the Gauntlet

... Oh, yes it can

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You don't think reality TV can get any worse?

Wanna bet?

It was about three years ago that FOX came up with Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? At the time, it was one of the low points in television history. At the time, it seemed like a low-water mark that might stand for a while. Yeah, right.

Since then, we have witnessed such bottom-level programming as Are You Hot? and I'm a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here! Three years ago, we couldn't have seen that coming.

Today, we think we've seen the worst, but we're wrong.

For example, we haven't seen anyone die as a result of these shows. Survivor has come close. Remember in Australia when Michael fell into the fire? You can bet someone was a little disappointed that he came through. No Are You Hot? rejectee has opted to sit in his or her garage with the car running. That would be amazing publicity!

While it would be difficult to justify actually causing someone's death on prime time TV, you can bet that Shirley Jackson's The Lottery has been tossed out as a possible inspiration. Two millennia ago, the Romans threw Christians to the lions. Specials like When Animals Attack have been pretty big, so why not make a contest out of it. How? Don't ask me. I'm in research, not development.

We've seen men versus women on reality TV, so why not a battle of the ethnicities? Married by America and Joe Millionaire were big hits, right? How about going the other way? Our separation-happy society could go for Divorced by America. This could be followed by a Kramer vs. Kramer-style spin-off in which the audience decides online which parent gets custody.

While we're thinking of the children, maybe there's something in Sophie's Choice that could lead to a TV show. Remember, we're thinking ratings here, not morals. Celebrity Fear Factor did pretty well, but it needs a new spin. Civilian contestants could go up against the celebrities they fear the most for the chance at $1,000,000. Try going three rounds against Mike Tyson, losing an argument with George W. Bush, or spending the night at Michael Jackson's house.

We haven't hit rock-bottom quite yet. It can always get worse, and it usually does. There's a new math in the works: big-time network executives aren't going to stop until the lowest common denominator is zero.