Unintended Consequences, Part 3,624: The Rise Of A New Celebrity Underclass

Posted by: Jon Fine on October 3, 2007

“The endless proliferation of reality television means that there are so many celebrities being created on a daily basis that even the sisters on Sunset Tan (editor’s note: Don’t worry. I haven’t, either.) are famous. There used to be fifteen or twenty really famous people, and now there are thousands. After they’ve been reality stars, they can’t go back ot their old lives. How will they make a living?”

—VHI’s executive vice-president of original programming, Michael Hirschorn (a man who knows something about reality tv), quoted in the “Hot” issue of Rolling Stone. (And which is not online, for some reason.)

Reader Comments

David Binkowski

October 3, 2007 6:51 PM

They'll make a living the same way the guys from 80's hair bands did when their 15 minutes were over. "Do you want a shredding guitar solo with that?" :P

Don

October 4, 2007 10:11 AM

Sigh. What Hirschorn is surprised about is that there used to be 15 or 20 really famous people in TV AND FILM only. One famous quote I remember about the 1960s was that music was so popular you could name every Beatle and Rolling Stone, but also every Raider, Monkee and Animal. In 1960s rock there were about 150 really famous stars. In 1950s music there were about 50 really famous stars. In the worlds of writing and academia, in the worlds of business and entrepreneurship, in the worlds of religion and music, in the worlds of art and architecture, and of course the world of human interest stories and local news infamy there are tens of thousands of "famous" people who get on with their lives. TV is experiencing the fragmentation that writing did years ago. I am surprised at their myopic view of something that every person who is minorly famous goes through every day.

Jon Fine

October 4, 2007 10:40 AM

Have to cast my lot with Hirschorn on this one, Don. This is American culture, and famous-on-tv is a different level of fame than famous-as-a-writer, or even as a rock band, and not only is there more TV than ever there are more TV stars (excuse me, "stars") than ever.

DCer

October 4, 2007 11:49 AM

Ooohhh.... No, no because VH-1 is a niche network with far less ratings than even HGTV if I remember the latest Arbitrons I saw. I don't know what "I Love New York" is other than it was VH-1's big show this year. I couldn't say what the title means. There is massive fragmentation on Television and with that a dilution of fame. I look at that two ways:
1. The 3 TV networks were at their peak of power in 1969 and it's all been downhill since then, but the mythos we experienced stuck with us. Not only do the neworks share space with Fox and CW, but also with cable networks both popular (Fox, USA, TNT, Nickelodeon, ESPN, Discovery, ABC Family) and not so popular (Food Network, HGTV, MSNBC, MTV, VH-1). I live in a major metropolitan city and see a TV host just about every week. Therefore what it meant to be "on tv" in 1968 where there were… let's say network prime time programming was permitted to start at 7:30pm there was somewhere in the neighborhood of 84 hours of prime time programming and maybe an additional 21 hours of PBS or NET programming with drastically lower ratings and lets say 15 hours of nationally syndicated shows that people watched (Merv, Sea Hunt, etc). An average of 100 hours. What it meant to be famous then would be one of about 500 people on TV in a given week.
2. TV Series lasted longer back then. The average canceled show in the 1960s ran for 7-13 episodes and was still rerun. Summer replacement shows were always used, sure. Now it's not at all uncommon for a show to last 13 episodes entirely and after its first run, an entirely different new show takes its place.

So TV now has, let's wild-ass-guess... 50 channels (out of approx 130 "real" channels I receive) creating 3 new hours of prime time programming each week for 1050 hours of programming with, let’s guess and say about 4000 people in front of the camera each week. These shows are in tighter scheduling and once the 13 ordered episodes of, I dunno, "Toolbelt Diva" are broadcast they're off to a new episode of "Flip This." That further creates a large body of TV personalities each year.

We're in total agreement that there are more stars than ever, but I propose that the Q ratings are so niched that "TV Fame" has been diluted from what it once was and the only reason we react the way we do is that we knew TV in the 1970s when TV really meant T f'in V as opposed to the youtube-ready generation where 130 channels pales in comparison to downloads. Every time I've run into Warren Brown from the Food Network's “Sugar Rush” show I’ve been the only person who says hello to him. I ran into Iron Chef Cat Cora over the weekend and even I didn’t recognize her. No, I think while appearing on TV may look good on a resume now... I think the line was crossed by the lightsaber kid and we can't put that toothpaste back in the tube.


Back in the YOUTUBE that is!

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