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Reality Television Run Amuck: “Our House” by Theresa Rebeck

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Reality television may not signal to you the end of civilization as we knew it, but then you’re not Theresa Rebeck, a fiercely funny playwright whose latest play, “Our House” at Playwright’s Horizon, imagines what would happen if the TV networks saw the news as just another Reality TV series.
Reality TV has already taken over the world, or at least the world of television.
A Web site called Reality TV World realitytvworld.com lists 23 current reality shows on TV in the U.S., including the medium’s highest-rating programs, “American Idol” and “Survivor.” Every network is planning to put more such shows on their schedules: MTV alone, which produced the first show explicitly labeled Reality TV, “The Real World” in 1992 (now in its 22nd season), has scheduled eight new Reality TV shows for its fall 2009 lineup. There is already enough programming to fill two entire channels dedicated exclusively to reality shows – Fox Reality in the United States and Zone Reality, which 120 million people watch on several continents, not including North America.
Reality TV shows are not going away – they cost less to produce, they remain popular, and they generate more revenue.
At the same time, nearly every day there is another story of a newspaper folding, of a news division producing yet another example of Rant TV or Dumbed Down TV.
“Documentaries and nonfictional programming such as news and sports shows are usually not classified as reality shows,” reads the Wikipedia entry on Reality Television.
But what if they were?
In “Our House,” Wes, a smarmy network television president whose favorite word is “profitability” and who believes “news is a loser no matter what you do,” assigns his network news anchor Jennifer as the host of a new reality series, “Our House.” When the news division head complains that the news is already being dumbed down to the level of a cat food commercial, Wes replies “People like cats.” At the same time, in St. Louis, a Reality TV addict who is not getting along with his housemates, casually snaps. The worlds of network news, reality television and…reality…collide in Rebeck’s dark comedy.
Rebeck, a prolific writer (some three dozen plays including “Spike Heels” and “Bad Dates” fill three published volumes) who finally debuted on Broadway in 2007 with “Mauritius,” is a veteran of both “NYPD Blues” and “Law And Order.” She is also a self-confessed news addict, and, she says , she is one of the many people who “crave a more serious approach to news and information,” and is optimistic that alternatives can be found.
That optimism is not so evident in “Our House” which is directed by Michael Mayer, who won the Tony for his direction of “Spring Awakening.”