It’s a Hollywood fact of life that TV producers who lack naked ambition are TV producers who lack hit TV shows. Sad, but that’s showbiz. Lately, however, something is different. That roiling naked ambition has putrefied into just plain naked. As in: actually naked-on-the-screen TV. Specifically, reality TV. It’s all the rage, ladies and gentlemen, and it has sparked both condemnation and veneration because, well, it’s nekkid.
Paid exhibitionists can be found practically everywhere on cable these days. The shows on which they appear come with provocative titles. Among them, Naked and Afraid, The Naked Truth, Dating Naked, Buying Naked, Naked Castaway. What they share is an assumption that American audiences are libidinous, voyeuristic, a bit creepy.
But let’s not get too excited. The unspoken reality of naked TV is that it’s manifestly sexy-less. Observing all that unsecured flesh rumbling around beyond the confines of clothing can only lead to the gross suppression of one’s sexual appetite. And yet TV producers are aggressively seeking ways to disrobe talent. A colorful take on all this was offered by Teresa Strasser, co-host of The List, a syndicated TV program about popular culture. She sent along a note saying, “If I were working on a TV pitch right now, it would involve a family of little people who run a pawn shop while getting into massive cat fights drunk on Moscato. Naked.” Okay, she’s kidding. Barely.
From a producer’s point of view, it’s easy to see the advantage of going commando. All you need is men, women, and a location. What you don’t need: a fleshed-out script. Or wardrobe. It’s cheapo television. Even better, based on the evidence, viewers and advertisers love it. Why so? Did I mention nekkid?
Me, personally, I don’t do nude in public; it would amount to a full-frontal assault on others’ aesthetic sensibilities. Unless you’re a figure model or someone who could be on the cover of a fitness magazine, few adults should ever be unclothed within 1,000 yards of a lens. Clearly, though, not everyone shares my inhibitions. That’s too bad, because it leads to TV programs such as The Naked Office, the very title of which frightens the pants off me — a horrifying visual. Eric Streit, a longtime producer of low-budget reality programming — his New Girls on the Block, about transgender couples, just aired on the Discovery Life Channel — concedes that “Hollywood generally plays to our darker angels.” Still, he said to me recently, even the most reviled shows can perform a social benefit. How so? “Because of our puritanical history, we may never actually normalize a subculture of people walking around the street naked. So, these shows can serve as a good thing. They could have redeeming social value.”
They could. Or, on the other hand, not. I checked in with Samantha Joy Pearson, who was a participant last year on the Naked and Afraid series. A 41-year-old Texas marketing consultant, Pearson says she was afraid going in and exuberant coming out of her 21-day filmed adventure. But, surprisingly, she claims it never dawned on her that viewers would actually flock to her show or others like it. “It’s a bad trend. I’m not sure what good comes of it,” she told me. “People watch just to see [someone else’s] assets. What purpose does it serve?”
For those offended by TV’s latest thrust, here’s some good news. Biblical series are trending, big time. Culturally, a coarse correction may be on the way.