics are falling over each other not only to declare the show one of the seven signs of the Apocalypse, but also to savage E! for its brazen exploitation of the hapless Ms. Smith.
It’s hard to explain the feeding frenzy when the TV dial is dominated by far more exploitive and offensive reality fare-from “Fear Factor” to “Temptation Island” to “Meet My Folks.” It seems unfair to fire salvos at E! for offering what amounts to a comparatively benign weekly peep into the life of a woman who still looks at the world with the wonder and awe of a 4-year-old, even if that life is punctuated by slurred speech and excessive cleavage. And the outrage over Anna herself, focused primarily on speculation over her suspected drug dependency and on the size of her ass, is hardly the stuff of serious television criticism.
Ms. Smith knew what she was getting into when she signed on the dotted line; as the show makes abundantly clear, she is rarely more than two feet away from her attorney. And she appears to be getting plenty of exactly what she craves: attention.
Even slurring her words, Anna Nicole is at least moderately interesting-at least for the moment. Her strong ratings prove what E! knew all along, and what Fox, NBC and the rest of the purveyors of sleazy reality recognized long ago: People will watch this stuff. Television viewers are drawn to the squirm factor, mesmerized by anything that puts people in an uncomfortable situation or casts them in an unflattering light. If the subject is famous, all the better. From Winona Rider to “Celebrity Boxing,” we’re endlessly fascinated when the mighty fall.
But for all her very large, very human failings, Anna Nicole Smith comes off as an innocent, a strangely sympathetic character. Many viewers probably want nothing more than to see her turn things around, get back in shape, recharge her love life, maybe cut back on the scrips and get her inheritance safely in the bank. In the absence of any such real drama, viewership is likely to erode pretty quickly.
In the meantime, if sleazy reality is sending television to hell in a handbasket, as many critics would have us believe-taking with it society as a whole-it’s hardly the fault of E! or “Anna Nicole.”