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TELEVISION Is this direction reality shows are headed?



Published: Sun, July 10, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



This may be the feel-bad series of the summer.

By HAL BOEDEKER

ORLANDO SENTINEL

ABC has perfected the feel-good reality show with "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The network has gone another route with reality recently, with some disastrous results.

Brace yourself for feel-uneasy TV.

"Brat Camp," debuting Wednesday, tracks nine reckless teens whose desperate parents ship them off to a wilderness boot camp to shape up. The goal is laudable, but the program turns voyeuristic and intrusive.

"Welcome to the Neighborhood," which was scheduled to premiere today, pitted seven families in a contest to win a lavish home in suburban Austin, Texas. Three clans living along the cul-de-sac evaluated the contestants and sent one family packing each week before picking the winner.

The result: sheer creepiness.

One good move

ABC wised up and pulled the show. It was the rare program that worried not only the Gay & amp; Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation but the conservative Family Research Council. The National Fair Housing Alliance also accused the show of violating the federal Fair Housing Act, because the judges based decisions on race, religion and national origin.

"Welcome to the Neighborhood" tried to shake up the white, strait-laced residents by having them rub elbows with diverse and iconoclastic people. African-American, Hispanic and Asian families longed to move in. So did a gay couple, a witch, two heavily tattooed parents and a mother who revealed she was a stripper.

The players were too hungry for approval, but they came off better than the condescending judges. They caused a lot of heartache by sending the off-putting premise: Your family isn't good enough.

In pulling the show, ABC said the series illustrated "the transformative process that takes place when people are forced to confront preconceived notions of what makes a good neighbor."

Plenty of drama

There's no contest among the participants on "Brat Camp." The unruly teens have been sent off to SageWalk, The Wilderness School, in remote Oregon, to be broken of their destructive ways.

The situations are dramatic and shocking. The therapists react thoughtfully but firmly. The teens comport themselves before the camera with chilling ease. Socially awkward Frank and compulsive liar Jada are the dominant figures.

Yet "Brat Camp" operates on the questionable notion that intense, personal therapy can be adapted into entertainment for the masses. This programming for a summer night depends on confused, young lives that might be better off protected from a camera's invasiveness.

ABC likes to trumpet that its reality programs provide wish fulfillment. Yet you might wish that "Brat Camp" hadn't reached the air.




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