My parents have always been hyper conscious about the effect television has on people. They believe that the media you consume regularly becomes a part of who you are, whether you like it or not. So, in turn, they tried to raise me with critical viewing habits. What is the value system of say Jimmy Neutron or High School Musical? Do you agree with that? And if you don’t, why are you watching it? This might seem like a lot to put on your playdough eating 7-year-old but I personally believe I came out the better for it. It was this type of thinking that banned me from imitating the Spongebob laugh, encouraged me to seek out the best of fringe kids television (shout out to El Tigre), and also fostered a need to constantly redefine my own tastes.
Speaking of, I have recently gone through a major revelation in the world of Isaac’s media preferences.
I know. Riveting stuff.
A few months back I began noticing things I never really noticed before when it came to unscripted television. Reality shows, game shows, the weird hybrids of the two, that sort of thing. These programs I used to love began to tear on my soul. I noticed the thousands of ineffective sound effects, the grating fake laughs of way-too-happy performers, the overtly manufactured drama, and it was all too much. I completely stopped watching America’s Got Talent, Shark Tank, and even Jimmy Kimmel. (Well, not entirely. If my family or friends were watching I was too of course but I stopped seeking them out.) I just couldn't get through an episode without an eye roll.
My problem was that they lacked the authenticity I was looking for. Even if these shows had good aspects, which they all do, the plastic-ness suffocated any enjoyment I had.
I’m not sure how to pinpoint this plastic-ness idea, but it’s clearly there, and I know it when I see it. Something like Project Runway might have all the same surface level trappings of an AGT but the judge’s acumen on Runway always shines through the cymbal crashes, the passion of the designers is reflected in their work more than their producer coordinated fist fights, and it truly does encourage creativity. There’s a weird quality of authenticness that keeps me glued to the screen when I would otherwise roll my eyes. And I think that's true of all my favorite unscripted series: The Chris Gethard Show (which I did a video on recently), Fixer Upper, Catfish, World of Dance, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, Queer Eye, The Crocodile Hunter, Billy on the Street, 60 Days In, and An Idiot Abroad just to name a handful.
Something else I’ve noticed is that the subgenre of food shows quells my thirst for authentic unscripted TV better than anything else: The Great British Bake Off, Good Eats, Chopped, Sugar Rush, Iron Chef, Ace of Cakes, Ugly Delicious, Somebody Feed Phil, and Two Fat Ladies, are all great! (and I’m sure there’s some I missed.) At first, I was dumbfounded by this. Why would cooking TV be so good and everything else be so meh? And then I remembered.
You can trace the lineage of these great series, in fact all culinary shows, back to Julia Child’s The French Chef.
In 1963 there wasn’t really anyone doing what Julia Child did. Cooking on TV was underground at best and nonexistent at worst. There was a giant gap to fill, and after Julia did a single guest appearance on a book review show (yes they had those in the 60s), America fell in love. That single guest spot was so well received it landed Julia a full-time gig at a public broadcast station in Boston and The French Chef was ratings gold.
People had never seen anything like it on TV. There was Gilligan's Island, Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies, and this tall, sweet, French woman, who talked to you like a person and made Quiche Lorraine. She brought on chef's like Nancy Silverton who would become cultural icons in their own right. She was the first show to ever be captioned for deaf audiences, not just in America, ever. She won a Peabody award during her 1st season, and then continued to make episodes for ten years after that, and is still playing REGULARLY online and in syndication.
Just take that in for a moment.
Imagine creating a genre of entertainment, that not only looks completely different from anything anyone has ever seen, but is instantly liked, and handling that power for good.
That's what Julia Child did.
She brought authenticity to not just the kitchen but to all TV as a medium. She threw her screw ups in the edit, she humbly let chefs she liked take the stage, she laughed, and ultimately, she made the world a better place.
I know this blog post has largely been about a super ethereal standard that will inevitably vary from person to person (it’s totally cool if you like AGT). And I wish I could better define what I mean when I say like authentic entertainment. But I can’t.
All I can do is say that I believe the media you consume regularly becomes a part of who you are, and it’s shows that follow in the footsteps of The French Chef, that I want to be like. It was something so totally unique, so dedicated to its craft, so beloved, that its influence can still be felt today. If you're ever in the mood to make some boeuf bourguignon I highly recommend youtubing an old episode.